High tech, high fashion?
In the last few years, digital and state-of-the-art technology has featured in fashion in a variety of ways, from smart clothes to connected apparel, revolutionary materials, next-generation technology and threadless seams. Not to mention laser cuts and 3D printing, both now used by a large number of labels. Tech innovation indeed lies at the heart of some emerging labels’ creative approach, as shown at the Paris Haute Couture week which ended last Thursday.
Hi-tech fashion pioneer Iris Van Herpen set the scene at the start of the week. The Dutch designer, winner of the ANDAM Prize in 2014, was the first to present a 3D-printed dress in 2010. Since then, her shows, featuring sculptural clothes in weird organic shapes, have always attracted scores of aficionados.
In Van Herpen’s recent catwalk show, technology had an impact beyond the collection itself: the audience was treated to a visually stunning finale, as laser lighting effects plunged the room into a digital dreamland made of floating clouds, while the models, lit from below, flitted like glittering fireflies. An unforgettable sight that will surely enhance Van Herpen's website and add another dimension to the label's appeal.
State-of-the-art digital technology now plays a role every step of the way, from creation to production, presentation and communication, generating an immersive fashion experience. The ideal approach to satisfy the thirst for experiences and stories typical of contemporary consumers.
Flora Miranda, 28, who trained with Iris Van Herpen, has fully grasped this. To present her ‘Deep Web’ collection, the designer staged a fully fledged performance/show on the fringes of the Haute Couture Week, together with actress and multimedia artist Signe Pierce.
There was a telling moment when the show's presenter, swathed in smartphones in an hymn to selfie-mania, stood on stage at the Grand Rex theatre and explained, using charts and tables, how a machine is able to design everything by itself. The collection’s models were used to show the various stages of the digital design and machine-learning process. In the end, the audience was more interested in the show than in the clothes, and left with the satisfying impression of truly being au fait with the latest developments.
Miranda was born in Salzburg, Austria, and grew up in a family of artists and musicians. Initially interested in painting, she left Austria and settled in Antwerp, where in 2014 she graduated from the Fashion Academy, launching her first collection in 2016.
“I’m very much inspired by web culture, digital tools and our digital identity. My clothes are mostly handmade in my atelier, and technology features only in some parts of the process. What I’m most attracted to is the aesthetic of technology,” said Miranda at the end of her show. “I sell clothes, but I also sell the stories I create around them. We are flourishing! Quite a few companies, not necessarily fashion ones, are interested in my work and my stories,” added the hi-tech designer, who carved a niche for herself using a multidisciplinary approach at the intersection of fashion and art.
Gyunel Rustamova, 37, also began as a painter before branching out into fashion. Rustamova was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and studied at the London College of Fashion and at Central Saint Martins. She founded her haute couture label Gyunel in 2005, though she started showing only in 2013. She currently has about 50 private customers.
“At school, I learned the skill of painting on silk from the top specialists in the field. In the end though, it’s something quite limited. I still paint my designs using oil paints or watercolours, then I use digital printing to reproduce them on my clothes,” said Rustamova, speaking in a hall of the Ritz Hotel, where she showed her collection for the Paris Haute Couture Week.
“I also use laser cuts and 3D printing. Technology is ubiquitous these days. It pushes the envelope of creativity and affords a wealth of possibilities, especially for small start-ups,” added Rustamova.
Young Armenian designer Armine Ohanyan, who also showed on the fringes of the Haute Couture Week, is another adept of techno-fashion. 3D printing, laser cutting and unusual materials like silicone all play a part in her creative technique. On occasion, she also ventured into staging eclectic artistic performances to showcase her work.
The same goes for Yuima Nakazato, 33, an expert in needleless, threadless digital couture. On Thursday, his was the final show of the Haute Couture Week in Paris, where he has been showing since 2016. “For me, technology is simply a tool, albeit an essential one, because it allows us to embrace new perspectives,” said the Japanese designer, wearing a white shirt as he mingled with the audience to explain his creative approach.
Nakazato’s wasn’t a spectacular show, nor were the clothes futuristic. Gone too were the machines which featured on the catwalk last year, a 3D scanner and a laser-cutting machine which measured up the customers and cut the various fabric sections that were then assembled together. Nakazato, who studied at Antwerp’s Fashion Academy and worked as a costume designer in cinema and theatre for a long time, before founding his fashion label in 2015, this time opted for a more private presentation, showcasing more of an everyday collection with highly wearable clothes, though still extremely distinctive.
He conceived a story centred around eight characters of different age and outlook, creating for each of them an outfit into which their history, background and personality were literally woven. Nakazato assembled in each outfit, using the threadless technique he devised, various different swathes of fabric, all of them having special significance for his characters.
An older woman whose dress reproduced her husband's paintings; a photographer with a passion for the Silk Route; an indigo dye specialist; a woman whose wedding dress was made from her grandmother’s lingerie; a costume referencing the various steps in a dancer’s career; a shirt blending the clothes of a son and a father, both rock music fans; a nine-year-old kid who dreams of becoming an astronaut and a four-year-old girl whose dress was made out of her plush toys.
Technology faded in the background, while highly sartorial customisation and great handmade quality took centre stage. Nakazato is a great story-teller, and his understated yet effective installation, featuring a poetic video clip and superb pictures, was a success. As was the way the clothes were presented, with the initial items shown alongside the ones that were assembled from the customers’ memories, while a modern-day craftsman put together a dress in front of the audience, by slotting into microscopic holes the tiny clips used instead of thread.
“Technology will never replace handicraft. A robot cannot replicate gestures that are so minute and meticulous. Even if innovation is part of our daily lives, it will never replace the expertise of fashion ateliers,” said Pascal Morand, president of the French Haute Couture and Fashion Federation, who attended the show.
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