SAN FRANCISCO — In May, San Francisco clothing company Betabrand hosted the first “Silicon Valley Fashion Week?” The three-day event, as much a variety show as a presentation of local start-ups and designers, was treated with combined curiosity, skepticism and bemusement. Among the headline-grabbing highlights were 3-D-printed bras, LED dresses and — as a grand finale — clothing “modeled” by drones. But although creator Chris Lindland was clearly in on the infotainment angle — the drones were a “huge lure,” he said — he might have been more prescient than coverage would have us believe.
This year, among the traditional runway presentations, New York Fashion Week will offer elements more reminiscent of Silicon Valley than high fashion — 3-D printing, LED- and code-powered garments and, perhaps most prominently, drones.
“Some people made fun of it,” Lindland said of Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (The question mark is an intentional part of the name.) “But the funny thing is that all of the technologies we used are the things that are going to show up in the world of fashion. The more the two are married, the merrier it will be.”
Although futuristic runway statements can tip toward the gimmicky — tech for tech’s sake, perhaps — they also are a bold reminder that the fashion industry is in the business of forward-looking trends and mapping out the future.
Much of the “buzz” this year comes from drones, which, after the occasional presence previously, seem to finally be taking off.
Cynthia Rowley commissioned the team behind the Phantom drones to film footage in a state park in Montauk, N.Y., that will be used during her show on Sept. 16. Her ultimate vision was inspired by everything from surfing videos to “Mad Max;” the footage will be used in projection mapping during her runway presentation, essentially creating an immersive, three-dimensional experience. The drone team, she said, having never worked in fashion, is making a documentary about the project.
“We try to push the limits of what people think about during fashion week,” Rowley said. “The idea of a runway show seems so archaic to me. We are in fashion and should always be thinking about something new.”
She also acknowledged the experimental nature of it all. “As I’m telling you this, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I hope I can pull this off!’”
Intel, which is a sponsor of fashion week, is providing Yuneec drones to capture street style at shows such as Chromat, Public School, Prabal Gurung, BCBG Max Azria and Monique Lhuillier. They will also capture street-style images from inside venues including the New York Fashion Week headquarter space, Moynihan Station and Skylight Clarkson Sq.
Sandra Lopez, director of business development at Intel’s New Devices Group, said the drones, which are just one element of the tech elements provided by Intel, were a response to talking to designers about what problems exist. She said they are a way to help further broadcast the increasingly accessible fashion week experience.
“Fashion is about photography and imagery,” Lopez said, “and how to capture and bring it to fans around the world. Naturally, we thought about drones, and everyone got excited.”
Rebecca Minkoff, an early adopter who recently launched projects like smart dressing rooms (created with eBay) and virtual reality headsets (created with Google’s Cardboard), also plans to incorporate Intel-powered drones into her runway presentation.
Fashion partnerships between West Coast tech and East Coast fashion are becoming more common.
Google’s Made With Code initiative, created in June to inspire girls to learn to code, worked with Zac Posen and designer and coder Maddy Maxey to create a coded and programmable LED dress that was revealed at the Zac Zac Posen show on Sept 8.
“His team makes beautiful things, and they were interested in the message that tech can exist in multiple forms and can create something interesting and beautiful,” Maxey said. She said the dress, which used a fabric backing of his design on which the wires and LEDs were layered, was created more as a statement to show what can be done. Maxey is interested in working on tools that allow designers to be creative. “The tech shouldn’t dictate form,” she said.
Similarly, although the materials and production seem to be a primary limiting factor, designers are experimenting with 3-D-printed clothing and accessories this year.
Francis Bitonti, who created the 3-D-printed dress worn by Dita von Teese, collaborated with Intel to create a 3-D-printed dress made with machined carbon fiber that expands in the shape of the wearer’s silhouette. It is being shown at the Chromat show today. Bitonti’s collaboration on a shoe collection with United Nude, which generated one-of-a-kind, 3-D-printed designs algorithmically, made its debut on Sept. 9.
Bitonti said although there was originally a lot of resistance to 3-D printing when he started working in fashion, ideas like 3-D printing, wearables or interactives seem to now be a part of the conversation. Still, he conceded, they often remain more publicity stunt than go-to-market.
That might change as more designers become trained in new technologies. Lauren Slowik, a designer with 3-D printing service Shapeways and a teacher of design and technology at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, teaches a workshop in 3-D printing at Eyebeam. To coincide with fashion week, students will present eight garments created through the workshop at The Seaport. The students, she said, have a range of backgrounds, from traditional fashion designer to engineering to architecture. The mix, Slowik said, is important. “The class gets these different groups of people who have this expertise together to push faster toward the fashion future.”
The fabric, she said, is just a limitation of the manufacturing, as it’s never been pushed to create the kinds of materials you’d have on the body — but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
“All of these technologies, like LEDs and fiber optics, are absolutely beautiful to watch, and becoming cheaper and more able to be a part of the stuff that we wear,” Lindland said. “I’m thrilled for that — you finally feel that you are living in 2015.”
Lopez, speaking on Intel’s third time partnering at fashion week, cited the importance of working with the designers to enhance the fashion week experience. She also emphasized the importance of designers to see the opportunities in tech. “Design houses are reimagining and rethinking what they need to do. If it’s going to be on your body, it has to be not only functional, but aesthetically beautiful.”