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Haute tech couture: When fashion and technology merge

“Only with technology can you create new things in fashion – everything else has been done,” renowned designer Hussein Chalayan said in an interview with Forbes last year.

Indeed, that has never been more true. The past few years have seen major fashion designers and couture houses, from Alexander McQueen to Iris van Herpen and Chalayan himself, come up with next-level couture clothing that incorporates technology — elevating fashion as we know it.

Forward-thinking designers 

Many prolific designers have been using technology for their latest creations. The late Alexander McQueen was one of the pioneers of tech-driven fashion, fusing technology and design in his collections for both Givenchy and his eponymous label. In fact, one of his greatest catwalk displays involved robotics. The Spring 1999 showcase saw two robots that were programmed to spray-paint a model’s white dress as she spun around on a circular platform — a stunning marriage of performance art and technology that Costume Institute curator, Andrew Bolton, declared “one of the most memorable moments at McQueen’s runway shows.”

The final look for Givenchy’s Fall 1999 collection is driven by computers

In that same year, McQueen’s Fall collection for Givenchy featured LED lights, glow-in-the-dark prints, and circuit board patterns. It also included a dramatic finale piece in the form of a Tron-inspired plastic suit — the result of a collaboration between the designer and Studio van der Graaf.

Hussein Chalayan’s robotic dresses.

Another notable name in futuristic fashion is Turkish Cypriot-born Chalayan, who has been incorporating technology and forward-thinking display into his collections since starting his label in 1994. Over the years, he has rolled out apparel that transforms, with the help of microchips and animatronics. Examples include dresses that emit laser beams, and even a coffee table that turns into a skirt. We’re not making these up — you can see them for yourself here.

Chalayan partnered with Intel for his SS17 collection at Paris Fashion Week.

Chalayan’s most recent project took Paris Fashion Week by storm. In a partnership with Intel, he brought wearable tech to his SS17 collection, which saw five models walking the runway alongside visual projections that showed their stress levels on the walls. This was made possible with biofeedback being sent from the connected accessories they were wearing.

3D-printed couture

Another big trend making waves in the industry is 3D printing. The technology has changed the way clothes are being manufactured, and has been embraced by designers such as Danit Peleg and Iris van Herpen. The latter’s SS16 collection itself combined craftsmanship with technology, making use of robotic arms, 3D printing, laser cutting and weaving to create a dress live for actress Gwendoline Christie during the show.

(Image credit: Iris Van Herpen)

It is safe to believe that is just a glimpse of 3D printing in fashion. Costume Institute curator Bolton believes the technology hasn’t been fully taken advantage of. “At the moment, I don’t think it’s being utilised as well as it should be,” he said in a 2015 interview. He believes that designers should use 3D printing to question the components of fashion, “rather than simply print 3D skirts or blouses.”

“Tech couture” on the red carpet 

The red carpet has also seen its fair share of futuristic creations. Last year’s Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York saw celebrities strutting their stuff in cutting-edge creations, with the theme of the gala being “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.”

One of the most memorable outfits was model Karolina Kurkova’s dress, which was designed by Marchesa in collaboration with a cognitive computer system named IBM Watson. The ensemble was covered in LED lights that changed colours based on what people tweeted about the ball throughout the night — a pretty ingenious move in our opinion, as it encouraged interaction between the brands and audience.

Claire Danes’ dress was a masterpiece that glowed in the dark.

And of course, who could forget Claire Danes’ Zac Posen Cinderella-esque gown, which literally made her glow? Made of ultra thin fibre-optic fibres woven into organza, the fairytale dress lit up and transformed into a sci-fi wonder when the lights went out.

Wearable technology for the masses

Recent years have seen wearable technology making its way into the mainstream. Nike, for instance, has put wearable tech to the test, by inventing HyperAdapt 1.0 — a pair of self-lacing sneakers. The shoes are now available to the masses and can be purchased in the US — albeit at a hefty price of S$1,041. Their design is inspired by a fictional pair donned by Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future Part II.

The Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 is made available to the masses. (Image credit: Nike)

Technology beyond production 

Even the legendary fashion maven Anna Wintour believes that technology has revolutionised fashion. She said in a 2015 interview, “[Technology] is available to everybody, and that’s the biggest revolution I think we’ve seen.”

Pointing to Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, who casts his models from Instagram, she said, “One thing I’ve noticed in the last few seasons is that by everything being so much more available, there is much less emphasis on the polished and the perfect.”

Like Wintour and Bolton, we believe there is more room for technology to elevate the fashion world — and we are excited for what is to come.

Haute tech couture: When fashion and technology merge

Dewi Nurjuwita

Senior Writer

Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.


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