At Paris Fashion Week in 2013, the architect-turned-fashion designer Iris Van Herpen stunned the crowd with her (literally) electrifying Voltage collection. At the center of the show was a 3-D printed skirt-and-cape combo created in collaboration with architect and MIT Media Lab professor Neri Oxman. Made with an obscure type of 3-D printer, the outfit–alternately soft and structural, and covered in thousands of tiny, scale-like white nodules–seamlessly bridged the gap between the handcrafted and the machine-made.
Now, the outfit will be a centerpiece for the #techstyle exhibition coming to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston next month. Pulling together pieces from 30 emerging and established fashion designers, the show looks at how new technology is fueling innovation in the fashion industry, from 3-D printed haute couture to textiles grown in science labs.
“The exhibition was inspired by the acquisition of the Iris Van Herpen-Neri Oxman 3-D printed dress,” says Pamela Parmal, one of the exhibition curators and Chair of the MFA’s Department of Textile and Fashion Arts. “What became interesting for us is how many designers are working with mathematicians, engineers, and biologists and integrating those disciplines into their work.”
The pioneering Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, for example, has incorporated the work of mathematicians into his geometric clothing designs for years. Alexander McQueen’s spectacular final runway collection, Plato’s Atlantis, merged Darwin’s 19th-century theories of evolution with today’s concerns over global warming. And then there is the Israeli designer Noa Raviv, who often works with scientists and mathematicians to experiment with 3-D printing as a tool to create impossible, mind-bending designs.
But #techstyle is not simply a showcase of fashion inspired by math and science. A third of the show is dedicated to how designers have used technology to revolutionize the way clothing is designed and constructed. Kate Goldsworthy, the designer behind the Zero Waste Dress is one example: in an effort to replace the chemically toxic process of dyeing, she’s developing laser technology to both pattern and bond cloth. Another is G-Star RAW for the Oceans, which turns plastic refuse the ocean into fashionable denim.
The show also includes a passing nod to biotech designers like Goldsworthy, Oxman, and the Boston-based duo Nervous System. Other pieces, like Modern Meadow’s lab-grown leather and Natsai Audrey Chieza’s bacteria-dyed scarves, for example, were in too early stages to be included. While growing clothes from a petri dish may sound wildly experimental, Parmal expects this to be the next big thing in fashion. At a time when fashion manufacturing comes at a huge environmental cost, more fashion designers are pairing with synthetic biologists to find a more sustainable way forward.
#techstyle opens on March 6, 2016 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.