IT reveals hip side in show that blends technology with threads

Servers, e-mail applications and other less-than-chic combinations of hardware and software typically inhabit the technology realm. Linen is rarely equated with LEDs, while discussing couture along with the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard is almost laughable.

However, last Wednesday night at the Boston Museum of Science, the IT industry shed its wonkish ways and demonstrated that it can be in vogue during a fashion show that blended technology with threads. Seamless: Computational Couture featured about 20 designers and design teams from around the world who created garments and accessories influenced by technology.

Like its counterparts in New York and Europe, this fashion show featured disc jockeys spinning electronic music, a sports celebrity and, of course, leggy models. And like every fashion show, this iteration featured a runway. A section of the museum with an open floor plan served as the catwalk. Models started their strut on the third floor, took the escalator to the second floor where they sashayed for a bit before boarding another escalator to the ground floor for more sauntering.

The colorful fabric, avant-garde designs and crowd of 1,000 all blended harmoniously with technology, making the domain of the IBMs and Googles feel stylish and sexy.

“All of the technology is really there,” said Christine Liu, who co-produced the event and helped found the Seamless shows, with this event serving as the third. “The genius behind it is finding the application, the way it’s integrated into the garment, the aesthetics of it, the motivation behind it, and that’s what we’re looking for. This sort of composite poetry.”

The applications of technology to fashion proved myriad. Featured designs included clothing that powers portable electronic devices, jackets for measuring Wi-Fi signal strength and displaying messages via LED (light-emitting diode) and a ring that applies a tech twist to showy jewelry.

Cognoscenti debate whether fashion should place function or form first. Amanda Parkes and Adam Kumpf combine both principles by designing stylish garments that generate their own power. The duo featured a shirt in a dark cooper fabric with an off-the-shoulder neckline, turquoise trim at the neck and what appeared to be decorative buttons around the elbows and waistline. The buttons are actually coin batteries that store voltage created as the wearer moves. The shirt is woven with piezoelectric film fibers around the body’s joints. These fibers convert the mechanical strain created by motion into electrical voltage. The stored power can be used to recharge portable devices, such as an MP3 player.

Wi-Fi is used to connect to the Internet, but Jenny Chowdhury, a resident researcher at New York University, also uses the technology to illuminate her line of clothing, 802.11 Apparel. She uses hacked Wi-Fi detectors and LEDs, among other technology, in her designs. The detector picks up signals as a person walks, and rows of LEDs illuminate to indicate the signal’s strength. On the jacket she presented, five horizontal fabric panels with a flower motif ran from the right side of the clothing to its center. The panels, transparent in some sections, allowed the light from strings of blue LEDs to shine through. One glowing row meant a weak signal while a strong signal lit up all five rows.

In addition to technology, nature influenced Chowdhury’s design.

“Since the beginning of time we’ve borrowed from the environment to decorate garments,” she said. “Since Wi-Fi is such a large part of the environment now, I thought I would integrate it in that same way. So that’s why there’s a floral motif on top of the bars for Wi-Fi.”

Fashionistas unanimously support the belief that clothes should make a statement. Barbara Layne’s pair of black linen jackets truly execute on this concept. Messages and graphics are uploaded to the jackets and scrolled across an array of LEDs that are handwoven into the back of the outerwear.

The garments can display separate messages individually. However, when magnets in the jackets’ cuffs connect, a third, different message scrolls from one jacket to the other. In an homage to weaving and the technological advances it represented, Layne displays the jacket’s electronic components on the back.

“We’re exposing the technology because we want to show integration between textiles and technology,” said Layne, who is a professor at Concordia University in Montreal.

Rappers sport bling and socialites wear diamonds. Thanks to Markus Kison, technophiles now have their piece of status jewelry. A small horizontal display on his Vanity Ring shows the number of times the wearer’s name has been searched on Google. The ring comes with software that people use to enter their names and link to Google. The ring is updated with the latest tally after it is placed in its accompanying docking station.

While this jewelry isn’t on the market, Kison, who studied physics in Germany, cautions that the ring is only for special, Google-worthy people.

“So this ring is really about important people,” he said. “It’s really like this because no one would wear a ring with a thousand hits on it.”

Perhaps that is why Manny Delcarmen, a pitcher for the reigning World Series champion baseball team the Boston Red Sox, modeled Kison’s creation.

This fashion show may serve as a harbinger of the future, one that combines technology that allows Web access or powers PCs with what people wear to work or a restaurant. After all, Prada designed a cell phone and Marc Jacobs sold iPod holders. Watch the runway to find out.


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