Future Shock in Fashion

May 11, 2016


The clothing of tomorrow is
on display today at Pratt. One
gets a fascinating look into
the convergence of fashion
 and technology.


Do you ever read something four times and say to yourself, “Am I losing it? I’ve read this repeatedly and I still don’t understand what they’re saying!”

That happened to me recently when I read an article written by Margaret Abrams in the New York Observer dated February 22, 2016. The author was reviewing an exhibit titled Coded Couture that had opened the week before at Pratt’s Manhattan Gallery (the same Pratt as the one in Brooklyn).

Let me say that this had nothing to do with Abrams’ writing, it was simply too technical for me. My poor brain struggled mightily but all I got was a halo of fuzzy thinking. 

So on March 29th I walked to 144 West 14th Street where Pratt is located. Outside the building there’s a mix of cracked sidewalks and towering scaffolding that seems to go on forever. Inside it’s a different story. The gallery on the second floor is airy and spacious. Best of all, the employees are very willing to help.

The description given by Judith Hoos Fox, the curator is: “In this exhibition the designers are using coding as the tool to personalize to an extreme level.” Translation: when I walked up to the piece named iMiniSkirt that consisted of a black top with a pleated skirt, I was told to stand in front of the freestanding tablet on the right. There I saw an instruction called Pattern Select. When I tapped on Bubbles – tiny bubbles danced on the skirt. Then I selected Hearts Small and tiny hearts lined up perfectly on each pleat. Feeling giddy with success, I hit Text or Tweet and a space appeared where I was instructed to type in my name. Lo and behold! The name Shaun floated across the skirt. The top is only there as a cover-up.

iMiniSkirt by Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz

Moving on with Diana Cox, a smart Pratt student who is there to guide the digitally helpless, we looked at the Holy Dress.  Here’s the description: “A gold-plated metal dress and a commercial lie detector can administer shocks in response to a truth test. The piece centers on a speech recognition that analyzes voice stress as an indicator of untruthfulness. When a lie is heard it will fully light up and flicker.” Good heavens! 

Holy Dress by Melissa Coleman, who specializes in electronic textiles

Or, as Abrams writes, “Fib and the shoulder cage lights up as a warning; continue telling whoppers and receive an electric shock as punishment. Not exactly loungewear.” For me, the most interesting tidbit about this piece came from Cox who said that when the Holy Dress arrived it was discovered that it did not fit on the form. “I had to cut the Styrofoam form with a knife to make it smaller. It wasn’t an easy thing to do.”   

The last piece we looked at was a cape with black-and-purple feathers that tracks the wearer’s heart rate. When one gets excited the feathers flutter.  Not the thing to wear on a first date according to Abrams. 

A shoulder piece by Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, of black and purple feathers, tracks the wearer’s heart rate

Is this the future of fashion? No one knows at this stage. Remember when Tom Watson, president of IBM, said, “Who in the world would want a computer on their desk?” He never lived that one down.


Looking forward to a hot summer this year? Maybe, but not always, so it’s smart to stock up on camis for hot days and layering tops for cooler ones.  

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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