Biometric-controlled clothing revealed at New York Fashion Week brought the future of wearable technology to life.
This fall, the fashion world sashayed deeper into the digital realm, and it may never turn back.
Models strutted down catwalks during Spring-Summer 2016 New York Fashion Week (NYFW) wearing new clothing lines from well-known and up-and-coming designers, but some designers showed how future garments will be brought to life using computer technology.
The Adrenaline Dress and Areo Sports Bra by Chromat’s Becca McCharen were two mesmerizing creations that intertwined style with functionality. They broke new ground for clothing that reacts to biometrics.
These two animated garments were designed with the Intel Curie Module — a button-sized computer hardware that can power wearables — and sensors that detect body heat, perspiration and respiration, all things indicative of adrenaline.
Changes in these human biometrics trigger shape-shifting movements, bringing extra comfort or flare to the wearer.
Once considered strange bedfellows, the fashion and tech industries have been forging new partnerships at a quickening pace.
The NYFW events in September brought many new fruits from these cross-industry collaborations, but none as progressive as the autonomously reactive dress and sports bra.
— MADE (@made) September 14, 2015
Ayse Ildeniz, vice president of Intel’s New Devices Group who has established partnerships with fashion leaders like Opening Ceremony, Fossil Group, Luxottica Group, TAG Heuer, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), told Wareable that new technologies are “empowering and inspiring the fashion industry by elevating the utility of clothing and accessories with intelligent capabilities.”
By partnering with Milk Studios, MADE Fashion Week, WMG-IMG and other innovators in the fashion world, Ildeniz was able to help make all the right connections that led to McCharen’s latest wearable tech designs.
— MADE (@made) September 12, 2015
“It’s been this amazing journey figuring out what’s possible now and what will be possible in the future… where we want to go and in what direction,” McCharen said in a Fortune video interview after revealing the Adrenaline Dress and Aero Sports Bra at the Chromat Fashion Show on September 11.
McCharen has designed stage costumes for pop stars Beyoncé, Madonna and Nicki Minaj.
“Garments should be able to know how your body is feeling and adapt and respond accordingly,” she said, describing her approach to Mashable.
McCharen is an architect inspired by the notion that since we can control climate in a building, we should also have the same controls over to our garments. That’s where new materials, sensing and computing technologies come into play.
The Intel Curie digital hardware module connected to sensors allows the Adrenaline Dress to sense the wearer’s respiration, perspiration and body temperature. It recognizes physiological markers that tie to emotions where adrenaline might be experienced.
It’s what Intel Innovation Engineer Karli (Karolina) Cengija describes as biomimicry.
Tying biosensing to shape memory alloy, Cengija helped find a way to bring natural, silent movement without the use of mechanical servos. This led to a sleek design that looked and moved as if it was a biological extension of the wearer.
“It was designed to respond autonomously and move like living things do in our natural world,” said Todd Harple, an experience engineer and new projects director at Intel’s New Devices Group.
He categorized the Adrenaline Dress as a next step beyond the Intel Edison-powered Spider Dress designed by Anouk Wipprecht nearly a year ago, moving tech-infused clothing even closer to what people might actually wear someday.
Harple and others see the Adrenaline Dress as a giant step beyond advancements in decorative blinking dresses.
“We can’t actually track epinephrine, the chemical in our bodies which we often call adrenaline, but we can measure body temp, perspiration and respiration to approximate the conditions of a rise in adrenaline.”
This is enough data for the hardware module to initiate changes to the garment that reflect a need or mood of the wearer.
Like the Synapse Dress, an earlier designed by Anouk Wipprecht done in collaboration with Cengija and other Intel Innovation Engineers, Harple sees the Adrenalin Dress has implications for how biological sensing in our clothing can improve our lives.
He said it’s possible that we might one day be able to help understand conditions of anxiety in a discreet way to help those who have difficulty communicating.
Francis Bitonti, who did 3D design work on the Adrenalin Dress, told Wired UK that 3D printing is becoming critical to creating new fashion wear. To stay innovative, the fashion world requires deeper thinking about tools, materials and manufacturing.
Bitonti is known in the fashion world for co-designing a body contouring 3D printed dress for burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese. He described the explorative Adrenalin Dress as the result of “having a handful of engineers working alongside a designer to create something completely new.”
The expanding and contracting apparatus at the back of the dress was made from carbon fiber, and movement is generated by an innovative use of shape memory alloy.
Smart Athletic Bra
The Aeros Sports Bra, also revealed at Chromat event, is made of neoprene, mesh and Lycra.
— MADE (@made) September 15, 2015
“At first glance this looks like any other fitness top, but innovative 3D printed frames [with opening vents] work hard to keep you cool while you get your sweat on,” wrote Noelle Sciacca in Mashable.
“When the wearer begins to perspire and her body temperature rises, the technology in the bra responds by opening and closing built in vents.”
Like the Adrenaline Dress, the smart sports bra uses an Intel Curie module, perspiration sensors and shape memory alloy that allows it to silently open and close vents that cool an overheated wearer.
What’s Next in Fashion Tech?
Harple described the Adrenalin Dress as an editorial statement about the future, while the Aeros bra is more about the nearer future.
“Becca (McCharen) showed them as extensions of her current line,” he said. “They were alpha for her. She will sell both but without electronics as part of her line, showing that even from a design perspective that this is her and where she’s going. Working together, we can help extend her vision to create something she otherwise couldn’t do without tech.”
Fashion Week New York demonstrated how the fashion world is pushing the limits, but it also exposed challenges of breaking new ground for wearable tech.
“Today’s tools and machines will need to be retrofitted to meet the needs of technology-infused fashions,” 3D designer Bitonti told Wired.
“Getting things into production is really the largest problem we’re having. The tools to bring products to market aren’t there. We know we can do amazing things with materials, we know it enables a completely new aesthetic … [but] it’s getting it into the hand of the consumer, and that’s a manufacturing and distribution problem.”
While these garments are major leaps for fashion-first wearable technologies, McCharen admits that her creative goals are currently bound by physical limitations.
“Right now there are a lot of barriers to fashion technology,” she told Mashable.
“Wires and batteries are not soft and flexible. I told Intel’s CEO that flexible joints are a must in the future. It’s all about wearability so it has to stretch and bend with the body.”
She told Fortune that what she showed on the runway during NYFW this month really represents the beginning.
“It only represents what we’ve been able to come up with in six months,” she said.
“But as the collaboration grows in the future, everything we learn from this project can push us forward because there’s so much work to be identified.”
When asked how she felt wearing the Adrenaline Dress on stage at a press event, model Alek Wek said it was neat and that she felt computerized.
“After two decades on the runway it’s a really nice moment,” said Wek. “I felt connected with my body.”
Editor’s note: Fashion fitting rooms could soon be getting a makeover thanks to new technology innovation. The MemoryMirror was shown at New York Fashion Week’s Spring and Summer 2016 show. Anyone who has a creative idea to transform the norm using technology can enter the $1 Million America’s Greatest Maker contest.