The Techno Atelier—The Fashion Labs of Today

<p>A look at some of the revolutionary new tools in the fashion world.</p>

In today’s cut and paste fashion world, technology has become high fashion’s muse. From Marchesa’s gorgeous laser cut gowns to Issey Miyake’s computationally-crafted couture, designers are turning to technology to fashion a signature style.

Marchesa’s intricate laser-cut gowns.

The new cutting-edge tools in the techno-atelier include laser cutters that cut precise and intricate designs into any sheet of cloth; 3D printers that, layer by layer, print three-dimensional objects from powders or polymers; and even custom software applications developed to create complex digital patterns. These digital technologies, once relegated to the product designer’s toolbox, are being co-opted by the fashion camp to design everything from custom fabrics to haute-tech heels.

The Laser Cutter
The laser cutter is currently the most beloved (and widely adopted) digital technology. From chiffon to leather, designers are using this coveted tool to cut, layer, and sculpt textiles into imaginative forms. For the 2010 Spring collection, Valentino planted laser-cut rosettes on romantic-yet-edgy leather dresses while, for her MA thesis show, aspiring designer Lily Heine stacked laser cut fabric layers on minimal silhouettes. These two dramatically different approaches, from the romantic to the architectural, point to the remarkable versatility that this technology affords today’s designers.

Lily Heine’s layered laser-cut creations.

3D Scanners and Printers
While the laser cutter may be the digital darling, 3D scanners, printers and custom software are perhaps more disruptive technologies that have the potential to unravel the seams of the fashion world while, at the same time, transporting it back to its ideological roots of bespoke fashion and the custom fit.

Experiments have been done using 3D printers to create textiles and even magnificent sculptural heels. Freedom of Creation is one company that is pioneering design and research in 3D printing technologies. Their interlaced netted garments are a brilliant technical feat but their stylistic limitations are all too apparent.

Freedom of Creation’s 3D-printed netted “textile.”

Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen pushed the boundaries of 3D printed garb with a complex garment that creates the impression of an exoskeleton draped along on the model’s frame. With the help of FOC, designer Pauline van Dongen also created a pair of 3D-printed high heels that are organic and fluid in design.

Pauline van Dongen’s 3D printed heels.

Software-based Designs
If the “death of cut and sew” seems like a provocative pronouncement (it is), we just need to look to Japanese designer Issey Miyake who since 1997 has been experimenting with technology and fashion to create garments from a single piece of cloth—without the help of a single stitch. Miyake’s latest experiment “132 5. Issey Mikake” employs the use of custom software to create complex digital patterns that allow him to fashion dresses and skirts from a single sheet of fabric. The three-dimensional garments are not cut or sewn; instead they are folded with permanent pleats and use invisible snaps to fit the garment to the body.

Issey Miyake’s software-designed folded garments and accessories.

The “132 5. Issey Mikake” was developed in Miyake’s design lab—not “atelier” but “lab.” Designers today are seamlessly blending “tradition” (bobbins and needles)—with the “new” (rapid prototyping technologies); employing the help of computer scientists who write beautiful code and material scientists who understand the complex structures of fiber; and, in essence, exploring a new way of making things. They are today creating the foundation of the fashion labs of tomorrow.

Syuzi Pakhchyan is fashion technologist with a fetish for beautiful code and conductive cloth. She likes to hack fashion + electronics and celebrate wearable tech on her blog fashioningtech.com.