Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht creates futuristic fashion that celebrates the beautiful nexus of fashion and technology. The main image on her website boldly asks, “What does fashion lack?” and answers it with “Microcontrollers.” From the dress that emits smoke when someone enters the wearer’s personal space to the cocktail-making dress that challenges viewers to a game of Truth or Dare, Wipprecht plays with boundaries in order to blur them.
She’ll be at Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend, giving a talk on Center Stage titled “Robotic Fashion and Intimate Interfaces” at 11:30a.m. on Saturday, May 17. She’ll also be revealing a new design that she created during her artist residency at Autodesk, as well as collaborating with Tesla-coil-loving ArcAttack during their show at the Faire. We connected with Wipprecht to learn more.
1. What does it mean to be a “fashiontech designer”?
The intersection between fashion design, interaction design, and technology.
2. How did you first become interested in integrating microcontrollers, sensors, and 3D printing into your designs?
Fabrics and fashion seemed boring and “dead” to me, so I tried to animate them through the use of electronics. 3D printing gives the ability to create in much more detail, flexibility, stability, and pace than handcrafting sculptural pieces, and with modeling software like AutoDesk’s Maya and printing, I am able to integrate my electronics directly form-fitted into the designs.
3. Coming from a design background, how did you acquire the skills to work with electronics?
Thinking interdisciplinarily and the biggest one: going after my dreams. I attended both fashion design school and interaction design at night, and I partially taught myself to engineer back in the days. When the Arduino got introduced and openly promoted, I found out that one of the founders of Arduino, David Cuartielles, ran an interaction study lab in Sweden (Malmo//K3) where he and his team taught people to work with their open source microcontroller platform.
At that moment, I was studying fashion design in Amsterdam. I told my program that I was quitting for a year because I needed to learn more about this. Basically I packed my suitcase and moved to Sweden with no money but on a mission that later changed my life. It was one of the best decisions of my life, which changed my view on engineering. David and the Arduino family finally made engineering fun!
A collaboration with engineer Daniel Schatzmayr, the Spider Dress shoulders are animated robotic limbs that eerily crawl around the body.
4. A number of your designs integrate data captured from the wearer. What inspired you to make these designs interactive?
When I started combining fashion with electronics in 2006, I saw two things: from the technological side I saw technology crawling closer to the skin each day. And from a fashion design aspect, I saw the potential of having fashion being the closest and most intimate interface that we can possible have around us: both fashion and technology are created to communicate and help us to express. It was 1+1=2 for me.
5. You’re known for letting allowing the tech in your pieces be visible. Why do you prefer to show the inner workings rather than mask them?
I love robots, but I hate the fact that all the cool stuff (the mechanics and electronics) is always hidden and boxed in. In my robotic fashions, I like to project my systems externally, so you can see how and where everything goes and flows. People love this. As because I can explain to them in a simple way how the system runs along the body, it becomes educational.
6. What is the most exciting affect you’ve seen 3D printing have on the fashion industry?
That it will turn the fashion system 180°. The fashion system is still based on fashion houses, magazines, and “experts” translating, communicating, and forcing trends upon us. With both easier accessibility to easy-to-use design software and innovations regarding 3D printing in the realm of printable textiles and flexible design elements, additive manufacturing (3D printing) invites anyone and everybody to design and wear their own styles. And this goes beyond pre-produced patterns, defined shapes, and rated looks. I can have a party this evening: with flexible materials that already roll out of the 3D printers, I can model a shoulder piece in the morning, print it at noon, and wear it in the evening. True story.
Also, to open my design up for communication, if it turns out successful, I can open-source my design or technique by sharing it with the world on a playful site like Instructables or Thingiverse where, for example, my friends and followers can see, download, and respond, providing notations or even offering redesigns to my process. This creates an interesting new process because the world becomes your editor, not just your critic. While your dress will grow with you from your first to your final version, we will be continually busy upgrading our dresses and customizing our jewelery instead of shopping for new ones!
Scanning is another one: everyone can get their body scanned and order a dress that fits perfectly with exactly the specifications that they demand. I used 123D Catch last December while I was scanning a performer of Cirque du Soleil — it’s a free app on your iPhone that allows you to create 3D models from a series of photographs taken at various angles using photogrammerty. I had never used it before and had his full upper body on my screen within a few seconds, after which I could create the most comfortable design based on his posture and bone structure. When I got to Autodesk I discovered a just-launched application that’s useful for prototyping and simulating electronics with sensors and moving parts called 123D Circuits. Programs and apps like this are good to use as impressive engineering teams around the world are busy day and night making software playful and easy to understand.
7. Though your pieces are mainly high art, how do you see the concepts you employ being applied to mainstream fashion?
I throw out my ideas on possible wearable items for your own interpretation. They might seem radical but I see future fashion become more sensorial and reactive — customized interfaces that utilize technology as an extension of our capabilities. My designs are very extravagant, and for a reason: to raise questions, to entice, to activate, to make a difference.
What if one day we are covered in only a materiality like smoke? A shape-shifting material? Or having a system react to intruders who step into our personal space? These little stories spin my mind. Humans react more and more rationally and less and less intuitively. I would like to grasp back to this intuitive notion by creating systems around the body that encourage communication and expression, by whatever means — big or small.
8. What do you think is the future of fashiontech?
Fashion finally gets a BRAIN.
9. Can you tell us about the two pieces you’ll be unveiling at Maker Faire?
I will give a 30-minute talk revealing much of my process to the maker community, and I’ll be part of the ArcAttack show in which we will electrify a new design of mine with two giant tesla coils — a dress that I created during my AutoDesk artist residency at Pier 9.