Why are we obsessed with our clothes being magical? Just as costume designer Sandy Powell discussed, the power of clothes to shape and transform an image is ever-present in our culture and history. Now we’re going one step further with designers turning to technology, and indeed technology turning to fashion to collaborate and fuse the two together. I guess this is the equivalent of (at best) Chanel marrying a smart phone and (at worst) Primark jumping into bed with a toaster.
I know what you’re thinking – flashing bras to draw attention to yourself on a night out, sci fi trousers that tell the time, coats that can microwave your pot noodle? Ooh I jest, but fashion tech isn’t going anywhere, regardless of how much I want to cover my eyes with Chanel sunglasses, hide under my vintage cape and wait for it to be over. Fashion tech is big business with The Guardian reporting the scramble towards technology as fashion brands lose out financially to the allure of gadgets with Briton’s reportedly spending £4.5bn on smart phones last year versus £4.3bn on designer labels. You might be cutting back on your cashmere jumpers, but that’s still an iPhone 6s you’re reading this from – non?
The fashion tech revolution seems to be coming along quite nicely (just don’t mention Google Glass) and this video from Innovate UK predicting the future of fashion goes a long way silencing my preconceptions that fashion tech is all neon T-Shirts glowing furiously to tell you you’ve eaten too many calories. As Lauren Murray from Digital Anthropology Lab at London College of Fashion explains, things have become a lot more sophisticated. “Are we really talking about clothes? Or are we really talking about digital skins?”
This stems mainly from the fascinating idea that we are possibly only a few years away from a real life invisibility clock – now wouldn’t THAT be something? Eat your heart out Harry Potter! Also I would save about a zillion pounds a year in dry cleaning bills if the self-cleaning clothing thing works out!
I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for the child of fashion tech (or wearable tech depending on who’s asking) because as is often the case with innovation, to start out with the course of true love never did run smooth. I mean, what if you’re wearing so much electrical kit that a sudden thunderstorm could turn you into a lightning target? Or what if I just want a pair of shoes because they’re hot not because they lace up? The turning point will be when leading luxury fashion brands partner up with a tech company and really give it a go. If they can actually package a garment into a functional, clever AND sexy item that reaches mass market, it will be a breakthrough. Even the most exciting T-Shirt in the world needs a brand, and a fair amount of marketing.
But there are moves towards it, Henry Holland showcased rings on his SS16 London Fashion Week Show which allowed contactless payment. Innovate UK helped designer Lauren Bowker get The Unseen Project into Selfridges. CuteCircuit who have been around for over ten years are now showing a New York Fashion Week with their wearable tech lines (pictured above on Nicole Sherzinger). This year Levis announced they were teaming up with Google to bring you jeans that tell you when you’ve put on weight (that’s not all they do, but I mean, surely the waistband does that already!). The Jacquard Project is seriously worth a look for anyone interested in the latest advances in weaving interactive textiles. “Software development and fashion design often don’t exist in the same place,” explains Carsten Schwesig, Design Lead at Project Jacquard. “So we’re hoping to provide both software and hardware knowledge and components to make those collaborations very easy.”
These aren’t the first partnerships between technology and fashion, and they won’t be the last. So as in any innovative field the challenge of the bright sparks featured in both videos is simply to keep going. Be resilient, take chances, collaborate with others. In the end the fashion tech baby will no doubt be beautiful, and very advanced for their age! And failing that, Google light-up pants anyone?
With thanks to Netleadz for sharing Innovate UK’s video.