Technology in…Fashion

Original shapes just aren’t cutting it in contemporary fashion anymore – and whether it be LED-lit crystals, or dresses you can control by mood, the new wave of fashion looks increasingly led by technology

The fashion designer Zaldy remembers very well the day that he got a call from Michael Jackson’s producers, asking him to design all the costumes for the star’s farewell tour.

The tour’s creators and Michael himself were adamant that everything Michael wore should be bigger, brighter, and unlike anything they had ever seen before.

To answer, Zaldy turned to technology. The Filipino designer teamed up with electronic firm Philips and the jewellery firm Swarovski to create outfits that breached the gap between fashion and technology, including a futuristic spacesuit that was head to toe solid Swarovski and Lucite.

It was 300,000 individual crystals – how much did it cost? I don’t know. A lot!

Zaldy on making Michael Jackson's costume

Abby Franklin, the wardrobe supervisor for the tour, said: “Zaldy used crystals in a way that we’ve never seen before. The way he had the appliques for the crystals to sit along the twill of the fabric… even Nadia Swarovski herself hasn’t seen anything like that.”

It was the “Billy Jean” outfit that created the most furore. Zaldy thought that Michael’s suit should light up in the same way that sidewalk did in the Billy Jean music video. He and the Philips team created lights in Michael’s clothing that could be controlled with a remote control, much like playing a Wii game.

The lights could be made to pulse to the rhythm of the song, and change colour: Michael’s favourite effect, remembered Zaldy, was a rainbow colour that spread up through the star’s body, from his socks to the fingertips of his gloves.

Light is commonly used in “high-tech” fashion; Rainbow Winters’ fibre-optic Riot dresses are luminous pieces whose colours are controlled by embedded sensors, which are claimed to change due to temperature and the wearer’s mood.

Though the latter seems unlikely, there is more clothing being developed that seeks to address very human problems. Mediamatic reported that Astrid Lubsen, Dick van Dijk, Chris Karthaus and Bertus  made a jacket that will blow air into someone’s face when they get too close, using a resistor which activates a fan in the jacket’s sleeve.

Rainbow Winter
Rainbow Winter's luminous dress, which features embedded sensors that claim to change the dress's colour according to its wearer's mood

And Barbara Amalie Skovmand Thomsen and Louise Springborg have created a carpet that addresses noise levels in nurseries: when the noise is okay, the nursery carpet lights up with images of little animals and ghosts – which promptly disappear when the children get too loud.

A Dubai-based firm, Merlin Digital, took the idea of a watch to a whole new level; their Smart Watch syncs with any Android smartphone, so it’s possible to receive phone calls and text alerts from it, as well as making independent phone calls.

Beyond just aesthetics, this kind of technology is eminently practical, and it seems that “wearables”: the act of merging your clothing with communication technology – are on the rise.