By Stephanie Strom
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have come up with an innovation that will delight the fashion industry and people concerned about animal welfare: 3D-printed fur that feels remarkably like the real thing.
Called Cilllia, the fur is made from a biocompatible resin used in dentistry and feels like mink or chinchilla. Two coats made from it are currently on exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City and Cube, a design museum in Kerkrade, the Netherlands.
The coats were designed by Erin Robertson, the Boston-based designer who won the grand prize on Project Runway in 2017. At the time, she said, the fashion world was excited about 3D printing and the potential for deploying it on runways around the world.
But Roberston was skeptical. “3D printing is so hard—and what’s its relationship to fashion anyway?” she said.
She had taken a class at the Media Lab when she was a student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and she attended a symposium at MIT shortly after she had finished filming for Project Runway. There, she met Jifei Ou, then a graduate student in the Lab’s Tangible Media group.
He was showcasing a new research work, Cilllia, and Robertson immediately saw its potential for fashion. “I hate the word innovation so much because people throw it around when all they’re really doing is just gluing something onto something else or repurposing something already invented,” she said. “But this was so different, and I was like, we have to work on something together.”
The timing was serendipitous, Ou said. The Media Lab had demonstrated a variety of uses for Cilllia, including mechanical adhesion, passive actuators, and touch sensors. “When Erin came by, we had been thinking about how to push this out into the real world and make it more than just a lab specimen, and her idea that it could be used for a coat or shawl or some other piece of clothing was exactly that,” Ou said.