During the latest edition of New York Fashion Week in September, Zac Posen showcased on his runway a LED dress that integrated technology developed by fashion engineer Maddy Maxey, mentor of the Google-backed initiative Made with Code, and electronics from Adafruit. The pattern of multi-coloured LED lights was designed by students from organisations focused on promoting coding among young people, especially girls.
It looks like coding may become the next big thing in fashion, but this word will assume various meanings. The Pratt Manhattan Gallery is for example preparing a new exhibition entitled "Coded_Couture" that will coincide with February's New York Fashion Week. Curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of C2 Curatorsquared, the exhibition (144 West 14th Street, New York; 11th February - 30th April 2016) will look at the concept of coding via customised garments and accessories. The event will feature video projections, objects, sketchbooks, photographs and apps that will hopefully engage visitors in the design process.
Curators Duggan and Fox envisage coding as a new version of customisation: Haute Couture ateliers produce made-to-measure luxurious and exclusive garments that fit the wearer perfectly and that may be covered in intricate handmade embellishments or embroideries. Our modern times have introduced us instead to new approaches to customised fashion and coding may become a tool to take this process further into the next fashion era.
Most of the pieces included in this event, designed by 10 creative minds, use digital tools to transform a wearable garment into a behavioural design that doesn't only fit the body, but allows the wearer to tackle various topics including themes such as self-expression, personal history, cultural stereotypes, social phenomena and quantifiable biological data. The exhibition will be organized around four themes: Biological, Cultural, Psychological and Synergistic Coding.
The section on Biological Coding looks at a wearer's genetic make-up and other quantifiable data about their physical being.
As you may remember from a previous post, Melissa Coleman's project Media Vintage, consisted in a series of three interactive electronic textiles entitled "Alpha" (a suitcase in which temporary messages can be woven in Morse code), "Bravo" (a tapestry that sings a song when the visitor passes a finger on the embroidered Braille) and "Charlie" (a trench coat that reads fabric punch cards). The latter will be included in the Pratt event. Coleman's "Charlie" trench coat (2009) stores fabric punch cards on the inside flaps; the cards are labelled by year and can be selected and played, revealing audio files from the life of George Spindler, a pioneer of anthropology, from his childhood on.
There will also be another design by Coleman in the event, "The Holy Dress" (2012), a garment integrating a speech recognition system that analyses the voice of the wearer, detecting lies and emitting in this case electric shocks to encourage the wearer to be more truthful.
This section will also include Amy Congdon's "Biological Bespoke" (2011), a project exploring the chance to develop biological textiles that may change the process of creation for the designer who will be using materials grown and not made.
The Cultural Coding section will focus on addressing stereotypes and behavioral responses: a dress by British design team Cute_Circuit's Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz will display live Twitter feeds and change colour based on real-time audience input (visitors will be encouraged to interact with the piece using a specially created hashtag).
Inspired by the essay entitled "Esthétique de la disparition" (The aesthetic of disappearance) by PaulVirilio (1979), Ying Gao's photoluminescent thread dresses with embedded eye tracking technology (2013) will look like magical creations with a life of their own as they are activated by the spectators' gaze.
Marloes ten Bhömer multimedia conceptual installation entitled "A Measurable Factor Sets the Conditions of Its Operations" (2013), looks instead at processes, tests and trials for a new footwear collection informed by engineering principles.
The high-heeled woman is a construct designed for a man-made environment, but the designer decided to study the concept of the woman in motion in alternative settings that transform her identity.
Shoes fit into or represent a coded style cliché, so they conform women to specific roles; offering a wide range of shoe styles will instead widen the way a wearer can express herself and free her from constricting roles that pigeonhole her. Psychological coding is an intense subject that looks at topics such as memory and sensation and tries to transform them into form and shape: while Cedric Flazinski devised a parametric design system to customise the design of a shoe to the tastes and feeling of a specific wearer, Alison Tsai, a designer with a background in medicine, employed her cryptographic patterns marking specific events and derived from her personal diary and timesheets, as the basis for her "Coding Non Stop" (2013) collection, reflecting in her knitwear pieces her moods and obsessive, compulsive and spontaneous behaviour.
The Synergistic approach to coding looks instead at the possibilities of partnering designers with consumers to enable a truly collaborative design process, while addressing the culture of the immediacy we are currently immersed in. Mary Huang's D.dress app allows a user to draw a dress, turn it into a 3D model, and export a cutting pattern to make the real garment.
Though there are unifying principles in the process - the theme of the little black dress, and the triangulation used in the software - each design is unique and very personal being charcterised by an interesting form.
"Apparel" (2014), a project by French collaborative group N O R M A L S_ (Clément Chalubert, Cedric Flazinski and Aurélien Michon) invites visitors instead to connect via their own smart phones to the actual garment on display. After this connection is made, the image of the garment can be changed accordingly to reflect the individual’s personality parameters.
Conceived as a generative design tool, Simon Thorogood's "Texturel" (2015) mixed media installation is a fashion design "oracle" conceived for tablets and mobile phones. The app is capable of giving text based instructions offering the user with a sudden problem or dilemma encountered while sketching, drafting a pattern, draping, photographing, styling or accessorizing a model, unconventional and unexpected design solutions regulated by pure chance.
Though interesting, it is a shame the curators of this event didn't have the budget to maybe commission new and even more innovative pieces to some of the designers involved. "Coded_Couture" mainly features indeed pieces or prototypes that a few fans of the fashion and technology connection may have already seen in other exhibitions or events in Europe.
The event also doesn't seem to take the experimental and conceptual projects included beyond the exhibition space and that's a shame: "coding" conceptual thoughts and ideas is perfectly fine, but it will be even more interesting to see if and in which ways coding and certain key themes tackled by "Coded_Couture" (such as the power of instant mutability in fashion and chance procedures in design) will have a genuine impact on our lives in a nearby future and finally introduce in the fashion industry what Simon Thorogood calls "innovention" (innovation + invention).
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