We met fashion-tech designer Anouk Wipprecht and her fantastic vestiary of dress interfaces doped on data. The Dutch designer developed this passion in the open source community.
Dutch engineer and designer Anouk Wipprecht explores hi-tech fashion that communes with the body like an interface. Her capacity to materialize this vision in her prototypes is impressive. The Spider Dress probably best sums up her work. This robotic dress conceived in 2015 with Intel exploits the full maker palette: microcontrollers, 3D printing, robotics, biosensors. In case of attack, the dress turns on the offense, waving its arachnid arms to ward off the threat.
Wipprecht has been refining her idea of a symbiotic garment for more than a decade. Her designs capture both biometrics and environmental factors, before translating this data—into the transfer of fluids in her 2010 Pseudomorphs series, show/hide body in Intimacy, shrouding the body in smoke with her Smoke Dress in 2013, in collaboration with the architect Niccolo Casas. Her 2014 Synapse Dress sources its data directly from the brain. We met this inventive creator, who also finds time to update her Instructables page.
Your creations combine fashion, design, engineering… Where did it all begin?
I am half schooled and half self-taught. I started with Fashion Design when I was 14 years old (couture/tailoring) but soon got bored, as the designs I created and the fabrics I used were “analogue” and not digital. When I turned 18 (early 2000s) I started doing robotics and microcontrollers, and from there studied Interaction Design at Malmo University, where one of the founders of Arduino, David Cuartielles, was teaching. Engineering I learned through friends, by hanging out at hackerspaces and from the Internet. When I started in Fashion Tech there were no schools or anything for it, so I blended it together myself.
Can your fashion designs be considered interfaces?
I use sensors to both monitor and detect stress levels within the body, and proximity sensors to monitor the environment around the body. All this data I reflect back to my systems. Fashion I use as an interface, as an interactive display for data-visualizing whatever data I get in from both factors (body and environment). I use the spaces around the body (intimate, personal, social and public space) to monitor different kinds of interactions, from a one-on-one point of view or in a group.
What new functions do your creations fulfill?
I like to create systems that would be able to express or communicate in a non-verbal manner. Technology came into our lives to help us, but often nowadays it ends up being a token for stress, as we are always connected. Technology that can actually “listen” to the body, coupled with an interface that can express or communicate on our behalf, opens up a lot of new possibilities. This has been my interest: fashion becoming an interface, and this interface becoming a tool for how you socialize or emote through the things you wear.
At Ars Electronica’s Futurelab in Austria, you designed an EEG headset that children could wear like a unicorn. How did this fit into your research?
Agent Unicorn is a wearable device, similar to my Synapse Dress from 2014 that detected the wearer’s stress levels and converted them into signals in the dress. My main objective is to take these EEG devices out of the medical, and bring them more into the playful, especially when it is about kids—in this case, kids with ADHD. Instead of giving these little monsters “medication”, why not make them learn about their own brain and what triggers their attention to spike? The horn symbolizes the link between corporal data and environmental factors. It holds a camera that begins recording from a certain level of excitement or stress. My aim is to create learning systems that contribute more significantly to self-awareness.
Why is knowledge-sharing so important to you?
Community and open source are really important to me, both sharing and caring. I grew up in the open source community: from hackerspaces to the maker community, to using, adapting or creating source code or projects. In the community of makers and creators, it’s important to share your ideas and your work.
How do you promote this culture in the world of fashion and brands?
I don’t consider myself an ambassador of maker culture, I just like to make cool shit—either for a client, in collaboration to play around with fellow artists, designers or engineers, or through workshops and lectures as an educator. Building things makes me happy. Building physical prototypes informs my research. My research answers questions that I have about the future state of technology. Corporate brands are always on the lookout for something new, and with me working fast and solid, I often get asked to create something blending my vision and identity as a designer or engineer with their DNA as a brand, and get carte blanche on what to make (i.e. great freedom as a designer). This allows me to create experimental and/or innovation statements on the possible future of Fashion Tech.
The Spider Dress (2015) in motion:
When do you think Fashion Tech will hit the streets?
There are still a few things that need to be solved: washability (how to wash your electronics), energy (how to power your garments in a non-invasive way), maintenance (what if it breaks? would you send it back or are you clever enough to fix it yourself?), and networking (what if you lose connectivity, while your system needs to be “on” at all times?). I have been studying these issues for about 12 years. About 5 years ago the technology industry started to show interest, and in the last 2-3 years the fashion industry has shown interest. This is good, as now is the time to sit down together and talk about what it takes to get more of these ideas commercialized.
What is your next project?
Currently I am in Austria for the next few weeks as “Innovator in Residency” at Swarovski headquarters in Wattens. I’m researching with them a way to make their crystals “smart”, embedding solar, LEDs and sensors into their products.
— Anouk Wipprecht (@AnoukWipprecht) September 27, 2016