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When technology meets fashion

by Zoe Weisman

Fashion is all about the novel, the fresh, the innovative. It is no surprise, then, that the marriage of fashion and technology has produced some stunning results. Designer Yeohlee Teng will debut a new blend of elegant silk and linen enhanced with a “Nano-Tex” molecular fabric treatment during Spring 2006 Fashion Week at the Center for Architecture. Other international designers have successfully integrated technological advances with innovative fabric choice and highly complex accessories, namely electronic devices.

This season’s most coveted item? The PlayStation Portable. With technologic accessories becoming lifestyle accessories, the need for high-quality design is crucial. This year’s must-haves include electronic devices, and designers have to keep up with the demand for clothing that reflects our technology-drenched culture.
But other designers have used technology for decades to alter the process of garment-making, making whimsical clothing with experimental techniques. Junya Watanabe creates extraordinary unconventional forms, elegantly reshaping the female body in ways, according to Gillion Carrara, Director of the SAIC Fashion Resource Center, that would be “impossible without the aid of new, innovative materials.” Similarly, Issey Miyake uses the technology of small factories in Japan that allow him to pleat fabric after a garment has been constructed. Miyake also has used new materials like monofilament polyamide with a holographic finish to create a luminous variation of color on a simple dress. His garments hold an especially idiosyncratic quality, evoking traditional Japanese artisanal methods, matched with a unique conceptual vision that transcends both Japanese and Western style.

CP Stone Island of Milan is a ground-breaking company using experimental methods to find new shapes for the fabric of old forms. “When it comes to this company,” said Carrara, “kites can become garments, and garments can become tents.” Carlo Rivetti, the founder of CPSI, looks inquisitively to the potential of chemistry to produce new and avant-garde materials for his line. CPSI creates hybrid materials from heterogeneous combinations, and experiments with special processes of washing, dyeing, and coating. Resin-coated nylon muslin, usually used to make umbrellas, becomes the material for a cape. A futuristic jacket made of dynalfil TS-70 features a non-rip, non-scratch surface. It is oil and water resistant, comes with an anti-smog mask, and has double layer pockets to accommodate a computer and cell phone.

The CPSI catalogue has become a goldmine for SAIC fashion students looking for non-traditional materials with which to work. More and more design students are turning to industrial materials rather than the usual, fashion-oriented textiles. Samsonite crosses the line between electronics and clothing with wearable technology, boasting on the cover of its catalogue, to carry “problem-solving clothing.” “It might appear to be simple black trousers and a black jacket, but suddenly a lamp pulls out of the pocket,” described Carrara. These electronic savvy garments put technology literally at your fingertips, turning devices into extensions of the human body. Pockets are created specifically to accommodate an iPod, cell phone, GPS tracking device, or flashlight. This clothing, however, is not sold in the United States. Europeans have been quicker to embrace wearable technology, but with the popularity of iPods and Sidekicks in the US, American companies are trying to keep up.

Kenpo Inc., a clothing manufacturer based in Los Angeles, caters to the American iPod obsession with its new iPod jacket—not a skin, the protective sheath for the iPod itself, rather a jacket specifically tailored for the iPod listener on the go. The jacket utilizes Elektex, a patented fabric that re-invents the jacket sleeve as a 5-button electronic control panel with touch-sensitive buttons, allowing users to access their iPod’s controls without ever having to remove the device from its safely padded interior pocket. The jacket is the ultimate union of fashion, technology, and form. Will this trend catch on and become a part of the mainstream? We’ll have to wait and see.

MARCH 2006