When an exhibit’s name starts with a hashtag, you know it’s going to be cool. Even just saying the title “#Techstyle” out loud, you realize it sounds like “textile”, an obvious jeu de mot to illustrate that the collection is not only about innovation in fashion and technology, but also about textiles—the very backbone of fashion. Having this exhibition open in the city of Boston is groundbreaking for the fashion community at large.
On the night of March 5th, 2016, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston opened the first museum show ever in America to feature the amalgamation of technology and fashion. The evening of celebration filled with a fashion forward crowd of well heeled Bostonians dressed in the most innovative attire, and artists and designers from around the world, including the iconic Victoria Modesto, marked The Fashion Council’s 10th anniversary. This branch of philanthropy for the museum has played an integral role in acquiring iconic fashion pieces for the museum as well as serving as a social group for donors to experience one of a kind behind the scenes looks inside various fashion houses all across the world. So it’s no surprise that I along with the Boston fashion community was waiting impatiently for this show to open!
But where can I start? Sending me to this exhibit was like putting a kid in a candy store. I was greeted by Pamela Parmal, Chair of the MFA’s David and Roberta Logie Department of Textile and Fashion Arts for a private tour of the collection. According to Pamela, the exhibition was originally a much smaller show. It was slated to be in a smaller space upstairs in the museum. However, back in 2013, after acquiring a few key pieces such as the iconic Iris Van Herpen Anthozoa 3D Cape and Skirt fresh off of the Paris runway, the museum realized that the exhibit was destined to be much bigger than they originally anticipated.
Iris van Herpen 3D Cape and Skirt in the “Production” room of the exhibit
Entering the exhibition which is located in the newer wing of the museum in the Henry and Lois Foster Gallery, I was greeted by a video of Hussein Chalayan’s original Airplane Dress, 1999.
Video by Marcus Tomlinson, post production by Absolute London
The model rotates in the video and flaps of her remote control dress move up and down simulating an airplane about to take off. Hussein was one of the original designers who first incorporated the use of video to show his collections, and a perfect opener for the exhibit.
The first room of the exhibition features four designers who stood out in the forefront as being pioneers in innovation of fashion and technology: Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. My favorite dress in this room is by far the Alexander McQueen Dress, 2010 from the Plato’s Atlantis Collection.
McQueen Dress, 2010
In his last collection before his passing, McQueen used digital printing on fabric to portray an apocalyptic ending of humankind returning to the sea. His computer generated images of hybrid animals paired with the video monitors by SHOWstudio lined the runway and made for a groundbreaking juggernaut in the fashion world, so large that the server which was supposed to live stream the show crashed during the show.
actual video from the 2010 fashion show monitors displayed behind the dress
Also in the first room, is Issey Miyake’s 3D Steam Stretch Dress, 2015 along with a very cool video showing how the geometric pattern is achieved by steaming various weaves of yarn based on complex mathematical formulas.
In 2007, Miyake, a strong proponent of incorporating mathematics and science in fashion, founded the Miyake Design Studio Reality Lab. Here he used his A-POC (a piece of cloth), Pleats Please, and Steam Stretch innovations to further the relationship of fashion with math. His 132 5. Ensemble: Dress and Bolero, 2012 is a perfect example of this marriage. He collaborated with computer scientist and mathematician, Jun Mitani to create this beautiful origami dress and bolero which folds down perfectly to a 2 dimensional square and rectangle. If you are wondering where the name 132 5 came from, each of the numbers has a specific significance. The number “1”comes from having a single piece of cloth, the number “3” comes from it’s 3-D shape, and the “2” is derived because the 3-D garment folds into a 2-D shape. The “5” separated by a space signifies the time it takes from when the folded shape goes from being an inanimate 2-D object of cloth to a living 3-D garment on the human form.
After perusing the four greats in technology and fashion, Pamela took me to the room on the right labeled “Performance.” She told me this section of the exhibit was dedicated to how clothes perform.
I was immediately drawn to the black and clear Iris van Herpen Plexiglas dress. You can see why below:
Water Splash Crystallization dress, 2013, Iris van Herpen
The dress was actually designed by a collaboration of three integral components: video, mixed media and acting by model Daphne Guinness. Nick Knight and SHOWstudio used super high speed cameras to capture images of black and clear water being splashed on Guinness’s naked body. Designer, Iris van Herpen carefully sorted through the video footage and found the perfect image in which to base the design of the dress. She subsequently manipulated sheets of plastic to recreate the visual for water in motion, and the Water Splash Dress was born in 2013 as part of her Crystallization collection.
Also in the same room and diagonal from the Splash Dress and lighting up with images of Hokusai waves scrolling across the gown is the CuteCircuit MFA Dress, 2016. Commissioned by the MFA the dress can receive live tweets if you hashtag it #tweetthedress. As with any new technology, comes some bugs, such as the wireless connection being down so I was unable to get my tweet to run across the dress. But please let me know if you succeed and feel free to commnent with a pic of your tweet on the dress.
CuteCircuit MFA Dress, 2016
The dress is a prototype in the field of responsive garments. The designer, Francesca Rosella believes that “the future is interactive clothing.” Interactions can take place by means such as shoes flashing when a photo is being taken (Sparkle Booties), or hugs given in the “hug shirt” to a wearer from afar. They can also take place via the Magic Fabric as in the Twitter Dress, with its over 10,000 microLEDs embedded into its silk fabric. Quite a technological breakthrough to have no cumbersome wires. The company sees the dress as a precursor to where fashion is headed. The dress is an example of how fashion can be the ultimate expression of oneself. Eventually you will be able to say or show how you are feeling by displaying it on your clothing via an app. And it doesn’t hurt if your garment is also encrusted with thousands of Swarovski crystals. (A great supporter of fashion and technology and an integral sponsor for some of the pioneering work in this field.)
If you have to rush through the exhibit, which I don’t recommend doing. You must see everything I mentioned above, and don’t miss Hussein Chaylan’s Possessed Dress, 2016. A recent acquisition by the MFA.
This dress represents the power that a garment can have over its wearer. Behind the dress is beautiful video footage of the dress being used in the dance performance by London’s Saddler’s Wells dance company in Gravity Fatigue. The dress has a life of its own and can influence and control the behavior of its wearer. I can relate, I know I have definitely felt this way before about my dress! Have you?
video footage of Gravity Fatigue
You must also come on Wednesdays between 1-2pm or 6-7pm and talk to Ying Gao’s Incertitudes shirt and shorts, 2013.
Incertitudes shirt and shorts, 2013
Because of the fragility of the garment, it is only turned on at limited times. The shirt and shorts which are covered by hundreds of dressmaker pins, reacts to sounds and moves in response to it in an uncertain way. The wearer and the spectator alike can engage in conversation with the garment to experience conversation “filled with misunderstanding and uncertainty.”
And don’t skip over the other main room of the exhibition dedicated to “Production.” This room covers the production aspect of fashion and technology such as 3D printing, digital design, laser cutting, embedded electronics and sustainable manufacturing.
I was immediately drawn to the beautiful example of 3D printed shoes by United Nude. Their Highrise Shoe, 2015 is sky high, and not wearable, but are works of art in themselves. The fashion industry is headed in the direction of 3-D printing, and the materials are developing and becoming better and better. The rubberized version of 3-D printing will soon enable people to print a wearable version of their own shoes at home.
Companies in Boston such as Somerville’s Nervous System, are already 3-D printing dresses, as is evident in its Kinematics Petal dress, 2016. The dress was commissioned by the MFA for the exhibition and is entirely 3-D printed from custom measurements from a body scan. Composed of over 1600 unique pieces and more than 2600 hinges, it comes out in three parts, and is easily assembled and ready to wear. I love that quite a few local designers were featured in this show. In addition to Nervous System, Sally LaPointe amongst other locals was featured. Look for the “B” sign next to the wall signs to identify works with local connections.
Kinematics Petal dress, 2016, in background, video of the website software in which you can order your own 3D custom printed dress
Fashion favorites such as Mary Katrantzou and Viktor and Rolf are also represented in this room of the exhibit as greats in digital design and wearable art.
All in all this exhibit is not to be missed. I think fashionistas and non fashion-philes alike will enjoy this beautiful thoughtfully arranged collection of iconic fashion pieces which have and will influence the landscape of fashion and technology for our time and the future. I am kind of obsessed with it and can’t wait to go back and view it again. We have until July 10, 2016 to visit.
I’ll leave you with my snapchat post of the technology in fashion that I wore the night of the opening gala. Maybe technology in fashion isn’t that far off from reality…
Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hors are Saturday through Tuesday 10am-445pm, Wednesday through Friday 10am-945pm. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older. Admission is free for University Members and individual youths age 17 and younger. Wednesday nights after 4pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25). The MFA is located on Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.