Nov 112011

Figure 1. Bradley Quinn’s Techno Fashion

As fashion designers begin using technology to inspire and shape their work, we can see the important impact cyber culture has on our bodies, fashion and the built environment within which we function. Bradley Quinn’s Techno Fashion explores a number of fashion designers whose work is impacted by technology both conceptually and aesthetically. It is this evolution of fashion that has the potential to “shape and rearrange the patterns of human association and community.” (p. 13) The interaction taking place between urban environments and the fashioned human prompts fascinating inquiry as technology begins to seep its way into each. To better understand this evolution, it is crucial to understand the qualities of the built environment, the body, techno fashion/cyber couture, and the issues that arise from their interaction and integration.

The built environment contains both the structures of the urban landscape that surround us in every day life as well as the ‘non-places’ as described by Marc Auge. These transitional spaces “create scope for a technologized fashion aesthetic, to address the contemporary issues of visibility, surveillance, noise and pollution within the built environment.” (p. 11) They serve as zones to control the “flow of human traffic”, offering a space for excessive “visual exchange.” (p. 11) Urban planners separate parks from industry from shopping to retain quality of the areas as well as social control. In this system we become victim to what Auge describes as the capitalistic condition, where urban environments “accelerate our consumption of physical space and psychological information while simultaneously increasing our need for physical and psychological protection.” (p. 12) Fashion designers respond to these issues by addressing urban identity with respect to the urban environment in which it is placed. The built environment is a place of excessive information, zoned areas with issues of social control, surveillance, noise, pollution, automated systems, and transformation. It is the work of the fashion designer that becomes most important when bodies react and change within these environments, as they attempt to answer the call of the growing landscape. Many designers have decided to address these concerns by creating wearable environments that can protect the wearer from external threat. Dresses that turn into tents, that may also connect with other tents serve as a way to protect both the individual and the community in a questionable environment.

New elements within the urban landscape are challenging designers innovate new technologies within fashion that help the wearer to stay protected in a dynamic environment. The threat of electronic surveillance and a constant panopticon forces us to realize both our inability to “escape the scrutiny of the lens” as well as our “desire to be seen.” (p. 58) Technologies like facial recognition are challenging fashion designers to design for an age of privacy. Thorogood designs garments that allow for stealthy anonymity while Vexed Generation creates hooded jackets in response to the London political climate of the 1990’s. (p. 65) In contrast to this attempt at anonymity are Charmed Technology’s pieces that integrate surveillance technology into the garments, requiring the user to see and be seen.

Quinn describes the twenty-first century body as one that resists “the body’s nature to achieve a firm, toned exterior that conforms to sexual stereotypes.” (p. 33) The goals of many seem to be centered on expressing technological individuality by “maximiz[ing] the body’s potential,” often “analogous to a machine,” as evidenced through the work of Webber, McQueen, and Chalayan. Designers are helping women use fashion to express their masculinity, aggression, “power, authority and control.” (p. 36) Cyborg type fashion combines “machine and organism” to serve as a tool to restore, normalize reconfigure or enhance the performance and functionality of the body. (p. 53) Intelligent fashion extends this by promoting garments that “think for the wearer” through the use of “electronic textiles, expressive software, interactive design, industrial design and micro-technology.” (p. 97, 100) Techno medicine is a concept that aims to regulate the body through clothing – an example being body-sensitive garments that monitor the body for certain changes and even administer medicine when necessary. (p. 112) Technological advances in sportswear materials are being designed to help the body reach maximum potential. Nike DryFIT and Cool Motion are examples of fashion technology that do just this.  While these examples are helpful in the effort to enhance the body, Quinn seems to question if fashion will end up being a danger to fashion or enhancing it. It is the boundaries between natural and synthetic, when the lines begin to blur that may cause trouble.

“Technology has the potential to override the body’s commands and take control of it before the wearer is able to escape” when the natural and synthetic mix. (p. 54) Quinn finds this mix of “flesh and technology” both “thrilling and terrifying” but warns, with the example of the remote control dress, of the “possibility that human identities would take on the properties of machines.” (p. 54) While this allows for more flexible interaction and communication between members of society, this break in the distinction between body, dress and machine promotes a more integrated society of controlled automatons, redefining “physical experience” as hyper-breeds and cyborgs. Exploration of these ideas will most certainly alter the way we think about gender and body expectations and will most certainly alter our current definition and desire for the perfect body.

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