The often symbiotic relationship between fashion and technology is being celebrated by the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) in New York with an exhibit called, appropriately, "Fashion and Technology." The show uses more than 100 outfits from the museum’s collections to trace 250 years of technological fashion innovations, from early machine-knit knickers to today's wearable electronics.
The exhibition is designed to illustrate how new technologies have determined fashion’s new aesthetic directions. Arranged in chronological order, it begins with outfits from the late 18th and 19th centuries, which were influenced by the introduction of machinery, new dyes and new materials.
The oldest piece on display dates from the late 18th century, a men’s machine-knit coat and knickers ensemble, which shows how the mechanized process enabled the maker to achieve the close fit. In the 19th century, the introduction of knitting and sewing machines as well as the Jacquard loom (a mechanical loom first demonstrated in 1801) enabled new patterns and cuttings. Fade-resistant synthetic dyes were introduced around 1860 and the show includes an afternoon dress from that period. In the late 19th century, designers could access new materials such as celluloid and started to produce imitation ivory fans and tortoise pins.
In the first half of the 20th century new materials such as rubber and plastics came onto the scene. Theses are exemplified by a 1937 evening suit made of strips of cellophane knitted together with wool. Art Deco inspired designers also began to adopt futuristic themes, while zippers were adopted in the 1930s by upscale designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli. Hardware also inspired couturiers, as a clutch bag from that period that used a socket for closure indicates.
WWII popularized synthetics such as rayon while space travel and the washing machine had an impact on the work of designers in the second half of the 20th century. The 1970s saw innovations in knitting paved the way for Missoni’s bold designs and color combinations. Giant looms enabled Dutch textile studio Larsen to create ten-foot wide panels of fabric while at the very end of the 1970s Thierry Mugler embraced futurism with highly reflective silver lamé. In the 1980s, Japanese innovators like Issey Miyake blended new materials and techniques to create new textures and cuts.
Present day fashion is mostly represented by the interface between garments and electronic technology. One of them is the LilyPad Arduino, a microcontroller board for wearables, such as this haptic shoe model, and other so called e-textiles. Dutch design studio Freedom of Creation also produced an ensemble exclusively for the show using a computer-controlled laser to sculpted the piece layer by layer.
Keeping up with the technological focus of the exhibit, visitors have at their disposal four iPads with a Twitterfeed (#Fashiontech) and an interactive timeline of the exhibition. Video installations, an app designed by fashion house Max Mara and a video about the development of the fashion and technology project round-off the multimedia dimension of the show.
For those outside New York, a dedicated website gives virtual visitors an opportunity to interact with the timeline and comment on their favorite objects.
The Museum at FIT exhibition runs until May 8, 2013.