Interactive fashion lets costumers wear devices on their sleeves
Does this computer come in a Size 6?
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For fashion, the floodgate moment will come once someone figures out how to change a computer’s unyielding aversion to water so that it can be washed and worn without difficulty or discomfort.Skip to next paragraph
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“The challenges really are in certain electronic components. Transistors have not become soft yet,” says Margarita Benitez, who will teach the inaugural course on interactive weaving at Chicago’s Art Institute this fall.
Ms. Benitez is like many designers who have shifted from making one-of-a-kind art objects that question society – a necklace she designed called the “Detect Protect” warns the wearer of electro-magnetic fields – to becoming laboratory tinkers working to see their ideas mass-produced.
“The textiles that work best with electronics are weaving and surface embroidery,” because the cables can be incorporated naturally into the piece, rather than bolted on later, she says. “In just the same way you can quilt, you can implement components within textiles.”
Having designers rethink sewing as coding takes extreme patience and a willingness to collaborate, says Younghui Kim, a self-described “interactive wearable media artist” in New York who teaches at Hongik University in Korea.
Ms. Kim is a rarity in the fashion world: She became interested in design only after working for years in telecommunications. Staring at computer screens all day created “a really strong need to design something [she] could feel or touch.”
“So I started picking up sewing machines and fabrics, and I designed like a software engineer,” she says. At the time, around 2002, it was frustrating for her to see designers make interactive clothing that was functional, rather than beautiful or comfortable.
She created “HearWear,” a series of couture skirts laden with sensors that trigger illuminating wires depending on how loud the area is. The skirt becomes “a city ear painting,” she says.
Of course, as Apple showed with personal computers, a stylish product will primarily appeal to luxury-minded consumers before hitting the racks at Target.
Chicago designer Anke Loh worked with the electronics company Philips in 2006 to create “Lumalive textiles” that animate simple dresses with moving images or text. She is now working with engineers between London and Chicago to find ways the concept can have street appeal.
“I still think to put lighting in ready-to-wear garments has still not yet been explored enough,” says Ms. Loh. “Incorporating light or sound into clothing is to find the possibilities to make it attractive. So it looks more natural [and not] like a stop light.”