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Interactive dresses that track stares, heart rate and more

2016.12.06

When Google’s head-mounted optical display, Google Glass, made an appearance on the catwalks at a 2012 Diane Von Furstenberg show, it signalled the beginning of an era: wearable tech in fashion.

Since then, numerous brands have attempted to make their mark in this burgeoning category by developing stylish wristbands and watches. There are even T-shirts that can track your heartbeat.

Nice Short Blue Tailor Made Cocktail Prom Dress (LFNAG0032)

While many, such as the Apple watch, have been successful from a technological standpoint – and reasonably popular – those in fashion continue to question their aesthetic appeal to consumers.

Merging fashion and technology isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Many designers, including Turkish Cypriot Hussein Chalayan, have used technology as a tool to both question and advance the form and function of clothing. In 2000 he launched remote-control celebrity style dresses with moveable flaps and he’s since experimented with animatronics and other technology to create video dresses embedded with LEDs or coffee tables that transform into a skirt. For his recent spring/summer 2017 collection, for example, he partnered with Intel to create glasses equipped with sensors that measure biometric data such as heart rate and stress levels.

As impressive and newsworthy as many of these creations are, they have yet to address a fundamental problem: how can we integrate technology seamlessly into fashion in a way that is easy to use, relevant and pretty enough to appeal to the so-called “fashion elites”?

The answer, it seems, lies in the advent of “smart” fabrics that physically integrate microelectronic technologies into the garments themselves.

“Like everything, it’s all about timing,” says Sophie Hackford, the former director of Wired Consulting. “As sophisticated camera lenses, sensors, gyroscopes and chips get more powerful and cheaper, the possibilities for ‘computing’ become more interesting. Instead of having a ‘computer’ – be it a smartwatch, phone, or laptop – we are entering a moment where computing becomes pervasive. It becomes the services it provides, not the specific device that you focus on.

“I don’t think smart fabrics are per se more attractive, I just think that they are a natural step on from where we are today, where computing and power becomes a distributed service rather than an object.”

Smart fabrics and clothing are a concept relatively new to the fashion world – Ralph Lauren was one of the first big brands to experiment with the idea in 2014 when it developed T-shirts that monitored breathing, heart rate and stress for the US Open tennis championships.

Earlier this year, denim giant Levi’s partnered with Google to launch a “smart” jacket that will land in stores early next year. Named the “Commuter Jacket”, it features jacquard yarn technology with a conductive fabric interwoven into the original fabric, which creates an interactive patch that senses touch, pressure and even the hand’s position. Thanks to the addition of a Bluetooth-enabled loop on the jacket’s cuff, wearers are then able to communicate with their phones and complete tasks such as answering calls, playing music and accessing Google maps.

Originally designed for bikers, the jacket can be washed (although the Bluetooth cuff needs to be removed first) and worn like any other garment. Apparently there are plans to apply the technology to athletic and business clothing.

“The possibilities for downloading data into such materials is really exciting. From surgeons to cyclists to musicians, having a new – more human – two-way interface with the machines is going to be explosive,” says Hackford.

And it’s not just big corporations that are experimenting. In the luxury designer realm, Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen comes to mind. She first made headlines in 2010 with her intricately detailed, 3D- printed garments. Today she is known for innovative garments and materials created in collaboration with architects, computer designers, scientists and engineers. With Jolan van der Wiel, she explored magnetically grown the celebrity dresses and shoes, which use magnetic materials to create a garment’s form. Future projects include leather grown from cow cells and textiles that change shape when in contact with heat and water. Looking ahead, she is exploring 4D and robotic printing, and nanorobotics – which uses insect-sized drones to knit fabrics.

 

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