The more buzz that disseminates about the mergence of fashion and technology, the more evidently we see the current priorities of this shift. While we should all be grateful for the brave few who take risks to experiment with the possible directions, most efforts to date feel more like novel ideas than timeless design breakthroughs. It seems that all futuristic designs that come down the runway are either interpreting costumes from Sci-Fi movies, or superfluously incorporating wearable technologies. By treating technology as a novelty, designers are skewing the expectations of what future fashion can be.
So often, directional aesthetics recall too literally the stereotypes of an imagined future. This has been evident over time, as aesthetics of the future evolve with industrial advancements. When new materials are introduced into the market, imaginations take off. Costume design in films is an excellent example of this phenomenon. When lycra was invented in 1958, it became a ubiquitous choice for all superheroes, space travelers, and citizens of the future. Plastic, whose versatility was greatly explored over the course of the 20th century was another protagonist in the aesthetics of the imagined future. Suddenly industrial designers were able to achieve forms and develop constriction methods impossible with natural materials and manual construction methods.
Fashion reflected these changes with the outrageous aesthetic of the space age that I discuss here, but also, in some cases, with subtle acknowledgment in refined, timeless design. This will be design made possible by new fabrics, new finishing techniques, and new closure technology (think about the revolutionary invention of the button! the zipper!) In timeless design, the innovation is in service of the design. In novel design, the design is in service of the innovation. For the most successful, the innovation will be invisible. It will only be recognized through the quality of the experience.
Most of the technology we see in fashion today is anything but invisible: It is overtly tech-y. Of the novel things we see today are wearable light shows on the runway: Dresses with pixilated images glowing from the surface and jackets with color changing shoulders (see On Aura Tour Vu Spring 2014 Haute Couture and Cutecircuit RTW). There are mood-sensing garments, changing color when you’re angry, happy or embarrassed. Even within the realm of novelty the effects of literally displaying your emotions seems like a questionable concept. These capabilities could be valuable for specific purposes, including R&D, but will have a hard time becoming mainstream. Even Google glass is too tech-y for it’s own good.
If anything, designing for the future will be about editing, minimizing and streamlining. If we’ve learned anything from the sleek appeal of modern glass architecture, the pleasure of engaging with well-designed user interfaces, and even the aesthetic success of apple products, it is that less is more. The impetus is not for designers to run out and plug in all of their dresses, then film them with drones. The idea is for designers to employ technology to improve the customer experience from discovery to purchasing through to use of the product. We should be thinking of the future needs of the consumer and incorporating that into better practices so that technology is applied with purpose, not superfluity. Put simply: technology should simplify our lives. For the time being, fashion tech is just ‘stuff,’ but if we shift our priorities and think long term, we can tackle greater mysteries and reap greater rewards.
*As a fashion pragmatist, my main prerogative is to understand and interpret fashion as it is intended for every day use. And so while I use examples of runway fashion, it is with the understanding that these garments are intended for commercial use and to communicate on brand identity. I purport simply that this superficially futuristic aesthetic is misleading and ultimately wasteful. And while I am a believer in the purity of a design vision, I believe that the validity of any design is achieved once it finds it’s audience (paying customers), and not before. (In this, I distinguish fashion from art for art’s sake).