The Back to The Future self-lacing shoes are no longer science fiction. Several researchers in the field of smart textiles and new technologies are now studying and producing portable technology items in order to introduce them to our everyday outfits.
Cute Circuit is a pioneer in the field of wearable technology, and since 2004 has created innovative types of interactive clothing that combine the latest technologies with fashion designs. The name of this brand underlines the perfect combination of its innovations: circuits that create magical patterns, interactive devices that react to your movements and modify the garments… and much more than that.
CuteCircuit is headquartered in Shoreditch, artistic heart of London, where the Creative Director Francesca Rosella, and CEO Ryan Genz are the design duo behind all of CuteCircuit’s amazing creations. The label launched its Prêt-á-Porter line in 2010, bringing the first-ever technologically infused ready to wear to major fashion retailers. This is also the link to their shop, let’s have a look to their collections: http://shop.cutecircuit.com/
I had the chance to have a nice interview with Francesca Rosella During the conversation, she said: “fashion makes people happy and technology should make life easier”. Of course, the CurCircuit’s vision is much wider and this is what we have talked about
Lucia Longhi: Let’s start with a simple question: how did your interest in wearable technology first emerge, and what spurred the existence of this project? In your first approach to realizing your idea, was the goal of wearable technology a need, or a mere creative challenge?
Francesca Rosella: I was really convinced that one day these kinds of interactive fashions would become the new “normaI”. When I was a designer at a haute couture house, in 1998, I proposed to make an evening dress embroidered with electroluminescent thread that would light up in reaction to the wearer’s movement. Nobody wanted to experiment with something so new, but I kept dreaming that one day fashion and technology would come together. Finally, I resigned my position and received a scholarship to join IDII (Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, where minds from all over the world weregathering to explore how technology would change people’s lives). There I met Ryan Genz, that was coming from a design and anthropology background and believed that interactions should not only be on screen, but out in the real world through physical interfaces. We founded CuteCircuit in 2004. It wouldn’t be called CuteCircuit if the wonderfully lightweight and flexible smart textile circuits embedded into our garments weren’t cute for real.
Lucia Longhi: Interaction is the most fascinating and curious feature of wearable technology. The human body is central in this project: it is an interface itself for showing digital patterns and, at the same time, it sends the inputs that create those changing decorations. Can you please explain what kind of interaction system exist between the human body and the clothes on it?
Francesca Rosella: Clothing has always served a symbolic function of communicating something about the wearer. But while every aspect of our lives like transportation and entertainment has been changed by technology, clothing has remained stuck in the middle-ages. At CuteCircuit we believe that technology can amplify everything we do and allow us to push past the set boundaries of communication. We will have clothes that become our second skin and connect us to people and places.
Lucia Longhi: When talking about modern innovations, the focus is often on the relationship between human beings and technology. I like your definition of “human-human interaction”: it goes far beyond a view that is focused on the technological element, and it shifts the attention more onto the human aspect, which underlines the potential of developing interpersonal relationships through this type of clothes, as the Hug Shirt shows. Thus, the clothing you create is not science fiction, but a familiar and current prospect. How far are we from wearing interactive clothes in our everyday lives?
Francesca Rosella: We see garments like the HugShirt or the Mirror Handbag becoming displays of our state of mind, a magical tool for sharing emotions with our friends close and far away. This is why we integrated social media aspects into the garment App functionality, to really amplify our human connections, creating technology that brings us closer together rather than further away. Sometimes when people think about technology they imagine friends at the dinner table each one lost in their digital space, we try to remove that layer of mind/space disconnection by shifting the focus back to each human being in the present. Wearable technology integrated into a garment is definitely the future of fashion, some people might think it is not, but these would be the same people that when washing machines came out said that women would keep washing their clothes by hand!
Lucia Longhi: Can you highlight one project that was particulary significant in terms of the Cute Circuit premises?
Francesca Rosella: Our favourite garment is the iMiniSkirt from the Fall Winter 14/15 Collection, the first ever completely interactive fashion collection presented on schedule at New York Fashion Week. The Bluetooth low-energy enabled dresses and accessories allowed the models to control what their dresses would look like, via the dedicated Q by CuteCircuit App, in realtime.
Via the Q smartphone App the wearer can change the colour of the iMiniSkirt at any time. This is because the garments are made of a special fabric, the “Magic Fabric” (developed by Cute Circuit) covered with thousands of micro LEDs. It is perfectly smooth and comfortable, but is is also magical as it can change colour, play video, connect to the social media to display Tweets in real time. We are also really excited about the launching of the New HugShirt: it is the world’s first touch telecommunication device we invented it in 2002 (it was awarded as one of the Best Inventions of the Year in 2006).
Back then, iPhone and Android didn’t exist, so it was a pioneering piece of clothing. The Hug Shirt is embedded with special designed textile sensors that capture the hugs when a person touches their shirt and recreate it in the shirt of your friends far away. Imagine feeling someone’s hug over distance. It is a new way of communicating.
Lucia Longhi: Due to high innovations and artistic values represented in your art, your work currently belongs to an exclusive selection of customers. Besides the fashion scene, how much of your products are available? Do you plan on including new kinds of customers? Is this a goal for you, or does your interest still remain on high fashion?
Francesca Rosella: CuteCircuit maintains more than one line. We design haute couture for red carpet events. Then, the most exciting innovations and fun ideas that come from those amazing designs become the jumping off point for the ready to wear line. We like to see people wearing CuteCircuit everyday as well as for special occasions.
Lucia Longhi: Creating a digital dress seems to be a complex process, considering the many limitations and challenges found when working with textiles and portable devices. Could you explain the process of the creation of a Cute Circuit dress?
Francesca Rosella: Integrating fashion and technology is not an easy thing to do. Resolving all the attachments between the smart textiles and the microelectronics is always a fantastic challenge, it pushes us to improve on what we do, and create the next innovation rather than wait for it to come along. When we started, many of the materials that we use today didn’t exist: we had to invent them. Out of a great frustration with not being able to find anything remotely fashionable to make a garment like we wished it to be, we had to convince manufacturers that creating a special component just for us was a good future investment. Moreover, you always find that people who imagine we make garments with a gigantic car battery and thick electric wires inside! There are no wires, and the batteries are tiny. Fashion makes people happy and technology should make life easier, so the two combined together are fabulous.
Lucia Longhi: How does wearable technology differ from the other clothes in terms of costs and production, and what is the role of wearable technology in the market and the fashion scene? And does it have a noteworthy role in the world of art?
Francesca Rosella: Garments with integrated micro-technologies would always be more expensive than garments without. It is like manufacturing any other garment: if the garment is made out of cotton, it is less expensive than when it is made out of silk. The more manufacturing steps are added to the production of any garment, the more the cost goes up. Yet, there is a need for having out devices or disconnecting from our devices that can be brought about and satisfied more beautifully and intuitively by wearing a garment that has special functionalities. The more complex garments can be seen as art installations that are worn on the body, and then their components can be translated to daily life through the ready to wear line.
Lucia Longhi: Cute Circuit started like a fairy tale that became true. Let’s end this interview with a wish: what would be a fictional future that would be the ideal future for you?
Francesca Rosella: As Alan Kay once said: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”. At CuteCircuit our vision of the future is that all the devices we need to carry with us today, such as cameras, phones, trackers, etc will disappear in favor of micro-technologies embedded into the fabric of our garments that will be able to have some of the same functions but with an added intuitive and emotionally engaging interface. So, unless the whole world decided suddenly to go around naked, the ultimate frontier will be the body and our clothes which will become a second skin, a true interface to the people and places around us.