High-fashion goes high-tech in ‘#techstyle’

3-D printed garment, ‘Twitter Dress’ and more on display in museum exhibit

#techstyle fashion exhibit space

WEARABLE ART  A new exhibit highlights how 3-D printing, interactive electronics and other technologies are changing clothing design, production and the wearer’s experience.

Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Through July 10
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

You wouldn’t expect wardrobe classics like leather jackets or denim jeans at an exhibit celebrating fashion at its most forward. But “#techstyle” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston features those sartorial mainstays and others, each with a technological twist.

A feast for the eyes, the diversity of pieces is matched by the diversity of artists and approaches. Yet a single theme unites: The fusion of technology and fashion will increasingly influence both. Visitors are introduced to this theme via a room featuring works by prominent designers already known for merging fashion and tech: A digitally printed silk dress by Alexander McQueen hangs next to a fiberglass “airplane dress” by Hussein Chalayan that has flaps that open and shut via remote control.

The largest part of the exhibit focuses on how technology is changing design and construction strategies. In addition to clothes made with mainstream techniques like laser-cutting, several 3-D printed garments are on display. These include a kinematic dress made of more than 1,600 interlocking pieces that can be customized to a wearer’s body via a 3-D scan. The dress comes off the printer fully assembled. Other pieces are made with technologies still being developed, such as the laser-welded fabrics from sustainable textile researcher Kate Goldsworthy.

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Over 1,600 interconnected nylon plastic pieces behave as continuous fabric in this 3-D printed kinematic dress, shown from the back, created by the design studio Nervous System based in Somerville, Mass. Jonathan Sahula
In response to a nearby voice, electronic sensors activate the pins that cover Montreal-based conceptual artist Ying Gao’s garment, prompting the pins to undulate in prickly waves. Jonathan Sahula
Embedded with thousands of LEDs, the “Twitter Dress,” by London fashion house CuteCircuit, is interactive: It can receive and display tweets or animated light patterns, which illuminate the floor-length silk gown. Jonathan Sahula
Reactive inks triggered by wind, light and heat transform black leather into shimmery plumage in a jacket by London-based “materials alchemist” Lauren Bowker. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The real standouts are in the “Performance” section, which displays attire that uses data from the immediate environment to generate some visible aspect of the garment. These interactive pieces “reveal something to the eye that you wouldn’t see normally, something that science often captures with graphs and charts,” says Pamela Parmal, a curator of the exhibit. For instance, the interactive dress “Incertitudes” is adorned with pins that flex in response to nearby voices, creating waves in the fabric; a dress embedded with thousands of tiny LEDs can display tweeted messages or other illuminated patterns.

And there are two leather jackets that, at first glance, look like their innovation is merely a stylish cut. But the jackets are coated in reactive inks that shimmer with iridescent colors in response to the wind and heat generated by heat guns in the display case. (These creations were born after designer and trained chemist Lauren Bowker used the reactive compounds to reveal the aerodynamics of race cars in a wind tunnel in a project for Formula One.)

Visitors seeking in-depth explanations of the science behind the fashions will have to look elsewhere. But “#techstyle” still has something for everyone, whether fashionista or engineer. And while the fashions represented are all cutting edge, the show harks back to an era when clothes were custom-made. Technology might have brought us mass-produced cookie-cutter clothing, but it can also enable clothing tailored to the individual. 

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