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The Future Of Fashion

By Miranda McCrea

Today we live in a digitally driven society, so it is natural for fashion designers, scientists, and engineers to join forces and take on the world. We have come to expect the union of fashion and technology, when just a short while ago this feat was merely a thought and not yet formed into an obtainable product.

Enter #techstyle, an exhibition showcasing the wonders of integrating technology and fashion. The Museum of Fine Arts is hosting the exhibit from March 6 to July 10. #techstyle begins with an introduction to the fusion of fashion and technology in the work of well-known designers and then transitions into two major sections: Production and Performance.

“‘Production’ explores the ways designers—often in collaboration with scientists and engineers—harness new technologies to rethink how clothing is made. ‘Performance’ presents fashion that interacts with its wearer in both practical and conceptual ways,” said Michelle Finamore, co-curator of #techstyle and Penny Vinik Curator of Fashion Arts.

The garments featured in the exhibit range from conceptual to wearable, depending on the piece. The “Ricky Bag with Light” (2015) by Ralph Lauren is a surefire wearable accessory; it is both fashionable and technologically savvy, boasting newly installed LED lights and a built-in phone charger for up to 1,000 on-the-go charges. The “Solar Dress” (2014) by Pauline Van Dongen is similar in functionality, as it charges a phone’s battery via solar panels located in the sides of the dress.

“Van Dongen’s design philosophy emphasizes the fusion of technology with design to create functional clothing for the future. In 2014, she collaborated with Christiaan Holland and solar energy expert Gert Jan Jongerden to create clothing that incorporated solar cells. After two hours in the sun, the [solar] dress can charge a phone’s battery. The design of the dress incorporates 72 cells, which can be hidden behind folding panels when not in use,” said Finamore.

Many of the items in the exhibit are currently for sale, so it is just a matter of time before more become available to customers. Affordability of these pieces comes with the advancement of technology, and when technology is made affordable, more designers will be incorporating technology into their garments.

“[The movement] will continue to evolve as new technologies are developed. There is no end in sight, which is the exciting aspect of all of this…Technology has always impacted fashion and vice versa, but we are currently seeing very dynamic synergy between the two disciplines and more collaboration than we have seen in the past,” said Finamore.

Designers are jumping on board to create tech-trendy garments in major fashion hubs, including London, New York City, and Boston. Runway shows around the world have showcased these garments, created by frontrunners Hussein Chalayan, Issey Miyake, and Iris Van Herpen.

“What we found interesting in our research is that many of today’s young scientists have chosen to focus their research efforts on clothing and accessories. Nervous System in Somerville, Massachusetts, and Francis Bitonti in New York both work with computer algorithms and 3-D printing to create new ways of generating fashionable dress. Kate Goldsworthy, Senior Research Fellow at Textiles Futures Research Centre, University of Arts London, is doing important work using lasers to pattern textiles and actually stitch garments together. Her methods involved no textile dyeing or finishing, which are among the most chemically wasteful processes in the textile industry. The garments are also completely recyclable with no waste,” said Finamore.

Since New York City is the center of the fashion industry in the United States, it may come as a surprise that Boston was the chosen location to showcase the #techstyle exhibit. However, with a great deal of the technology featured in the exhibition practiced in Boston, “a long-time technology hub,…[Boston is] now emerging also as a center of ‘smart’ fashion.”

“One of the things that fascinated us about the current work in the show is that fashion designers and scientists, mathematicians, and engineers often collaborate to create very wearable designs. We also found many young designers like those at THEUNSEEN, Nervous System, and Francis Bitonti are also scientists in their own right and have chosen to work in the fashion world. It is this confluence of fashion and technology that has resulted in such beautiful, wearable garments,” said Finamore.

Looking into the future, the fashion industry intends to continue collaborating with professionals in STEM-related fields to enhance the wearer’s experience through advances in technology. These garments are certain to change the way consumers purchase clothing, one piece at a time.

“Customization will have the biggest impact on the consumer. With body scans, clothing can be custom made, while apps allow for custom design. Even today, you can go to the website of Nervous System, design a dress, feed in your measurements, and print it on a 3-D printer. I think this method of buying clothing will become much more common,” said Finamore.

For more information on the exhibition, follow #techstyle on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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