Armed with glue guns in a brightly lit studio in Istanbul, two sisters wrestle with a mound of blue feathers. In front of them, a headless mannequin wears a sleek silver dress, adorned with feathers and dozens of blue fabric butterflies. The feathers are falling off, so 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, their Butterfly Dress is a well-orchestrated design that could transform the way people approach fashion.
“It’s an intelligent dress,” said Ezra Çetin, who along with sister Tuba Çetin lead daring design label Ezra+Tuba.
The dress, made from a luxury jacquard interwoven with metallic Lurex fibers, is adorned with about 40 butterflies. They aren’t just for decoration. 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.
The butterflies can release in a dramatic mass launch
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 mechanised fashion. Recent products and prototypes are doing everything from boosting athlete performance, sensing sweat and reading biometrics, to mimicking nature and using spider limbs 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 its dress design.
At first it was a clunky conversation — engineers trying to work with fashion designers. But after much brainstorming and some 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,” he said, explaining that Edison is basically a computer, only it’s smaller than a box of matches. “It just doesn’t have all the peripherals, like the keyboard, screen, etc.”
The Edison module can be programmed to perform user-defined tasks and it has wireless capabilities plus 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,” added Tanriover. “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. 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.”
Movies like Star Wars are a great inspiration
The sisters say that they were the first Turkish, ready-to-wear designers to present collections at fashion week 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 include: using kinetic energy harvesting to gather electricity from a person’s movement, creating colour- and pattern-changing fabrics, plus using 3D modelling 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.
Back in the studio, after the glue has dried, a model shimmies into the dress and its butterflies are secured and poised. It’s impossible to detect the Intel Edison compute module hiding under the shoulder pad. The model makes a motion and signals the release. The butterflies take off. Transformation complete.