Dec 072011

Figure 1. 3D printed dress in fashion show

I have been super fascinated by 3D printers lately. 3D printers are an additive manufacturing process that, through the use of digital prototyping, print layers of material to create 3D objects using heat applied to a material such as metal or liquid polymer. While 3D printers are typically used in engineering and more technical industries, it is fascinating to see what fashion designers are thinking up using this new tool as a medium.

Iris van Herpen uses 3D printers to develop uniquely constructed dresses that were shown during Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week this year. She has an amazing collection of very diverse and interesting dresses – one designed specifically for Bjork. (There’s a very interesting video on Herpen’s site) The 3D structures she is able to create allows for a new kind of feeling from the polymer textile. A designer using 3D printers must make room for new considerations around things like flexibility and fit not seen with traditional fabric materials.

Jenna Fizel and Mary Huang of Continuum Fashion use 3D printers to create lingerie and dresses. Their design of and use of Nylon 12 in the pieces allows them to create a spring like action that is both strong and flexible. They wanted to create a version of “the future of fashion” by using emerging technologies. We can see through the variation in designs by Herpen and Continuum Fashion, that this tool definitely has the power to impact every industry it touches. With the ability to create different and unique materials by designing algorithms to respond to the body, it would be possible to create fairly specific patterns for a vast number of applications.

3D printing draws fascinating correlations with the paradigms of the Internet culture. 3D printers are low-cost, easy to use and relatively fast. The Economist reports 3D printers make it “as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines economies of scale” by eliminating many manufacturing costs. One of the more fascinating elements of 3D printing is “if you can design a shape on a computer, you can turn it into an object.” As we saw with music, when things can be reduced to bits, digitally speaking, they become much easier to replicate and distribute. While creating textiles and sewing may be challenging and time consuming for some, 3D printing presents a different but more readily aided problem in that as clothing becomes digitized, it can be distributed more easily. The act of going to the store and purchasing a pattern shifts to going online and downloading the code for your next dress. The printer does most if not all of the construction work and a dress is made.

  One Response to “3D Printers Make Haute Couture”

  1. I love the implications for construction and customization afforded by the incorporation of 3D materials. If the construction of a garment can be customized, down to the very structure and strategic reinforcement of the the fabric, to fit specific bodies then a vast rethinking of contemporary (and often arbitrary) garment sizing schemes cannot be far off. That’s at the very least, in fact. Frankly, I wonder if as more and more designers adopt the 3D fabric printing approach will it not lead to an altogether abandonment of the delineation between standard and plus size? Or really any sort of sizing scheme? After watching the video I can certainly envision a future where no two garments are sized or constructed exactly the same as no two bodies are sized or constructed exactly the same. The implications for the ready to wear market are considerable indeed.

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