Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 February 2020

Sass Brown: Futuristic fashion is here now ... on your desktop

Today it’s possible to imagine a 3D printer in every home, where downloading and printing the latest fashion and accessories has become second nature

The work of Iris Van Herpen. 3D innovator in couture, at Paris Fashion Week in January this year. Getty 
The work of Iris Van Herpen. 3D innovator in couture, at Paris Fashion Week in January this year. Getty 

Michelangelo was famously quoted as saying that “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”. In that vein, making pretty much anything, including clothing, is traditionally done through what is called a detractive methodology; that is, we start with a material and take away what we don’t want, to leave what we do.

In 3D printing this process is reversed. It is called additive manufacturing because you start with nothing and add what you need. In its simplest form, a 3D printer effectively converts a digital file into a three-dimensional object through a printing technique where layers of material are added on top of the other to slowly build an object.

Still considered fairly futuristic, 3D printing has actually been around for almost 30 years.

It was originally used predominately by engineers as a means of rapidly prototyping an object for testing prior to manufacture, hence its original name of rapid prototyping. It was only by the mid 2000s that 3D printer manufacturers like MakerBot and Shapeways popularised desktop 3D printers, making them affordable and accessible for the general public, artists and designers alike. Now everything from musical instruments to jewellery, medical devices, household items and clothing can be printed with a range of materials, including plastics, metal, glass, paper and wood.

New couture

While there were early proponents of 3D printing in fashion, it took some time to take hold in any serious way. One of the first to create complex, poetic and beautiful designs with it was Dutch fashion designer, Iris Van Herpen, who is widely recognised as one of fashion’s most futuristic creators. Showing in the Paris couture shows since 2011, Herpen creates a modern perspective on haute couture that combines fine handwork with digital technology, a process she calls New Couture.

Considered a pioneer in working with 3D printing and inspired by shells, insects and bones, Van Herpen’s work appears organic and natural, albeit supernatural in nature. Her designs have been featured in a multitude of museum exhibitions, with six of her dresses included in MoMA’s highly acclaimed Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibition. She has also collaborated with celebrities such as Bjork, Tilda Swinton, Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness, to name just a few.


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Studio Bitonti is another design-focused innovation company that works across creative disciplines to produce jewellery, accessories, furniture, tableware and apparel. Designer and founder Francis Bitonti is renowned for producing a 3D printed dress for burlesque dancer, Dita von Teese, which was made from 3,000 unique moving parts and thousands of Swarovski crystals.

An architect by trade, Bitonti has found that making a skin for the body is not so different from designing a building facade. He has made the observation that designing in 3D has more in common with animation than the tradition of fashion design, as he works with video, pixels and polygons, rather than fabric, pins and needles, making the process closer to creating a Hollywood film. Bitonti believes that “possibilities are now limited only by the designer’s imagination, rather than material constraints”. The studio, founded in 2012, believes that technology and design dictate the direction of culture and human capabilities.

Technology meets craftsmanship

Fashion label threeASFOUR is a trio of transnational artists based in New York, with roots in this region through founder Gabi Asfour. The three partners span continents and cultures, with Asfour hailing from Lebanon, Angela Donhauser from Russia and Adi Gil from Israel. The studio uses fashion and often 3D printing, as its medium of exploration and expression, fusing cutting-edge technology with traditional craftsmanship.

The recipient of the 2015 Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian Museum’s National Design Award, the collective creates clothing at the intersection of fashion and art. Their work was featured in the MoMA Manus x Machina exhibition alongside Iris Van Herpen, as well as shown in Dubai at a Meet d3 event in 2015. Obsessed with sacred numerology, much of their work expresses elements of biomimicry, as well as the Fibonacci sequence, such as the Harmonograph dress from autum 2016. The design forms a perfect spiral on the body through an intricate and undulating structure, all 3D printed.

While Bill Gates once dreamt of a PC in every home, now it’s possible to imagine a 3D printer in every home, where downloading and printing the latest fashion and accessories is second nature.

Updated: May 24, 2018 06:20 PM



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