Technology in Fashion? Couture Designers Say Not Yet

Technology in Fashion? Couture Designers Say Not Yet

It’s amazing to think about just how much technology has impacted our lives in recent years. You wake up and before climbing out of bed, you do a routine check of all your social media accounts — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. You wait in line at your local coffee shop for your morning hazelnut latte with extra foam while scrolling through your email. You even pay the tired, overworked barista with the credit card information saved on your iPhone rather than reaching into your wallet or purse and pulling out the actual card itself. Ten years ago, none of these things were considered the norm. I don’t even think I had a Twitter five years ago.

That being said, it’s strange to think that the fashion industry hasn’t been nearly as welcoming of the recent tech boom. Sure, there have been some major moments that point to a growing fondness for wearable technology, but the majority of couture designers are hesitant to fully embrace the interconnected future that the tech world fetishizes.

But this aversion to merging technology with fashion actually makes perfect sense. Fashion, by definition, is meant to be exclusive. Luxury brands market their products toward a specific type of consumer; to make that merchandise available to the mass public would dilute its appeal.

Take a look at luxury brands like Coach, whose “fourth quarter revenue saw a 12% drop compared to the same period last year” and Kate Spade, whose shares “dropped nearly 35% in value since the beginning of 2015,” according to an article published by the Business of Fashion. “Accessible luxury brands” like Coach, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren market their products toward the average, middle-class consumer, people who place a greater emphasis on affordability than anything else. The fact that these labels are available pretty much everywhere leads to heavy discounting, effectively tarnishing the brands’ premium positioning and makes their products less desirable to those who consider themselves to be “fashionable.” Because let’s face it, if I can get the Michael Kors Selma Leather Satchel (which I’m currently coveting) for $298 at Mayc’s (or for even less at a Marshalls or T.J. Maxx) instead of for $358 on the retailer’s website, why would I even bother shopping at Michael Kors? I’m not made of money here. Well, at least not yet.

3D printed wedge made by design company Continuumm. Photo used with permission from Continuumm.
3D printed wedge made by design company Continuum. Photo used with permission from Continuum.

But the community’s overwhelming disdain for technology really hinders the plethora of advancements companies can make at the manufacturing and distribution stages of production. I may be completely biased on the issue, but some of the things designers are doing to incorporate technology into their designs is pretty damn cool. Continuum, a fashion label/design lab out of Brooklyn, NY has been selling shoes made by a 3D printer since 2012. The Strvct line of footwear is modeled after the traditional pump/wedge design. From there, users can choose from an array of colors, styles or heel lengths to customize the shoe for their own personal use.

Even more impressive is the fact that burlesque “muse and model” Dita Von Teese wore the first 3D printed, Fibbonaci-inspired gown at a private runway event during New York Fashion Week in 2013. The gown was created by designers Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitoni and printed by Shapeways, a company that allows users to create designs and objects digitally and have them printed with a 3D printer.

Dita Von Teese== A DESIGN DEBUT by MICHAEL SCHMIDT in collaboration with FRANCIS BITONTI on model and muse DITA VON TEESE at the Ace Hotel, NYC. ©Patrick McMullan Photo. Photo used with permission from the Washington Post.
Dita Von Teese models the first 3D printed dress designed by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti. Photo used with permission from the Washington Post. © Patrick McMullan.

“The exciting thing about this for me is what 3D printing is going to do in every industry,” says Bitonti. “In fashion terms, it would be [the equivalent of] bringing…couture logic to something that could potentially be ready to wear.”

As is stands, the industry still relies heavily on hands-on manufacturing — the price of any garment automatically increases with the mention of it being “handcrafted.” But 3D printing introduces the possibility of incorporating new fabrics into clothing design and printing those designs from the comfort of your own living room, eliminating the need to outsource labor.

“There’s potential for 3D printing to change the fashion market if we can push the process a little faster and introduce new materials,” says Shapeways designer Evangelist Duann Scott. “Traditionally, all garments are either a weave or a stitch and with 3D printing, we can… introduce something completely different. So we can grow designs rather than just using something that’s centuries-old technology. It’s a whole way to move forward in fashion and clothing and textiles.”

Though couture labels may not be ready to fully embrace the interplay of fashion and technology, some designers are capitalizing on  3D printing and other technological advancements to make a name for themselves in the industry. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s 2012 Spring/Summer couture collection featured a fantastical array of 3D printed dresses, blouses and skirts. While the idea of manipulating code to make clothes fit the human form sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, the thought that the mass public could eventually be designing and wearing their own clothes is definitely an intriguing.

Yet, the reason 3D printing hasn’t become mainstream — apart from the fact that the technology is still pretty expensive — is that the designs just aren’t seen as cool or useful. Sure, dresses like Von Teese’s would look good on the likes of Lady Gaga pre-her Academy Awards Sound of Music performance, but you wouldn’t be able to wear a dress like that out in the rain. Or in the snow. Or just walking down the street, given the fact that it’s completely transparent.

That lack of functionality and creative appeal explains why prominent figures in the fashion community basically disregard wearables like smart watches and Google’s “Google Glass.” Apart from appearing on Diane von Furstenberg’s 2013 Spring/Summer runway, the glasses was never widely adopted because they was simply never seen as “cool” by the likes of Anna Wintour or Karl Lagerfield.

google glass
Models walk down the runway with the Google Glasses designed by Diane Von Furstenberg, Spring/Summer 2013. Photo used with permission from Elle.com.

While Apple tried to avoid Google’s mistakes by hiring executives from Saint Laurent, Gap and Burberry and getting the watch onto the cover of Vogue China, the release of the Apple Watch would’ve been much different if it aimed to capture the hearts, minds and money of the “1%.” Instead of being released at $350, the watch should’ve hit stores with a price tag mimicking that of a handbag from Chanel’s Fall 2015/16 collection (valued at an upward of $4200), forcing consumers to buy it specifically because of its luxury status.

Perhaps the fashion world would welcome the idea of wearable technology if it was marketed as a one-of-a-kind product. Because what style maven doesn’t secretly covet vintage Chanel? Carrying around the iconic chain strap purse is a sign that you are a member of the fashion elite — its exclusivity makes it a hot commodity and therefore all the more desirable.

Moral of the story: if you’re looking to buy something for your fashion-conscious lady friend this holiday season, steer clear of the gadgets and invest in some Gucci.

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