Beauty and the Bits

Speculation on the collision of fashion and high technology cannot be complete without input from the international design community. The MIT Media Laboratory invited students from four of the world's greatest design schools to present fashion ideas for this gala evening.

Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo
Creapole in Paris
Domus in Milan
Parsons School of Design in New York

The schools formed numerous design teams and submitted close to 100 renderings. Displays, sensors, input devices, and electrical connections became part of hats, shoes, jewelry, and fabric itself--creating an opportunity to make functional technology fashionable. However, speculation about the future dictates that, while some garments incorporated working technology, others were fanciful.

Active collaboration began during the summer of 1997, when representative students from each school came to the Media Lab for three weeks to share ideas and plan their contributions. They worked with Media Lab researchers, incorporating advanced digital technology into their designs. At the end of their stay, the students returned to their schools to share their insights with other design teams, refine their ideas, and make garments. The resulting show was as diverse as the cultures from which it grew. The designs, the fabrics, and the technology--actual and imagined--were influenced by cultural differences and the degree to which individual designers were exposed to working technology.

Another kind of show surrounded the guests. Many faculty, students, and sponsors wore their technology during the event. As guests mingled and chatted they learned that a computer was in the bustle of a neo-Victorian dress, an organza garment was lighting as if fireflies lived in the skirt, and keyboards had taken on a softer and more fashionable look and feel--in clothing.

It is our hope that the WEARABLES symposium and fashion show marks the beginning of a long collaboration that will stimulate creative and useful developments in both fashion design and wearables research.

We are grateful to those who have taken this step with us. In 1995 Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland of the Media Lab began a collaboration with Creapole to explore the intersection of fashion and technology. The resulting new ideas culminated in a Paris fashion show that set the stage for the Media Lab show where Creapole and other international design schools showcased their talents. Our collaborators included Director Michel Leralu, Professor Clement Noury, and Professor Evelyne Cazemajore at Creapole; Professor Izumi Hayashi, President Sunao Onuma, and Akemi Uno at Bunka Fashion College; Professor Marie Essex at Parsons School of Design; and Dimitri Negroponte at Domus. Professor Sandra Grace of the fashion department at the Massachusetts College of Art gave valuable counsel and support. We especially thank the teams of talented students whose hard work and creative ideas made the event possible.