What’s next? Fashion is always asking that question. Collaborations between music and the fashion industry often give an insight into what ideas designers are toying with. Amidst the dancers, fire shows and neatly tied choreography, there’s something that The Black Eye Peas, Lady Gaga and Azealia Banks have in common. None other than the fashion tech lab known as Studio XO.
From the film, you’ll notice that Studio XO’s founders Nancy Tilbury and Ben Males discussed the idea of bringing couture to life as well as how they would then bring it to the masses. That means a shift from all the obvious cables, LEDs, mini screens and multiple people manning one piece to neatly include out-of-sight tech that supports fashion seamlessly and as effortlessly as breathing. A major point of interest was their fashion forecast of a future where smart textiles would include digital skins.Males is a mechanical engineer with a distinct curiosity in nuclear reactor design. On the other hand, Tilbury is the fashion graduate who pioneered wearable tech at Philips and set up the Media Lab at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Together, they started Studio XO in 2011 to break down the walls between scientists and designers. With the help of their staff of 10 whom they call hybrids, because they are designers that are also coders and engineers, they have fast grown to be known the bespoke couture creators for the famous and photographed. It started with ‘simpler’, ‘interactive designs’ that blink and flash in controlled sequences on stage. This includes designs for the Black Eyed Peas, the “digital mermaid bra” for Azealia Banks, JLS’ boots dotted with LEDs and screens, as well as the twinkling optic fibre dress inspired by Tinkerbell for designer Richard Nicoll. According to an interview with the Guardian (US), the Studio XO team wanted to do more for the fashion tech arena and cater to a certain gap. “People say there are two types of people interested in this technology, people who are into health and fitness and people who want to increase their productivity. And we believe that misses out a whole other category that is more about expression and emotion,” expresses Males. So it comes as no surprise that they created the ‘Blushing Bubelle’ dress which responds and publicises the wearer’s mood by changing colours. Furthermore, that Lady Gaga’s technical division of Haus of Gaga, known as TechHaus, would be taken by the dress and initiated a series of dresses for the artist’s ARTPOP campaign in 2013. This includes the Anemone dress, which was a 3D-printed dress that is also a bubbles machine and the 3D printed Parametric Sculpture Dress which was inspired by ArtHaus and Jeff Koon’s collaboration. Both pieces were printed by the world’s largest 3-D printers created by Materialise and are known as Mammoth stereolithographic machines.
There is also the animate black mirrors dress known as the Cipher and the flying dress, known as Volantis, that you heard about in-depth in the fashion film.While the dress actually hovers close to the ground, it is still in testing phase and in fact acts as more of a metaphor of what the fashion industry can achieve. Its part of the first wave of what the duo call wearable revolution and their mission to cold-fuse technology and fashion design. The ‘fashion lab’ has already made XOX, which is technology that registers psychic state through emotional sensors. This tech is practically being used by advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi in their wristbands that register emotional reactions to a show reel. It’s tech like this that creates possibilities to improve human communication and connectivity through visual-landscaping, a concept Tilbury calls the “ambient mapping of emotion”. Studio XOB is the next step for the fashion lab, which will focus more on mass production and tackle the issue of production cost. They’re playing with the idea of releasing versions of the JLS trainers and probably a “jacket that can remix content on the body.” Most importantly, offer the answer of how to successfully and practically use digital in fashion. However, their true passion lies in exploring the concept of digital skin further, creating a future where your clothes can download everything from colours and effects, to images and videos. Perhaps that’s why the next Studio XO development looks to use micro-robotics in textiles to allow their clothes that adjust shape and size at the flip of a switch. Do you think we’re ready for a more interactive fashion industry, or do you think “ambient mapping of emotion” is a TMI in a world that already shares too much? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this and the fashion film in the comments below.
To find out more about Studio XO and other tech innovators, watch this documentary, “The Next Black” a documentary film that explores the future of clothing. Start Watching Here.