Okay, you want “unusual”? Here’s “unusual.”
You want something
ingeniously innovative? How about this: You are walking down a crowded city
street. People are jostling and elbowing you from every direction. You blow into
a little hose attached to your new designer coat, and it inflates – yes,
inflates – just enough to provide you with a little more space between you and
the “madding crowd.”
Or perhaps you’re out walking on a windy winter day.
While everyone else is struggling against the strong blustery wind, you are
wearing something that enables you to take the buffeting in stride. The wind
just seems to stream through you, and indeed it does.
Your haute couture
“windcoat” is made from the parts of old vacuum cleaners; vacuum cleaner hoses,
in fact, run almost the entire length of your raincoat.
Later on, you
notice your feet are beginning to hurt from all the walking you have done today,
and you decide that the problem is your shoes. You pop into a shoe store and
proceed to design your next pair of shoes.
Tapping at the colorful little
icons at a computer screen, you find yourself answering a visual questionnaire
that is helping you identify everything you want in the shoes, from the
thickness of the heel to the width of the toe; from color to design motif to
type of materials. The finished product is the result of your design.
are not likely to see these things in stores any time soon. Indeed, if we are
lucky, we will never see clothing made from old vacuum cleaner parts in stores
However, we can see these creations, and more of their ilk, at an
exhibition called “Mechanical Couture: Fashioning a New Order” now showing at
the Design Museum in Holon.
On hand to open the exhibit were co-curators
Judith Hoos Fox and Ginger Gregg Duggan, both based in the US.
independent curators, my partner Ginger and I see as much art and design as we
possibly can – visiting exhibitions, reading publications, and traveling,” Fox
says. “And when we note that there are many designers on different continents –
some young, some newly emerging, others established names in their field – all
addressing the same issue or using a similar methodology, then we know that it’s
a valid and necessary topic for an exhibition.”
Asked to supply the
overall topic for this exhibition, Fox says, simply, “We are proposing a new
definition of the concept of couture.”
More expansive in their written
introduction to the exhibit, Fox and Duggan explain that “Haute couture is, by
definition, made-to-order, high-quality and hand-executed, and for centuries has
signified the ultimate in luxury and exclusivity. Conversely, machines typify
the antithesis of couture, and are associated with mass production and decreased
“Currently, however, we are witnessing a fascinating
phenomenon of mechanical luxury, whereby designers are reinterpreting couture as
a hybrid of both mechanized processes and customized
DESIGNERS ARE turning to machines, and one result of this
new focus, say Fox and Duggan, is the democratization of high fashion. Designing
through machines now makes it possible for virtually anyone to have their own
personal, individual custom-designed apparel.
Another outcome of this
turning to machines, according to the curators, is the blurring of any
distinction between machine and finished product, as many new finished products
become, in effect, “wearable machines.”
The exhibition, comprising the
works of 15 designers – three of whom are Israeli – is divided into four
different categories of design.
The first, “Designer + Machine =
Product,” occurs when a new machine or technology is directly incorporated into
the design process in order to create a new product. An example of this is the
“Fat Maps Collection” by New York designer Shelley Fox.
Motivated by the
emphasis on body size in American society and the problem of weight as a social
issue, Fox worked with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir Peter Mansfield to scan
the bodies of seven volunteer participants while they underwent medically
supervised weight loss. These MRI “fat maps” became Fox’s blueprints for a
collection of dresses that reflect the changes in the participants’ body
Using vintage clothing – the original dresses came from a thrift
shop – and years of experience in the fashion industry, Fox has created a line
of dresses with elements of couture we readily know and recognize; but her
inspiration is technology.
The second design process category of the
exhibition is “Concept = Machine = Product.” This is design that is inspired by
machinery and incorporates machines into the finished product, like
Montreal-based Ying Gao’s apparel, which is equipped with micro-motors and sensors that detect
stimuli and react by expanding, inflating and transforming into altogether new
Her “Walking City” collection is fashioned with hoses to blow
into and inflate your clothing while wearing it, to provide you with a little
more personal space.
Her somewhat drably neutral “Living Pod” dresses
react to flashlight stimuli by literally blossoming, like flowers, into fancy
formal evening wear. And her “Playtime” collection entails yet another group of
interactive garments that react to sound and to the surrounding environment.
They do this, according to the co-curators, to “mimic the often futile attempts
to ‘capture’ our presence via surveillance mechanisms.”
“This project was
inspired by the film Playtime by Jacques Tati, which involves optical illusion
and surveillance,” says co-curator Duggan. “It involves not being able to
capture anything that we think is real.
What we think is real is possibly
an illusion. These things cannot be photographed. If they sense a camera lens
anywhere near them, they blur. This is what Ying Gao is saying with these
Perhaps the most interesting category of objects in the
exhibition is the third, “Product = Machine.” The designers whose works are
featured in this category have neither relied on machines for inspiration nor
integrated machines into the design process. Instead, they have actually created
products that exist as machines in and of themselves – wearable
MIKA SATOMI and Hannah Perner-Wilson, for example, use a
distinctly do-it-yourself approach to make both designing and technology more
user-friendly and democratic. Using cheap, readily accessible materials and
providing easy, step-by-step instructions, these designers – working together
under the name Kobakant – make it possible for virtually anyone to transform his
or her T-shirt into a wearable piano.
Who would want a wearable piano?
Probably no one. But by showing the actual design diagram on each piece in their
line of T-shirts, Kobakant aims to demystify wearable technology by bringing the
design process out into the open and showing that anyone can do
Somewhat more mysterious but always interesting, US-based Alyce
Santoro deserves honorable mention in the Product = Machine category for her
contribution “Sonic Fabric.”
Santoro collected the audio tape from
hundreds, if not thousands, of discarded cassettes and devised a process to
weave the material into a new textile. The garments she created out of this new
fabric have retained their ability to make sound, which they do whenever a
specially designed tape-head apparatus is rubbed against the fabric.
any of the works in this exhibition are likely to ever see the light of day
commercially, they would be the items grouped under category 4, Designer Through
Machine = Product, products created in a machinemediated process.
best example of these is undoubtedly Netherlands designer Cedric Flazinski’s
visual questionnaire that enables any woman to custom-design her own
Based on Flazinski’s extensive research on signifiers and icons
and their relationship to different personality traits and shoe shapes, the
visual questionnaire allows for the design of a myriad number of shapes and
styles reflecting the individual personalities and preferences of each
“Here is an interesting cross between couture and
technology, fashion design and machines, trying to find a new way for machines
to democratize design,” says Duggan. “Here, any individual, not only a wealthy
individual, can use the technology to create a design based upon her own
Fox adds: “The clothes that we wear should express who
we are. The role of designers is not to impose their thought on you, but for you
to be able to express yourself.
So Cedric Flazinski has come up with a
very extensive questionnaire, and your answers to that questionnaire design the
shoe. He has assigned different attributes of the shoe – whether the toes are
spread out or together, whether there are thick heels or thin heels – and all
those kinds of attributes are taken into account in this
“Each shoe is defined by you, the owner, going through the
questionnaire and designing a shoe that expresses who you
are.”“Mechanical Couture: Fashioning a New Order” is showing until
January 8 at the Design Museum Holon. For further information, tel. 073-215-1500
or visit the museum’s website,