Over and under 2.0

Researchers into the origins of clothing and fashion disagree about when human beings (or one of their fashion-conscious forebears) began wearing clothes regularly: some claim it was 75,000 years ago, some say 650,000. One thing is certain: it was quite a while ago when materials began to cover the human body, in the form of outerwear and underwear. Purely functional to start with, as a protection from outside influences, the boundaries between aestheticism and functionality have become blurred, and that was well before our postmodernist times. Clothing keeps the wearer warm, of course, but it must also delimit and differentiate, to show who belongs where, to make people appear cool, or, if a look down a pedestrian precinct is anything to go by, at least to be considered as such. More and more pinnacles of fashion are being conquered, and currently there are even actively luminous textiles making their way onto the market. Among insiders the talk is of a ‘milestone’. But why?

It was already at the beginning of this millennium that clothing equipped with MP3 players and active lighting effects – instead of passive ones such as those using illuminated sequins – sought to create a radical bond between the themes of aesthetics and functionality/ technology. The media ran headlines such as ‘Smart frills’ or ‘Textiles with savvy’. As if electrified, the consumers were all ready to buy, in the textile industry the champagne corks started to pop – and everyone woke up with a terrific hangover. The reason? When the manufacturers started knocking at the doors so they could bombard the market with large quantities of ‘smart textiles’, it started to raise questions as to their practical suitability, especially with regard to their washability and formability. The problem: many of the intelligent articles of clothing never got beyond the status of being prototypes or samples. They were about as close to the catwalk of the Paris fashion week as the mammoth-hair coat of a caveman. So, after all the hype came a decade when everybody was licking their wounds – and researchers were working flat out on solving the teething problems that functional textiles were going through. Meanwhile, even the stage of puberty seems to have come and gone. With both feet firmly on the ground and expectations that are realistic, Era 2.0 of wearable electronics is being ushered in, almost imperceptibly: washable, formable and ready for market.

A ladies' corsage with integrated LEDs. Source: Forster Rohner

A ladies’ corsage with integrated LEDs. Source: Forster Rohner

For example, the Austrian Utope company, in cooperation with the Fraunhofer IZM [Institut für Zuverlässigkeit und Mikrointegration – Institute for Reliability and Microintegration] in Berlin, has been working at the interface between fashion and technology to develop an elastic electronics system that can be integrated into textile products. One of the first products on the market to be based on this system is a sports jacket equipped with LEDs and sensors (see above) that is meant to improve visibility in the dark and has already received the Red Dot ‘Best of the Best’ design award. In Switzerland, the Forster Rohner Textile Innovations company is working on the symbiosis of textiles and technology. As an item of actively illuminated, high-quality ladies’ underwear, its corsage, which is also equipped with LEDs (see photo below), is sure to be a sight for sore eyes, and not only for male electrical engineers. The e-broidery® technology, which has been developed specifically with the aim of combining light and textiles, also forms the basis for actively illuminated curtains, lamps with decentralised luminaries and parts of the current Autumn/Winter collection of the AKRIS fashion label (starry sky evening dresses).

Source for the picture above: Utope

Ronny Eckert

Ronny Eckert

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