When I ask fashion-tech designer Anouk Wipprecht to describe her work, she looks at me under glittery, silver eyelids and says, “Fashion has a brain now.” It also has an icon in the form of this elfin, creative powerhouse who is so far ahead of the wearable technology curve that her new work approaches artificial intelligence.
Fortunately for us, the Dutch designer is currently doing a stint at the Artist in
Residence Program at Autodesk, and will debut her project during Maker Faire.
The facility, with its unobstructed views of the Bay on Pier 9, buzzes with activity on the day I visit, like an enormous, space-age atelier. Autodesk invites artists, designers, and makers to work on their “passion projects” and use the eye-popping, state of the art production facility. Artists in residence also have access to their entire software portfolio, and work alongside their software developers. The open and supportive atmosphere is ideal for designers like Anouk, who says that access to high-end 3D printers, water jet machines, laser cutters, and a fully equipped electronics lab open 24/7 is a dream come true. The workshop opened in September 2013, and is on the second class of full time artists. During her three-month residency, which runs until the end of May, Anouk will create a new collection of robotic garments, which she describes as “ Hardware Couture.”
Part of Anouk’s genius stems from the development of what she calls smart textiles, an impressively flexible and lightweight “modern lace” fabric, which is light years from the stiff, chalky 3D product one sees around. With her background in fashion design, engineering, and science, she creates “systems” for the body that move, breathe, and react to the environment around them. In spite of their scientific nature, (or perhaps because of it), her garments are beautifully feminine, bold, and eerily seductive. Some of them touch you, create smoke, or draw away in reaction to the human touch. The robotics require her to embed microcontrollers and sensors into the textiles, an impressive feat when one sees the delicate design of the garments.
She says, “I’m not necessarily creating the next fashion trend or style. Fashion is the most intimate interface we have. It inspires me to create designs that are sensitive, adaptive, and responsive to our needs, gestures, and emotions. My garments push the boundaries between the physical and psychological. They are the playful exploration of the ever- more intimate relationship between humans and machines, between the digital and physical world.”
When she’s not at Autodesk, Anouk likes to “lounge out” at nearby 50’s style cocktail bar, Local Edition, a classy place inspired by the newspaper business.
Anouk agrees that San Francisco is the ideal place to be for high-tech and wearable technology, but says that “smart textiles” and “electronic couture” are relatively unknown here. Anouk thinks that the exploration of fashion technology needs to be expanded.
“I try to push the boundaries of what can happen when fashion and technology are combined, and that goes further than sensory watches or the body- monitoring apps that San Francisco technology seems to be focusing on at the moment.”
"San Francisco is behind in fashiontech because their focus is on sales of products, instead of the development of new markets and areas like smart textiles and electronic fashion - it's too risky. Artists and designers take the risk first, before any interest or investment comes from the tech side. But I believe it is starting to come!"
“Technology has both enhanced and 'changed' the soul of the city in mysterious ways, it’s inspired and motivated new fields to arise. It makes me wonder how people would look 'dressed' in their technology besides just 'wearing' it on their wrist”.
I for one would love to see San Franciscans walking around in Anouk’s “Robotic Couture” designs – the well heeled, fashion pack of the future.See Anouk's smoke dress in the video below:
Anouk Wipprecht will present her new collection at Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 17 and 18.
Hear more from the designer here.