Bedazzled by Technology

There is a way to use new technologies in fashion that doesn't involve/come with/create a sense of gimmick.

Words by Pak Lun Chiu

It was the late 90s. I was a kid who was infatuated with a gravity-defying future, much inspired by my bingeing on cartoons that had space-like gadgets, mighty-morphin robots, and supernatural abilities. At the height of my obsession, my mum bought me a Polly Pocket. It was her way of trying to calm down my boyhood and bullish behaviours. Her attempts at this were hopeless until she introduced me to the utilitarian use of nylon that formed her perfectly-designed Prada backpack. I then realised that this idea of future doesn’t have to exist in fantasy and cartoons alone; it could be encased by fashion.

Steph Wilson Image by Steph Wilson,
Katie Bell Image by Katie Bell,

It’s fair to say that fashion has always flirted with the aesthetics of ‘future’. From the menswear darling Craig Green who made Ridley Scott’s Alien ‘fashion’, to the ongoing rotation of creative directors tasked to reinvigorate a brand’s DNA with ground-breaking creations; future is important in the industry’s eyes. In the more mainstream take on fashion and today’s technology – fashion tech – we have also witnessed a fusion of clothes and science that attempts to sensationalise a new look. What is this aesthetic? Just like the works of CuteCircuit and IBM #Cognitivedress, many have focused on the illumination of lights, embellishing clothes and accessories to enchant our senses and captivate our minds.

Re-imagining the aesthetics with the science that it evokes; these illuminations don’t just dance on our retinas to create visual and textural perceptions.

Lights can also sway our feelings, thoughts, and minds. From the most basic biological suppression of melatonin and its nocturnal effect, light allows our mood and alertness to truly shine. Light can, therefore, brighten the way we think and see the world, or a dress in this case. Taking insights from the colours that beam from the gaming world, lights can further influence the way we act. Researchers have suggested that a warmish glow (yellow to red hues) could make happier, more enthusiastic and better gamers than a glow that has a neutral, blue-ish hue.

Whilst lights and colours can excite our senses, we need to stop short at declaring a revolutionary success, without seeing the designs through the eyes of the beholder and without thinking about individual differences. With the memories that we have, we furnish the light we see with our own interpretation — science groups this process under the top-down approach. From another study exploring office workers and their work lighting, we begin to understand that a scientific measure of colours cannot predict people’s moods (e.g. happy, interested and alertness) as effectively as their own subjective appraisal of colours and brightness. This means that our self-view of colours could equally affect our thoughts and emotions.

Natalie Turnbull Image by Natalie Turnbull,
Carlotta Manaigo Image by Carlotta Manaigo,

As tech-like garments, flying drones (and sometimes, even the kitchen sink) are being thrown into fashion shows and retail spaces, these ‘bells and whistles’ seem to coincide with today’s over-stimulated culture. In our everyday life, we are under constant bombardment of information that is gift-wrapped with many sensations invigorating our ears, eyes and taste buds. This elaborate use generally conveys one message that screams and shouts “look at me!”, in a sea of visual overloads and sensory radiations. Or, from a retail perspective, the purpose is to grab hold of our buying intentions, as experience economy encourages that all of our five senses should be marketed to. Referring back to our discussion on the lights, it seems this aesthetic ‘revolution’ is hitting the same note, intentionally or not. The purpose of these lights and the moving colours of a garment is to peacock its way for our attention.

In a hyper-sensory world, it’s likely that we get bored of picking up the same, constant stream of information.

Our mind has ways of dealing with this, from information withdrawal, where we keep the information source to a minimal as we swiftly filter out the unneeded data, to the phenomenon of satisficing, where we pick up just enough information to meet our needs. An over-stimulated mind changes the way we see a garment, with a chance for the garment to lose its appeal despite all the hard-work, technological investment and craftsmanship put into it.

Steph Wilson Image by Steph Wilson,
Katie Bell Image by Katie Bell,

This is not to say fashion should not progress with what technology can offer, but it is a reminder to understand the human factors that make innovation desirable, ground-breaking and relevant. Take the work of Lululemon, for example, where psychology is now being employed to invent their best performance fabric. From understanding the human habits and our minds (e.g. how the creases of our yoga pants can be both practically annoying yet helpful when centering our minds), it will help to translate technology into designs in a way that carries real meanings, uses, and desires. Think of how this can also help with making technologies for sustainable fashion relevant — not just achieving technological breakthroughs for the sake of breakthroughs.

Returning to the memory of my mother’s Prada bag, it was the juxtapose of practical military fabric with the delicacy of luxury that gave it an otherworldly newness. It wasn’t about the space-like sheen of its aesthetic, nor were there any extra sparkles or senses sewed onto the bag. It was more about my interpretation of the future.

Further Reading:

Fashion, Visual Culture & The Media by Anneke Smelik


Articles related to
Bedazzled by Technology

The Pursuit Of Selling Newness

From Fashion Fatigue To Fit For The Future

The Magical Formula Of Hype