When tech and fashion collide

Boston MFA showcases 3D-printed fashions, laser-cut clothing and dresses sporting solar panels and LED lights in its #techstyle exhibit

intro techstyle

How technology is transforming the fashion industry

The ideas flowing through designers’ minds are difficult to capture. Transforming precisely what they think and draw into tangible pieces of work can be laborious and time consuming. And the artists can become frustrated when what they produce doesn’t come out exactly as they imagine it.

Technology has eliminated that struggle for many designers. Through the use of multi-material 3D printers, laser cutters and digital printers that print on material, designers are creating fashions exactly as they see them in their mind’s eye. Plus, the new tools enable them to create intricate designs that are impossible to make by hand.

Not only that, but designers are taking technology considered for industrial purposes and incorporating them into their fashions—creating dresses that have solar panels so you can charge your cell phone, gowns that have LED light displays, garments that react to heat and noise, and purses that have LED-lit interiors and USB chargers.

The following slides are a sample of fashions created with those technologies. They are part of the #techstyle exhibit at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which will be on view until July 10.

As you’ll see, technology is truly transforming fashion.

1. anthozoa 3d cape and skirt
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Anthozoa 3D-printed Cape and Skirt

Designer: Iris van Herpen

Materials: Polyurethane rubber and acrylic co-polymer 3D printed on Stratasys Connex 3D printer, steel cage, cotton Twill and silk satin

Iris van Herpen’s avant-garde creations blur the line between art, technology and fashion. For this ensemble, she partnered with MIT Media Lab’s Neri Oxman, known for exploring how to use machines to create natural forms. Anthoza is a class of marine invertebrates, and the design accurately captures how these undersea dwellers look.

This was the first 3D-printed garment made with both hard and soft materials.

“Shown on the Paris runway in January 2013, it represents a unique amalgam of nature-inspired forms achieved through the most advanced printing technology,” notes the Museum of Fine Arts.

2. Francis Bitonti molecule shoe
Francis Bitonti

3D-printed Molecule Shoes

Designer: Francis Bitonti

To create these shoes, Francis Bitonti used a mathematical model that generates cellular structures called Game of Life, devised by British mathematician John Conway. He used software from Adobe that generates versions of the algorithm. The model was then printed on a Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 multi-color, multi-material 3D printer. They are “grown” one pixel at a time.

“Francis Bitonti’s shoes … seek to mimic organic cellular processes which cannot be controlled, yet he was able to ‘grow’ the shoes in a way that’s simply not possible with other forms of production,” said Michelle Finamore, Penny Vinik Curator of Ashion Arts at MFA, in a Rapid Ready blog post.

The shoe is a part of a collection in which each pair is unique but based off the same design.

3. harmonograph dress

3D-printed Harmonograph Dress

Designers: threeASFOUR (Gabi Asfour, Angela Donhauser and Adi Gil)

Materials: Technological Elastomer, stretch mesh 3D-printed on Stratasys Object Connex 3D printer

The Harmonograph dress, which was featured recently at the New York Fashion Week, circles around the body in three spirals, following the geometry of the Fibonacci sequence and optically portraying the effect of a harmonograph.

The design required such preciseness that the creators said traditional handcraft could not have been used. They said technologies such as 3D printing are “better equipped than traditional methods to translate into dress the precise details of natural patterns, perfect spatial geometries and cellular growth.”

With the Stratasys multi-color, multi-material 3D printer, the artists can mix both rubber and rigid materials to any degree of flexibility and in any color within a single print.

4. petals dress
Nervous System

3D-printed Kinematics 8 Dress

Designers: Nervous System (Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis Rosenberg)

Materials: Nylon, laser sintered (3D-printed) by Shapeways

Nervous System was the first design house to create a flexible 3D-printed garment that comes off the printer ready to wear. Their dresses are generated from a body scan and can be fully customized using a design app on the company’s website. Assembling the dress is as simple as snapping together three pieces.

This dress—also called the Petals dress—was inspired by petals, feathers and scales.

The creators say each dress “is an intricately patterned structure of thousands unique triangular panels interconnected by hinges, all 3D printed as a single piece in nylon. While each component is rigid, in aggregate, they behave as a continuous fabric allowing the dress to flexibly conform and fluidly flow in response to body movement.”

While some 3D-printed dresses look like they’re for the runway only, the Kinematics 8 dress has a real-world look. The style, flexibility and flow of the designs make them functional pieces of art.  

5. laser cut leather2
Michelle Davidson

Laser-cut Leather Jacket – Wearable Drawings

Designer: Elvira ‘t Hart

For her creations, Elvira ‘t Hart uses both computer-aided design (CAD) and laser technology to turn 2D images into 3D pieces. Her work came about because she wanted her garments to look exactly like her drawings.

“Hart literally produces patterns directly from her sketches, laser-cutting abrupt lines into black leather and affixing them to sheer white fabric that maintains the appearance of free-hand drawing,” according to the Museum of Fine Arts.

To create her garments, Hart cuts the pieces out from leather using a laser. Each drawing is cut individually.

“Every line is kept in the final piece, and my signature stays exactly the same. When the drawings are cut they can be put together like any other cut patterns to form the garments,” she said in a HOPE ST magazine blog post.

6. cutecircuit led dress

CuteCircuit MFA Dress with Micro-LED lights

Designers: Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz

The Museum of Fine Arts commissioned a version of a dress CuteCircuit originally created for EE, a mobile network operator, to mark the launch of the company's 4G network. The MFA’s dress is a flapper-inspired gown made from the artists Magic Fabric and Swarovski crystals on rose gold and silver-plated chains.

On it, they incorporated 11,000 micro-LED lights to create animations. Visitors can use an iPad to select images from the MFA’s collection, including Hokusai’s Great Wave and Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Green Yellow Orange Red, to display on the dress.

"We wanted to help create a dialogue between art through the centuries and what can happen in the future," Francesa Rosella said in a Wareable blog post.

7. mcqueen alien shoes
Michelle Davidson

3D-printed Alien Shoe

Designer: Alexander McQueen

Materials: 3D-printed resin

Inspiration for these shoes came from H.R. Giger’s special effects work on the 1980 film Alien. These futuristic shoes complemented the other-worldly themed collection that he produced in 2010, Plato’s Atlantis. The show was one of the first runway shows to be streamed live from Fashion Week, giving people outside the industry a glimpse into that world.

8. mcqueen laser print dress
Michelle Davidson

Digitally printed McQueen Dress

Designer: Alexander McQueen

The McQueen Dress was included in the Plato’s Atlantis show in 2010, a futuristic, other-world collection that included Alexander McQueen’s Alien Shoes and Armadillo Shoes. He used digital printing on fabric to portray “an apocalyptic ending of humankind returning to the sea.” Video from the fashion show plays behind the dress.

9. solar dress
Michelle Davidson

Solar Dress

Materials: Neoprene and leather with solar panels

Pauline Van Dongen’s fuses technology and design to create “functional clothing of the future.” In 2014, she started collaborating with Christiaan Holland, an entrepreneur focused on renewable energy, and Gerg Jan Jongerden, a solar energy expert, to create clothing that incorporated solar cells.

Those solar cells are functional—after two hours in the sun, the dress can charge a phone’s battery. The dress has 72 cells that can be hidden behind folding panels when not in use.

10. ralph lauren ricky bag with light
Ralph Lauren

Ricky Bag with Light and USB port

Designer: Ralph Lauren

Materials: Italian calfskin leather, rose-gold-plated brass hardware, LED lights, phone battery charger

Fusing luxury and technology, Black Ricky Bag with Light has an illuminated interior—four LED lights activate when the bag is opened. It also has an integrated USB port to charge your mobile phone. It can provide up to 1,000 charges.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.