PAULINE VAN DONGEN, exploring interaction through responsive materials
For Dutch fashion designer Pauline Van Dongen, technology is ‘a means to create dynamic expression within fashion. [Technology] offers ways to enhance our senses and experience our environment in unexpected ways.’ One of the unexpected ways is to connect the human body with the environment through wearables technologies applied to fashion garments. Van Dongen has been working in the development of wearables since she established her studio in 2010. Since then, they have created shirts, jumpsuits, jackets, dresses and shoes that connect the wearer with nature.
The duality between night and day is a ubiquitous theme in Van Dongen’s work. One of their aims, the increase of the night visibility in low-lights environments, has made them developed captivating textiles in the last few years. The collaboration with Philips Research has enabled them to research new materials and develop Phototrope in 2015 and Mesopic in 2016. Both projects react to light conditions to increase human visibility in dark surrounding and ‘allow interaction between the body and the environment’, as Pauline says. While Phototrope is a shirt that incorporates LED ribbons hidden behind TPU foils that refract the light of the LEDs; Mesopic is a silver, half transparent jacket with LED ribbons integrated into the fabric that emits a glow reflection augmenting the night running visibility.
On the other hand; projects like Solar Windbreaker (2016), Solar Parka and Solar Shirt (20159 and Wearable Solar Dress (2014) take advantage of the solar light, the biggest source of energy on Earth which is non-contaminant, sustainable, and inexhaustible. Van Dongen looks into the possibilities of integrating solar cell and flexible electronics into textiles. A powered jacket, shirt, parka, and dress that capture enough solar energy to allow the wearer to charge a portable device such as a smartphone, USB or camera.
Nature is an unlimited source of ideas. Van Dongen looks into nature, takes inspiration from biomimicry and blends science, fashion and technology to create cutting-edge wearables that blur the boundaries between body and environment. In 2016, studio Pauline Van Dongen went a step further and, in collaboration with SKYNⓇ,they developed SKYNFEEL™APPAREL, a conceptual jumpsuit with an aerodynamic design made out of SKYNFEEL™, an extremely lightweight material.
Words by Lula Criado (Twitter @Lula_Clotmag)
What drew you into working in the intersection of fashion design and technology? Could you tell us a little bit about the intellectual process?
My research into materials as well as into the relationship between our body, the clothes we wear and the surroundings, makes me look at fashion in a different way. Within the contemporary world of fast fashion, I like to challenge ideas about the meaning and value of fashion. My experimental approach towards materials, tools and processes resulted in a continuous renewal of the notion of craft and explore the role of the body fashion.
The fact that textiles surround our body all the time, the impact our clothes have on our embodied experience and their communicative qualities, all make it very interesting to explore concepts of interaction, expression and performance using dynamic and responsive materials. I view technology as a means to create dynamic expression within fashion. It offers ways to enhance our senses and experience our environment in unexpected ways.
ASVOFF9 will launch the world’s first Wearable Technology in Fashion Film Competition. The competition will be a game changer within the world of humanistic intelligence inspired / art based wearable technology by communicating the real potentials of wearable technology to the world through film. What impact do you think the festival is going to have on the future of wearable technologies?
One of my concerns as a designer and researcher is that wearable technology is often positioned as well as discussed outside of fashion. Of course there are many prototypes or actual product on the marked that don’t necessarily resonate with fashion designers, but I believe that these developments as a whole – such as integrating new materials and new interactive behavior in textiles and garments – are very relevant for fashion. We can no longer ignore the fact that technology is getting closer to the body. In order to advance our ideas and to see where the real value and interest can be found for fashion (not only in using technology as a representational feature or spectacular element, but also the meaning that can be found in the experience of wearing it in an everyday context) we need to see what we can learn from other domains such as interaction design and human computer interaction.
I very much believe in communicating wearables through the use of video. Most wearables present some kind of interactive behaviour, they actively mediate between the body and the environment. Over the past years I’ve experimented with various ways of showcasing my work. Through catwalk shows, more intimate salon type of presentations, interactive installations, exhibitions and demonstrations. For almost every project we felt like making a video.
Through video we can on one hand show how wearables will tie into our lives, while also embodying the sensorial experience of wearing. This is where I see a great potential and I hope the competition will help express this towards a large fashion audience. The more we develop a shared language (both verbal and visual) as well as an understanding between the various disciplines that need to collaborate, the more momentum we will gain to bring these ideas to the next level.
Fashion is a means to have subjective, perceptual experiences. Garments that are smart and capable of learning can adapt to the wearer and have the potential to develop into a ultra-personalized ecosystem. Current wearable technology products often create a feeling of control, as the wearer collects data from their body or personal environment. Within my design studio we are currently revisiting the issue of control, because we believe too much control diminishes our human tendency to be spontaneous. Instead we focus on connecting embodied design methods with aspects of semiotics, identity and the social context of fashion. In real-life I think we seek meaningful experiences, especially since time and undivided attention have become a luxury. I therefore believe that technical inventions that will help us foster and make full use (or even expand) our senses will gain more social acceptance.
Wearable technologies have the ability to communicate with their owners and by doing so the boundaries between physical and digital are blurring. How people respond to multiple stimuli in a digital environment beyond the touch of a screen or button is one of questions to answer in this 21st century in which people live in a hyper connected society. What technical invention do you think will have more social acceptance or impact in real life in a not-too-distant future?
Fashion is a means to have subjective, perceptual experiences. Garments that are smart and capable of learning can adapt to the wearer and have the potential to develop into a ultra-personalised ecosystem. Current wearable technology products often create a feeling of control, as the wearer collects data from their body or personal environment.
Within my design studio we are currently revisiting the issue of control, because we believe too much control diminishes our human tendency to be spontaneous. Instead we focus on connecting embodied design methods with aspects of semiotics, identity and the social context of fashion. In real-life I think we seek meaningful experiences, especially since time and undivided attention have become a luxury. I therefore believe that technical inventions that will help us foster and make full use (or even expand) our senses will gain more social acceptance.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your projects?
There are still quite some technical and practical challenges we need to overcome. Fashion thrives of change and therefore the technologies we use need to be modular in order to be easily adapted or altered. The challenge is to really work on a yarn and textile level, to allow for these technologies to become part of our clothes in an unobtrusive manner.
At the same time, I also think that Wearable Technology has to deal better with the stigma it has attached to it – especially seen through the eyes of the fashion industry – in order to create social acceptance. We have to show that wearables are not only about functionality, when it comes to measuring biometrics for instance, nor are they solely meant for expressive display. Interlacing the aesthetic and functional aspects of technology might actually open up a new scope for fashion design.
You couldn’t live without…
I couldn’t live without movement; without things changing, shifting, growing or being in a continuous flow. Both personally as well as in my environment.