“I always thought that only engineers and programmers worked at Intel,” explains Snezhana Paderina, “but it turns out that they employ all sorts of specialists, from chemists and physicists to anthropologists and linguists.”
At the same time, Snezhana herself finds it hard to give a definitive answer as to whether she’s an engineer or a fashion designer. She has been interested in computers since she was a child, from cyberpunk literature to Mass Effect, so after graduating from high school she enrolled at ITMO University. In her very first year, she bought herself an electric sewing machine. “I needed to sew a Gothic outfit,” she admits with a hint of chagrin. “There was nothing like it for sale, so I had to make it myself; it was a blue faux-fur coat…”
Parsons School of Design: More freedom, more designs
Soon Snezhana realized clothes weren’t just some random hobby. She continued to sew, and a vocation emerged from her avocation, and she started making real progress in this new profession. Her “Make Ya’ Show” brand was born, and she opened her own shop in the Passazh Shopping Center in St. Petersburg. At a certain point, Snezhana felt that her self-taught skills were not enough and she needed professional training. She tried to go to school in Russia but didn’t like it: “Our educational system is too formal, they teach you stitching and structure, but they don’t teach you to make your own designs; you have to use formulas, go left, go right. I think you get the idea. I needed more freedom for my creativity.”
Snezhana also started using 3D printing technology in her designs and became a pioneer in the field in Russia.
She was featured first on European and then on Russian television channels… Snezhana thinks the publicity helped her get into the famous Parsons School of Design in New York: “I sent them my portfolio, but they didn’t respond for a while; then I sent in some articles and videos about me and received a response within four days.”
Snezhana has been studying at Parsons for three years. It is one of the most famous design schools in the world and has been teaching students from all over the world for more than a century. Most of all, Snezhana loves her instructors. “You know they’re not academics who are out of touch with reality. Everyone who teaches at this school only does so part-time; the rest of the time they’re busy with their own work, their own projects.” For example, Snezhana was taught Fashion Illustration by a Vogue writer, and her design professor works with brands such as Zac Posen and Oscar de la Renta.
Intel and fashion
Parsons was selected by Intel for a joint experimental workshop that first took place last year and in which Snezhana participated. It was not so much a workshop as a full-scale training course. Students were assigned to groups to ensure people with different skill sets interacted. “There were seven us in a group,” explains Snezhana, “and each person had a unique skill, like in superhero movies. But everyone was working on the same assignment.”
Intel specialists gave students a task: they had six months to create high-tech clothes using the Intel® Curie™ chip. The end product had to be a real piece of clothing that could be worn.
The original idea came from a guy who knew a lot about fish,” says Snezhana. “He came up with the idea based on cuttlefish — they can instantly adapt the color and pattern of their skin to the environment. So the idea was to create a dress out of fabric that would change colors depending on data taken from a person’s body.
Intel® Curie™ is perfect for these kinds of tasks. It has in-built pattern recognition—almost artificial intelligence—meaning it can learn on its own. “For example, the chip would learn that at a certain time of day, your heart rate goes up,” explains Snezhana. “You are likely exercising at this time, so this can prompt the clothes to react a certain way.” Becca McCharen is already developing something similar. Incidentally, her famous Adrenaline Dress also uses Intel® Curie™.
The clothes of the future — today
Even though they had to abandon the idea of color-changing fabric due to a lack of time, Snezhana and her colleagues managed to implement two other projects. The first one was a jacket that could change its profile depending on the situation. For example, it could recognize its location and slim down or loosen up depending on whether a person entered a bar or a business meeting. The second project was a skirt with a slit which would rise or descend depending on how its wearer walked: the more the individual’s hips moved, the higher the slit would go.
Two other groups that worked in parallel with Snezhana’s group implemented their own original ideas. One idea was a jacket with in-built screens that used electronic ink to transmit private information (personal messages, reminders, etc.) and public information (from weather forecasts to the positions of planets). Another group came up with a “smart” massager that can be sewn into the spine of any garment; when the device detects the wearer is nervous, it starts to lightly massage their spine.
“Every two weeks, a new set of specialists would arrive from Intel and tell us about their jobs, and we’d show them our ideas and get this awesome feedback, both in terms of criticism and advice,” Snezhana tells us.
All the items created by Parsons students during the Intel Workshop will be put on display at the South Street Seaport Gallery and at the NYC Media Lab conference for the representatives of leading universities and companies to see. Snezhana emphasized that it was important not only to create high-tech clothing but also to get it to the market as quickly as possible. “This year I enrolled in a number of business classes. Later on I’d like to start my own brand.”
Concepts and forecasts
Snezhana is also working on a more conceptual project. The main idea is a “smart” collar that stores a wearer’s private information. “At first, I thought about passwords, thinking that the collar could store passwords accessible using a fingerprint ID,” Snezhana explains. “But then it turned out different people have different definitions of what information is more private.” As a result, the original idea became a full-scale art project devoted to ideas related to information privacy. The collar will run on an Intel® Curie™ chip, just like the Intel Workshop creations, and become part of an art project Snezhana plans to display in a gallery in New York.
Speaking of the distant future, Snezhana is full of optimism. She’s sure that in the next few years, “smart” clothing will hit the market. There’s already a shop in New York where shoes and soles are being produced on a 3D printer based on scans of clients’ legs. And this is just the beginning — the technologies already exist, so the only question is about making them part of consumers’ everyday lives. Given a little more time, “smart” fashion and 3D printing will become a regular part of everyday purchasing.
“In just a few more years, you’ll go into a store and see shelves full of identical items that you can modify and customize as you use them, such that two identical blouses won’t be recognizable as the same a few weeks after they’re bought,” Snezhana predicts.