The dress was historically born as a defence of the body from the elements and, at the same time, in response to natural human instinct for aesthetics. In contemporary fashion, thanks to the evolution of art, technology and science, the relationship with weather’s elements is much more complex. It is not just a cause-effect relationship: a particular type of climate induces the development of specific solutions to tackle its negative consequences, but there are also symbolic references, citations and interpretations.

Thinking about creations that combine ICT technologies and fashion or science and fashion, interaction possibilities between garments and climatic elements become really unpredictable and spectacular.

Besides, since the mid-nineties fashion shows have gradually approached performance art, being inspired by theatrical elements and enhancing visual and emotional imagery at the core of creations, instead of showing just the clothes for themselves. So, fashion culture borrowed spectacle techniques from artistic performances, opening the way to the idea of interactive fashion.

Interaction possibilities offered by high-tech fashion are numerous: interaction between the dress and the wearer, interaction between the dress and the surrounding environment, interaction between the wearer and the observers of the dress, interaction between different instances of clothes. We will analyse the most interesting examples, in order to make a reading of the relationship between natural elements, weather and clothing.

hitechfashion2Air

Bradley Quinn inside his Techno Fashion book of 2002 said: “Looking back over the past two centuries reveals how fashion itself can be considered to be a history of technology.” [1] Today, one might add that the link between technologies, above all innovative technologies, and fashion, becomes even more relevant particularly since the twenty-first century.

The second half of the nineties saw the proliferation of mobile phones, which allow you to communicate with your contacts from almost anywhere, even while we are in motion. Around 2000, the spread of mobile internet and smart phones, however, has made it possible to connect to the global network and then have access to large amounts of data and information in a quick and ubiquitous way. Besides, thanks to the miniaturization of sensors and the development of textile technology, which lets you create circuits even on fabrics (soft circuits), it has become possible to collect data with respect to the surrounding environment through the clothes we wear.

A project that can be considered as a wearable interface to detect the quality of the environment is Climate Dress of 2009. The dress was created by Diffus Design Studio [2], in collaboration with Forster Rohner, Alexandra Institute and the Danish School of Design. On the dress are sewn 104 LEDs running on 32 circuits, which create a dynamic light pattern in relation to carbon dioxide level, in which the cloth is immersed. The LEDs are connected through a conductive embroidery to some Lilypad Arduino microprocessors and some sensors to detect the presence of CO2.

Climate Dress is made of mens’ suit wool. The most interesting characteristic of this project consists in the fact that all the elements are put into communication through the embroidery, so there is no type of soldering and the connections themselves, in addition to being visible, are the elements of aesthetic characterization of the dress. In this case soft circuits become the decoration without any interruption between embroidery and circuits.

hitechfashion3This garment was realized for an exhibition at a conference on global climate change. The dress itself becomes performance, thanks to its shifting aesthetic according to changes in the environment. Michel Guglielmi, co-founder of Diffus Design tells: ”The dress comes from a series of experiments with materials in order to realize new kinds of interactive solutions. We found that textiles had a lot of potentials to create projects for interaction with the environment. Then we started an interesting collaboration with a Swiss embroidery factory [Forster-Rohner company] which was developing new technologies for textiles.” [3]

The other co-founder of Diffus Design Hanne-Louise Johannesen instead emphasizes the poetic aspect of the project. “There were different aspects that led us to realize the Climate Dress. The first one was our new collaboration with this Swiss embroidery company. And so we started thinking how to create conductive embroidery and replacing wires [of circuits]. The second aspect was the occasion offered to us by the exhibition Health Environment Climate organised at the Cop 15 Climate Summit [4] in Copenhagen in 2009 to present our creations.[…]

We wanted to design a garment that will interact with the environment. This garment is quite sensitive. It means if you blow into the sensor you can immediately see the reactions on the lights. The dress has a CO2 sensor, updating the measurement of CO2 level around the wearer in real time. And then this information is translated into a dynamic pattern on the dress. What we tried to do is to mimic breathing. When the CO2 level is low, it is easy to breath and the light pattern becomes calm and it goes slowly up and down in a rhythmic way. When the level rises the pattern becomes more irregular and flickering. When the level is very high the pattern start blinking quite fast. […] With this project we would like to try to tell a more poetic story about CO2. We need CO2, we cannot survive without CO2 as it is essential for the live giving photosynthesis.” [5]

Climate Dress represents the desire to tell poetically an environmental problem and make people think about the problem of climate change linked to the increase of CO2 level in the atmosphere, putting together new technologies, but also traditional techniques such as embroidery. hitechfashion4Tornado and Lightnings

The Tornado Dress, 2007, by Barbara Layne [6] & Diane Morin, with Meghan Price & Maryam Golshayan, is made of linen printed with a picture of a sky invaded by the funnel cloud of a tornado and by the glow of lightning flashes. It was embroidered with wires and electronic components including white LEDs.

Three small light sensors have been sewn on the outer surface of the dress to detect the amount of light present of the surrounding environment. These sensors activate the LEDs and make them flash with different sequences that correspond to the light levels encountered, in order to simulate the effect of lightning in a tornado. [7]

The technologies that made possible the construction of Tornado Dress are: soft circuits, sensors and digital printing. The latter technology, although currently widespread, is a major acquisition for the fashion industry. The first digital office paper printer dates back to 1959, with the Xerox 914. Digital printing on fabric instead begins to develop only twenty years later, in the eighties, [8] allowing greater degrees of expressive freedom in the realization of drawings to reproduce and greatly shortening the time that elapses between ideation of the graphic and its reproduction on the finished garment.

Barbara Layne tells [9] the birth of his creation in this way: “In the early 1980’s I completed my graduate studies at the University of Kansas and during that time the town was struck by several tornados. Along with the psychological excitement and fear of not knowing the exact path of the tornado, came strong body sensations from the change in air pressure and the colour of the sky. Being so unpredictable, tornados are awesome reminders of mortality. Much later, around 2005, I started receiving a number of emails that had striking images of tornados. It was always the same photographs, forwarded by various friends but were always credited to a different person: ‘these photos were taken by a cousin of a friend who lives in Australia’, or ‘these images were taken during Hurricane Katrina by a friend of a friend’ or depicting ‘a rare tornado event in Saskatchewan, etc. I was interested in finding out who the original photographer of these remarkable shots was and through the internet found storm chaser, Mike Hollingshead. [10][…]”

In this project the natural element has been translated into an image for a fabric with a light emitting effect. The linear and strict shape of the blue-grey dress focuses the viewer’s attention on the interactive decoration, giving it a modern and ironic touch. The silence in which the performance happens (sound effects have not been included) and the small size of decoration (in comparison to the human body) creates an aesthetic effect of domestication of the tornado itself and almost a phenomenon of exorcism. This is further supported with the choice of using a real image of a tornado, shot by photographer and storm chaser Mike Hollingshead. Again, the photograph freezes the fury of the weather event in an instant and allows, in retrospect, to observe its appearance and beauty.

hitechfashion5Wind

The interaction between fashion and wind has a long tradition. The first reaction was, of course, the desire to protect themselves from this natural phenomenon, using garments as a barrier between the body and the air. The development of efficient and comfortable technologies, that would respond to this need, has been a long road traveled from the clothing industry. The idea of improving fabrics performances come from first expeditions on the highest mountains in the world and date back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Around the 1920s the jacket technologically more suitable for such expedition was Burberry, made of gabardine. “Burberry gabardine windproof suits were actually ideal for mountaineering, as they were lightweight, tough, and breathable. Harold Raeburn, one of the most distinguished mountaineers of his generation and in charge of the climbing clothing and equipment for the 1921 Everest reconnaissance, recommended the use of gabardine, not least for its power to repel snow.” [11]

The GORE-TEX® one of the first “breathable, waterproof and windproof fabric”, was put on the market in 1976. [12]

A new kind of interaction with the wind, very impressive, is represented by Flare Dress, made by Stijn Ossevoort in 2008. The decoration consist of dandelion shaped LED clusters, which gently glow. Each dandelion contains a small sensor which can be triggered by a gentle breeze, by the movement of the wearer of the dress or by a small caress or blow on their surface. Once triggered the seeds (LED’s) spread out along dress and slowly draw back together to form the flowers.

Ossevoort says: “I did a lot of projects with Philips. [Bubelle Dress, Frisson Dress, etc. […] They were emotional dresses. […] But they were prototypes, so wearability was no issue. In the Flare project I found it important to create a dress that would combine beauty and functionality.” [13] As a consequence, the three-dimensional floral decoration is only present on the front and sides of the dress, allowing the wearer to sit down. Furthermore, the electronic components have been placed in a particular way, so each flower operates independent from the others. If one flower would fail to work, the other ones would not be affected, unlike the traditional centralised data bus, used in the clothes I created in collaboration with Philips.”

According to the designer’s objectives, the dress is part of his research on the representation of nature, reminding us how simple natural phenomena, which we take for granted, display an extraordinary beauty. “I have been teaching sustainability for a while and I have always been fascinated by the fact that we, as humans, see ourselves different from Nature. By creating the concept of Nature we allowed ourselves to manipulate our environment. We create objects, especially if we look at buildings and architecture around us, which eliminate or hide natural phenomena thereby creating a distance between us and Nature. Instead, I took the challenge to incorporate a natural phenomenon into my project. I call it celebrating banalities, design to uncover the beauty we tend to forget. The Flare Dress reacts to wind, which is common but more important than we imagine. For instance spiders could not create a web without wind. A spider does not walk up and down to pull a line; they usually jump, spread out their legs in the wind to create the first line. Wind, caused differences in air pressure, is also a necessity to even out temperatures around the globe .” [14]. The dandelion is a metaphor for wind which visually translates its beauty.

hitechfashion6Another dress that interprets wind phenomenon is Sky Dress (2006) by Valérie Lamontagne, artist-designer and researcher at Concordia University in Montreal. [15] The dress is part of Peau d’Âne series, inspired by Charles Perrault’s fairy tale. The fable tells the story of a princess who, to save herself from marriage with an unwanted lover, requests a dowry of extraordinarily beautiful but impossible dresses. “The first dress should be made of the sky and be as lightweight and volatile as the clouds, the second dress was to be made of moonbeams, and the last one needed to be as bright and warm as the sun.” [16] Sky Dress is designed as an evening dress of deep blue colour with a wide skirt, which can increase or decrease in volume. It is inflated with air in accordance to wind direction and velocity, detected from the surrounding area. The cloth is made of parachute fabric sewn with seams designed to hold air pockets. It uses an Xbee wireless communication system to gather real-time data from a locally installed designated weather station. This station can be placed on the roof of the exhibition building to detect meteorological data such as: wind velocity, wind direction and precipitation. The technology of the Sky Dress has undergone an evolution over time, as described by the designer: “In each dress of the [Peau d’Âne] collection I wanted to explore a different kind of wearable technology. When I created the garment, there were neither LilyPad Arduinos nor the hardware technologies that are available today. The dress has already been shown in numerous exhibitions since 2006, hence the technologies explored have been updated with custom designed circuits many times according to the newest available hard and software. In the first version we used MAX/msp software to manage the weather data coming from a Davis Weather Station. Around the waist of the dress are embedded 14 fans that fill up the garment’s air pockets, and are activated in real-time according to wind data input. In this way it is possible to inflate or deflate different parts of the dress in relation to wind direction and speed, thus tangibly visualizing the environment.” [17]

Sky Dress embodies a fantastic vision of the wind, as encountered in fairy tales. The wind becomes an actor and a protagonist in the performance of the garment, both literally and figuratively. “The dresses [of the Peau d’Âne collection] have been shown in galleries, on fashion runways and technical fairs. […] What I did for a few presentations (and it is what I prefer): is to present the garments worn by people who are not models, because a model’s way of moving and walking is often too codified. I have at times invited dancers to wear the dresses, because they are very comfortable in their physical movements and also at ease with acting as ambassadors for the project. Sometimes the dancers have performed with a musical composition created for the project (by France Jobin), and at the end of the show they could also walk directly into the audience and answer questions from the public as well as demonstrating the technical characteristic of the dresses. I had to train the dancers on how the garments functioned in order to make them able to explain to the public, which added a new layer of performance and communication for them. For another exhibition, especially tailored for children, we read the fairy tale and the dancers interpreted the story and showed the magical aspects of the dress.[…]” [18]

hitechfashion7Water

As was the case for the wind also the relationship between body and water was initially marked by a protective instinct, which culminated in the development of technical waterproof fabrics.

Helen Storey‘s research presents instead a relationship with water entirely for textiles: the solubility and degradability in the environment. During the research project Wonderland, born in 2005 from the collaboration between Helen Storey and Tony Ryan, in order to examine new approaches for the use and disposal of plastic packaging, they made the Disappearing Dressings, clothing made with a fabric that contains polyvinyl alcohol, the substance that is used in soluble sachets which issue detergent in the washing machine.

These stylish clothes dissolve in water and gradually turn into an easily recyclable state. The clothes were designed for an exhibition with the aim to made people reflect on the need to adopt lifestyles and consumption behaviours more sustainable for the environment. Semi-transparent and coloured dresses were presented hung, one by one, to a pulley and suspended above a large circular tank of water. Slowly the pulley lowers the clothes, so they progressively disappear into the water below. [19]

These creations seem like dream creatures, evanescent and characterised by a very sophisticated aesthetics, they dissolve in water very gracefully, creating splashes of colour similar to those caused by the ink spilled in water. In this example, the dress is a metonymy that represents, through an object, a new lifestyle to promote. The choice of water as a natural primordial that originates life and to which you must return to complete the cycle.

The evolution of the chemistry of materials has made possible the realization of soluble fabric. The evolution of the inks chemistry for printing on fabric instead has made possible the creation of Orange Butterfly Dress of 2002 by Amy Winters. [20] This dress, printed with photochromic ink and hydro-chromic ink is able to interact with both sunlight and water, changing its colour.

The dress is part of the collection The Awakening of Insects, whose main theme is the image of insects that live in the forest and are able to interact with the forces of nature when the spring starts. The designer tells us about it: “ Watching nature’s transformations is really important to my work. Nature is the driving force behind all the concepts. The elements, temperature, pressure, wind, humidity and rain are at the core of my inspiration and my love for storytelling, narrative and image-making, film-making is used as a research method. […] The actual dress the ‘Orange Butterfly’ is truly inspired by the Irish ‘Orange-tip’ butterfly. With hues of white and orange [amber, carrot, tangerine] a very beautiful butterfly. As water sprinkles onto the white the dress, the orange hues start to appear. “ [21]

This project, exhibited for the first time during the Irish Innovation Award in 2012, uses the water and the sun to change the image of the garment to reveal a hidden identity mimicking the role of the spring in the awakening of nature after winter.

hitechfashion8Sunlight

As it is often pointed out, even the sunlight, despite being very pleasant, taken in excessive doses can damage our skin. The best protection is interposing a barrier, between the body and the environment, that blocks the harmful rays. The light is able to penetrate through the smallest openings, so more dense is the texture of the fabric we wear, the more we will be protected.

It is not very well known instead the fact that, in 1966, it was developed a system to assign a score to the tissues, in relation to their ability of shielding respect to UV rays. This system, called UPF label (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) was developed by ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency), the main Australian organ in matters of radiation protection and nuclear safety. The system has become a standard only after 1996 and all textiles and clothing manufacturers who want to get that label must submit their products to a precise series of tests conducted by the same association. [22]

A very interesting approach in the relationship between clothing and sunlight is the UV Dress by Diffus Design, in collaboration with the Alexandra Institute and with fashion designer Mette Lindberg and interaction designer Martina Uhling. It is a dress that has circular openings, similar to the objective of a camera, on several points of its surface.

hitechfashion11“The UV Dress was designed for an exhibition about health care and the UV-light. We wanted to create a demonstration of how our behaviour in relationship to the sun could suggest a more creative look. It was meant as a statement, the dress is hand made and was never meant as a product itself. The apertures [on the surface of the dress] are the same type as you have a in camera only in this case made in textiles added some stiffening material and can open and close in relation to how much sunshine you are exposed to. We put UV sensors on the shoulder of the dress in oder to detect the level of UV light. There are also some small motors operating a system of strings. In this way it is a very mechanical dress. The small motors let the apertures open and close according to the UV light level.” [23]

As can be seen from the description given by Hanne-Louise Johannesen, the dress is a kind of artistic statement about how UV rays interact with our skin. When the detected UV level is very high, the openings are completely closed to avoid that the light hits the skin. When the level is low, the apertures will open up and the light can reach our skin.

hitechfashion9Multifunctional Climate Protection

As we have seen in the examples analysed before, technology and science enable imagine of equip our clothes with highly advanced features. In recent years the progress of studies and research in fashion sector has led to address the creation of clothes and accessories according to a design closer to product and interaction design and not only to styling. The dress is no longer to be considered as a mere aesthetic enclosure of the body but as an independent object, with functions and its own identity, which can be transformed in response to weather’s changes and the related needs.

In 2003 I created the concept for a winter jacket that I defined “multifunctional climate protection”. The guidelines of this project were: stimulate the user to see the suit as protection and prostheses, streamlining clothing components, creating an aesthetic based on the functional elements, exploit the same parties in different ways, suggesting the idea of a system of units interacting with each other and with the body were. From these considerations was born Prometeo [24] a wearable object to protect against winter and climate accidents, characterized by the composition of different elements, separated from the main nucleus, with their own functions and life. Once fulfilled their task, these elements return to their initial housing.

The name comes from the combination of protezione (protection) and meteo (weather), but also refers to the greek myth in which Prometheus was the god who had taught mankind the rules and tricks of survival, which had given them the fire as a defence, but also “one who sees beyond “recalling that one of the main features of the object is that it contains within itself all that you may need once you get out of the house, allowing the wearer to easily protect himself against the changing weather.

The collar, folded, let you to avoid the use of scarf, a part of it can be detached and becomes a wide-brimmed hat to shelter from the rain and the white light of winter sun.

Made externally with a high-tech fabric, that can protects from rain, wind and snow, but also very flexible in the four directions, the project involved the use of a lining made of anti-electromagnetic fabric with silver and carbon threads. On the surface of the jacket they were distributed applications in a waterproof and highly reflective textiles, which guarantees to point out the presence of the wearer at night time.

The pocket placed on the right shoulder, has a slot for an anti-smog mask. This position allows you to take advantage of body shape as support and to avoid any damages for the mask. While the back pocket can be removed and turned into a shopping bag.

hitechfashion10In this example, the cloth is intended to be a real tool of protection, adaptable to climate change, but also it wants to remember us how pollution and smog are now part of the environment in which we are immersed and you need to protect yourself from them as well as form the weather. This theme is still very salient, in fact in 2015 on the Paris fashion catwalks, the Chinese designer Masha Ma introduced, in a provocative way, inside his spring-summer collection some anti-smog masks decorated in matching with the clothes worn by the models.

In this case the suit is intended to be a real tool of protection, a casing adaptable to climate change, but also wanted to remember how pollution and smog are now part and parcel of the environment in which we are immersed and you need to protect yourself from them so how the hell climate. This theme has remained still very salient fact in 2015 on the catwalks of Paris fashion, the Chinese designer Masha Ma introduced, in a provocative way, in his spring-summer collection of anti-smog masks decorated in combination with the clothes worn by the models.

As the presented experiments have shown, high-tech fashion represents the possibility (thanks to the development of technologies in the fields of wearable computing, science and textile industry) to give clothes functions previously only imagined by film-making and other arts. Today the level of technological development, allows to imagine to enhance real lief clothing with data tracking features with respect to the surrounding environment and with dynamic textures of fabrics in dresses to wear in everyday life.


Notes:

[1] – Bradley Quin, Techno Fashion (Oxford: Berg, 2002), 3

[2] – Diffus Design is a design studio based in Copenhagen, founded by Michael Guglielmi and Hanne-Louise Johannesen. Website: http://www.diffus.dk, last accessed on 14 December 2015

[3] – Skype interview with Michael Gugliemi, co-founder of Diffus Design Studio, by Maddalena Mometti on 1st December 2015.

[4] – The official name of the conference is United Nations Climate Change Conference , but is commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit . The conference was held at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, between 7 and 18 December 2009 .

[5] – Skype interview with Hanne-Louise Johannesen, co-founder of Diffus Design Studio, by da Maddalena Mometti on 1st December 2015.

[6] – Barbara Layne is the director of Studio subTela at the Hexagram Institute in Montreal. The study focuses on the development of structures for intelligent textiles for artistic effect and functional aims. Natural materials are woven together with sensors and microcomputers to give the opportunity to interact with external stimuli.

[7] – A video made by the same author, describes more effectively the delicacy of the lighting effect. The video can be viewed at this link: http://subtela.hexagram.ca/Pages/Tornado%20Dress.html, last accessed on 15 December 2015

[8] – H. Ujiie. Digital Printing of Textiles, (Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing Limites in association with The Textiles Institute, 2006), 2, ISBN 978-1-85573-951-2

[9] – Email correspondence between Barbara Layne and Maddalena Mometti, email written on November 9, 2015.

[10] – Mike Hollingshead’s website, http://stormandsky.com/ , last accessed on 15 December 2015

[11] – George W. Rodway. “Mountain Clothing and Thermoregulation: A Look Back”. Wilderness & Environmental Medecine (2012), Volume 23, Issue 1: p. 91-94, http://www.wemjournal.org/article/S1080-6032(11)00329-2/fulltext, last accessed on 15 December 2015

[12] – GORE-TEX company website, http://www.gore-tex.com/en-us/experience/our-history, last accessed on 15 December 2015.

[13] – Skype interview with Stijn Ossevoort by Maddalena Mometti on 10 November 2015.

[14] – Skype interview with Stijn Ossevoort by Maddalena Mometti on 10 November 2015.

[15] – Valérie Lamontagne’s website, http://valerielamontagne.com, last accessed 3rd February 2016

[16] – Skype interview with Valérie Lamontagne by Maddalena Mometti on 2nd February 2016.

[17] – Skype interview with Valérie Lamontagne by Maddalena Mometti on 2nd February 2016.

[18] – Skype interview with Valérie Lamontagne by Maddalena Mometti on 2nd February 2016.

[19] – Helen Storey’s research group website, http://helenstoreyfoundation.org, last accessed on 15 December 2015.

[20] – Amy Winters is anew media artist and fashion designer, founder of Rainbow Winters studio. Web site of Rainbow Winters, http://www.rainbowwinters.com, last accessed on 28 December 2015.

[21] – Email correspondence between Amy Winters and Maddalena Mometti, e-mail written on 23 December 2015.

[22] – Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency’s website, http://www.arpansa.gov.au, last accessed on 15 December 2015

[23] – Skype interview with Hanne-Louise Johannesen, co-founder of Diffus Design studio, by Maddalena Mometti on 1st December 2015.

[24] – Maddalena Mometti, degree thesis in Product Design, at University Iuav of Venice; supervisor: designer Franco Clivio; year 2003

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