At Paris Fashion Week, the innovative British designer debuts smart accessories that can detect and depict the body’s emotions..
Turkish-born, Britain-raised Hussein Chalayan is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of fashion. The two-time British Designer of the Year (1999 and 2000) began his career with a college-thesis collection that included designs he’d buried underground to show the beauty of decay.
He’s designed a dress glowing with 1,500 LED lights, pantsuits that shimmer with Swarovski crystals, a fiberglass dress with airplane wings. In Paris in 2016, he had two models standing under a shower wearing fashions that dissolved.
He is at his most creative when taking the fusion of fashion and technology to places it has never been before.
Chalayan’s Spring/Summer 2017 runway show at Paris Fashion Week, called Room Tone, was an abstract commentary on what Chalayan’s life is like in London.
“I am a storyteller,” he said. “In a way, this is a form of urban poetry.”
Through a series of five “moments” or chapters, he explored everything from the busy city environment and rise of the digital age, to cultural norms like the British tendency to keep a “stiff upper lip” or the always-looming threat of terrorism attacks.
“Fashion has all been done before; there’s nothing new,” said Chalayan, who is no stranger to making bold proclamations. “Technology has allowed me to do things that have never been done before.”
In Paris this year, Chalayan’s collection featured sunglasses that pick up biosensing data – such as fear and stress – and belts that then projected imagery reflecting those emotions.
The glasses were powered by Intel Curie module, button-sized tech that lets designers and makers add function to a wide range of wearable products, such as rings, handbags, clothing and fitness trackers. The module on Chalayan’s glasses used Bluetooth technology to measure EEG signals in the brain; another sensor on measures heart rate and pulse.
That stress data was communicated to a belt powered by an Intel Compute Stick, a tiny computing device the size of a pack of gum. That data was then translated and projected onto a wall. When a model walked onto the runway, the projection changed based on her stress levels.
For example, the “Imminent Danger” moment was depicted by a projection of moving legs. When the model, dressed in reconstructed Army clothes, started to breathe quicker or get nervous, the glasses sensed this, communicated to the belt and the legs on the wall moved faster, echoing her inner stress.
In the “Omnipresence” moment, the tension – the joy and sorrow – of living in a big city was depicted by two hands pulling on a rope. The model wore clothing that echoed elements of the rope. The calmer her mind, the less the hands tugged in the projection on the wall.
Chalayan said he created what he calls “therapeutic accessories” to show that fashion can enhance life, not just decorate it. A lot of wearable technology is clunky, awkward or gratuitous, he added.
“Hussein Chalayan’s work is really pushing the boundaries of responsive wearable fashion,” said Karolina Cengija, an innovation engineer at Intel who helps fashion designers make adaptive clothing that shifts shape, changes color or communicates the wearer’s changing emotional or physical state. In Paris, she worked with Chelayan on Room Tone.
Last year, Cengija helped cutting-edge fashion designer Becca McCharen of Chromat create a winged Adrenaline Dress and reactive Areo Sports Bra for the 2016 Spring-Summer New York Fashion Week. Intel also worked with experimental Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht on several projects, including the Spider Dress, a cocktail dress whose eight legs keep people out of the wearer’s personal space.
For Chelayan it’s all about making a connection where none existed before. His biosensing smart sunglasses and belt push the fashion-tech connection to new places, making fashion more engaging and personal.
“It’s important to me to integrate technology and fashion,” Chalayan said, adding that technology needs to merge with the body, not get in the way of it.
Imagine, he said, if you could change your mindset, if you could slow down and take control of your brain activity. You could change your own outward projection by noticing when you need to relax, breathe, meditate.
While his accessories are limited to the runway for now, his vision of technology and fashion reflecting a person’s well being is compelling, bringing a whole new meaning to wearing your heart on your sleeve.