Armed with glue guns in a brightly lit studio in Istanbul, two sisters wrestle with a mound of blue feathers. Before them, a headless mannequin wears a sleek silver dress, adorned with feathers and dozens of blue fabric butterflies. The feathers are falling off, and the women carefully glue them on while fastidiously winding up the butterflies, preparing them for flight.
It seems a rudimentary scene for designers of haute couture, and it’s easy to imagine these sisters as little girls deconstructing a feather boa while playing dress-up. Despite the creative chaos taking place, this Butterfly Dress is a well-orchestrated design that could change the way people approach fashion.
“It’s an intelligent dress,” said Ezra Çetin, who along with sister Tuba Çetin lead design label Ezra+Tuba. The dress, made from a luxury jacquard interwoven with metallic Lurex fibers, is adorned with about forty butterflies. The dress is embedded with a proximity sensor that allows the butterflies to react to external stimuli.
“It is able to detect the presence of an approaching person,” Ezra explained.
At first the butterflies flap slowly, then more fervently whenever a person approaches. Finally, the butterflies can release en masse in a dramatic launch triggered either by the approaching person or via a mobile device communicating with the dress over a wireless network.
The Butterfly Dress fits the nascent wearable technology trend of mechanized fashion. Recent products and prototypes are doing everything from boosting athlete performance, sensing sweat and reading biometrics, to mimicking nature and using spider arms to keep cocktail party creeps at bay.
Cagri Tanriover, a software development engineer at Intel Labs Europe’s Istanbul office, worked with Ezra+Tuba to find a way to integrate technology into a new design. At first it was a clunky conversation – engineers trying to work with fashion designers – but after much brainstorming and trial and error, Tanriover said that it didn’t take long for everything to click.
“The dress is powered by the Intel Edison compute module,” said Tanriover, explaining that Edison is basically a computer – only it’s smaller than a pack of matches. “It just doesn’t have all the peripherals, like the keyboard, screen, etc.”
He said the technology can be programed to perform user-defined tasks, and it has wireless capabilities and input/output ports that allow it connect to things like servers and sensors.
“The spectrum of things and the applications you can do with Intel Edison are infinite. You don’t have to be an engineer, you just have to have the maker’s spirit.”
Ezra and Tuba came by their love of design via their parents, who both worked in the textile business and taught the girls the value of creating new ideas, taking risks and persevering.
“Our first collection in 2006 was so avant-garde, everybody was shocked,” said Tuba, who brings a love of fashion and design to the operation, while Ezra, an accomplished painter, brings a sense of artistry. They’ve both studied textile technology and industrial design and get inspired by science fiction.
“We believe Sci-fi is an excellent idea incubator, and the future is a constantly evolving theme in fashion,” said Ezra.
“Movies like Star Wars, The Fifth Element, The Matrix, Tron, Aeon Flux or lately the Hunger Games and Ex Machina are a great source of inspiration and provide new insight on how we can integrate more functionality into our clothing.”
The sisters say they were the first Turkish ready-to-wear designers to present collections at fashion weeks in Paris. They also presented collections in Milan and will show in Dubai later this year. Their cultural background strongly influences their architecturally distinctive designs.
Fusing fashion and technology is more than just a fad for these designers. Future projects including using kinetic energy harvesting to gather electricity from a person’s movement, creating color- and pattern-changing fabrics, and using 3D modeling and printing to create tailor-made fashion.
“We look forward to becoming the first luxury designer label in the world to really use wearable technology concepts in our collections as a whole, not just a one-shot or a hiatus,” said Ezra.