Besides their talent for flight, most birds have another enviable trait that humans lack: an unwavering sense of direction. Taking her cue from the aviary internal compass, designer Birce Ozkan created an augmented feather jacket that reacts with a twitch when the wearer is facing north.
Ozkan, who teaches fashion and technology classes at Parsons School of Design, is often inspired by nature and biomimicry when it comes to designing her experimental garments. For her Augmented Jacket, she looked at the way birds navigate during migration season, detecting vibrations from earth’s magnetic field. Clear tubes on the interior of the jacket connect a servo motor to the black rooster feathers adorning the shoulders. When an electronic compass–also fitted inside the jacket–detects the wearer is heading north, the motor begins to rotate and the feathers spring to action.
Yet some aspects of the jacket’s UX are based on the way humans naturally use memory to navigate. “During my research, I found that when humans lose their way, the easiest way to reorient themselves is to face north and visualize the map,” she says. She also created a matching feathered skirt that interacts in the same way, and plans to synch the garments to Google Maps so that the feather movements can communicate left and right turns along a particular route.
Practical? Not really, but Ozkan’s of the mind that interactive fashion shouldn’t be restricted by sheer functionality–rather, it can be “artistic, performative, and expressive.” As she puts it, “instead of being dead cloth, fashion can be a kinetic, dynamic, and almost living expression of our unique experience with nature.” Plus, traversing the city in a morphing feathered outfit? There’s truly no chicer way to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.