Crafting Wearables: on Wearable Technology in Fashion

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Project log

Pauline van Dongen
added 3 research items
The field of wearable technology has extensively described the opportunities, challenges as well as the concerns around integrating digital technologies into fashion. However, it has so far not provided a sufficiently clear and embodied understanding of technology. Technology therefore is often still limited to something that adds functionality to textiles or clothing. Additionally, technology is seen as a way to enhance the visual expression and thereby the representational character of clothing. Both approaches seem to hinder the intersection of digital technologies and textiles on a material and embodied level. While the role of wearable technologies in the everyday could benefit from it. In this paper, we therefore argue for reframing the understanding of technology to better facilitate the integration of digital technologies (i.e. electronics and software) into everyday fashion. A reflective analysis of the process of designing wearable technologies, based on the design practice of the first author, reveals that technology is considered a material and that its material qualities are not thought of as either functional or aesthetic. These insights, arising from practice, have led us to turn to postphenomenology (a strand of philosophy of technology) to come to further conceptualization. Postphenomenology looks at the ways in which technologies mediate or “coshape” the relationship between human beings and the world. By seeing technologies as the media that connect humans to the world, they acquire a material and contextual dimension. The idea that artifacts mediate materially thus offers a very useful starting point for understanding and designing wearable technologies. The contribution of this article is twofold, namely, first, to provide a material understanding of the technology on the basis of design practice. And secondly, to bridge design practice with theory by suggesting to bring postphenomenology into fashion to better facilitate the design of wearable technologies for the everyday.
In a 24/7 economy, mindfulness is the new luxury. The ‘always-on’ society causes restless and stressful states of mind at the expense of our ability to simply ‘be in the present’. Using a responsive garment that gives the wearer gentle haptic feedback as a case study, this paper explores how smart fashion can encourage a more mindful relation between the wearer, the garment, and their environment. This paper proposes a postphenomenological approach to smart fashion, acknowledging the ways in which interactive garments can mediate human experiences and practices. First, the postphenomenological notion of ‘material aesthetics’ (Verbeek 2005) will be employed to emphasize the central role of materiality in enabling more ‘mindful’ wearer experiences. We will use interview data to provide insight into the role of materiality in actual wearer experiences of our case study: an interactive denim jacket that echoes social interactions through the sensation of a subtle stroke on the back. Based on these personal accounts of the garment, we will then discuss how the integration of haptic technology into fashion influences the wearer’s embodied experience. Finally, we will address how smart fashion can stimulate wearers to become more mindful of their bodies and, ultimately, more in touch with the now. The paper is unique in combining design practice and theoretical reflection, with insights gained from interviews with wearers. Noting how technology often tends to direct our attention away from, rather than towards, our embodied subjectivity, we develop a critical argument for designing intelligent fashion from and for embodied experience.
What opportunities does the integration of digital technologies in clothing offer? How do wearable technologies transform embodied experience? And can they enable new relationships between human beings and the clothing they wear? Until now, wearables have not become integrated into everyday fashion and so their meaningful role remains limited. In this book, fashion designer and researcher Pauline van Dongen shows how this can be changed and how the integration of both can be encouraged. By combining design research with philosophy of technology, Van Dongen provides a new way of looking at the role of technology in fashion, offering interesting alternatives for a sustainable future. Building on the concept of material aesthetics, she emphasizes that technologies are a material concern. Through reflections on her own experiences that are richly illustrated with many examples and many images, she gives practical insights with the aim of better informing the practice of designing wearable technology. Her analysis of unique design exemplars such as the Solar Shirt and Phototrope reveals what wearable technologies do beyond their functional promise and what they mean beyond their symbolic value.
Anneke Smelik
added a research item
Article in French on the fashion designs by the Dutch designer Iris van Herpen. Published in: Noémie Balmat (ed.), .Futur : Reliques. Issue 1, Paris: Futur404, 2019: pp. 244 – 251.
Anneke Smelik
added 8 research items
Using Pauline van Dongen’s ‘Wearable Solar’ project as a case study, the authors argue that materiality and embodiment should be taken into account both in the design of and the theoretical reflection on wearable technology. Bringing together a fashion designer and scholars from cultural studies, this interdisciplinary research aims at advancing the design and academic study of wearable technology. The interdisciplinary framework involves a mixed-method approach: a combination of research through design; interviews with wearers during fittings; and theoretical reflection. A theoretical and methodological focus on materiality allows for a sustained analysis of embodiment and embodied experience, while it also enables attention to the materiality of the textile and the technology involved. This ‘embodied approach’ is situated in ‘new materialism’ and more specifically in a of reappraisal Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. Through the exploration of ‘embodied design’, the lived experience of the wearer is incorporated into design practice, research methods and theoretical analysis. The relevance of wearable technology for potential future users can only be advanced when new meanings and values are created through interaction with the design. Working through a phenomenologically driven research through design, solar technology is better integrated into fashion so as to make ‘solar fashion’ more wearable in the near future.
An analysis of Chalayan’s mechanical dresses from the collection ‘One Hundred and Eleven’ (2006) reveals that technologies may invade, yet also instigate and innovate processes of memory through fashion. Chalayan’s time-traversing ‘robo dresses’ resurrect the ghost of fashion’s past through the use of advanced technologies and smart materials. The high-tech garments perform, embody and generate the dynamics and transformations of 111 years of fashion history as they literally move from one decade into the next. They therefore operate as the ultimate ‘technologies of memory’. Moreover, ‘One Hundred and Eleven’ represents the ephemerality of modern fashion, and its complex relation to cultural memory. The way in which Chalayan combines the traditionally hard materials of technology with the softer structures common in fashion paves the way for the development of softer, even wearable, memory devices in the future. Encasing the hard materials of technology in fabrics, pads, pockets and tubes, Chalayan took the first steps towards developing ‘softwear’, as opposed to hardware, memories. As his self-transforming garments are still not very wearable or robust, however, they also reaffirm the pivotal role of materiality in designing techno-fashion. Approaching Chalayan’s mechanical dresses from a new materialist perspective, the authors argue that the combination of fashion and technology highlights the agency of matter. Techno-fashion offers a brand new repository for memories and thereby allows for unprecedented forms and ways of understanding memory. The unconventional materials and technologies adopted by Chalayan indicate that, and how, matter can contain, shape and reshape memories. Analysing Chalayan’s self-transforming designs within the context of memory studies thus helps to rethink as well as imagine the mysterious movements of memory.