Tag Archives: Fashion and Technology

Fashion and Technology – Additional Thoughts

I promise this is the last post from the CSA symposium I attended recently in Cincinnati. And this is really just for me to formalize my thoughts on the two days spent immersed in talk of fashion and technology.

I really like how CSA develops their symposiums around a theme. As a teacher I used to go to conferences on writing or history, and the presentations would be all over the place. With a theme, common threads start to emerge, and one starts to hear multiple opinions on the same topic. It makes for a more thoughtful experience.

One thing that so many of the presenters, especially the college professionals who work in design programs, pointed out, is that the great majority of fashion design students have zero sewing skills. I realize that a person does not HAVE to sew in order to create designs (much like Karl Lagerfeld), but it sure does help to know what can and cannot be accomplished with a sewing machine, the basic tool in making a garment.

So the starting point in most design programs is a basic sewing class. One teacher made the point that it is the attempted making of a welt pocket that separates the sheep from the goats. He estimated that half of his students do not make it past the welt pocket.

Why can’t Suzy and Johnny sew? According to my two new friends from Lipscomb University in Nashville, it is because so few high schools have home economics classes that teach sewing. They were particularly perturbed because Lipscomb Academy, which is closely associated with the university, recently did away with sewing class.  (I looked, and my alma mater does teach sewing in two classes called Apparel Development).

Another common thread came from the people in charge of collections. The big concern is the need for continued digitalization of collections both big and small. This refers to the placing online of searchable databases of an institution’s clothing collection and archives. While everyone who addressed this issue was pretty much in agreement that digital collections are highly useful for researchers and curators planning exhibitions, there are some major problems that prevent institutions from putting their collections online.

The first and the most daunting is that the process is very expensive. You may have read about the financial problems at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some critics claim that a big part of the money drain was due to a huge push to digitalize their collections. That may be so, but the result is that the Met is in possession of a database that is widely used, maybe even over-used. Several presenters pointed out that they were tired of seeing the same old Met garments used in scholarly works.

Another problem is that digital problems quickly become obsolete. Some institutions that were early users of digital programs are now having to replicate their previous work due to low resolution of photographs and outdated computer systems.

These problems aside, if an institution wants their collection to be seen in today’s world, the best way to do it is online. As one presenter pointed out, a digital online presence is no longer a “nice thing”; it’s a near necessity.

It boggles my mind to think of all the great collections, and the holdings within. What if there was a universal database of not just the major museums, but of all clothing collections, even private ones. I’m always reading that an example of this or that major milestone in fashion no longer exists, but I’m betting that somewhere, in some avid collector’s closet, one does exist. I know I’m dreaming but part of the joy of being with people who are thinking about and working on solutions to these problems really opens the mind to the possibilities that the digital universe brings to us.

Several presenters talked about social media and blogging, and how these platforms have proved useful to fashion researchers and scholars. I’ve actually addressed this topic here, as the interactions I have with all of you greatly enrich my own understanding of fashion history. Having an audience for my writing is important, but so is getting feedback from readers. And the same is true of Instagram, where people are quick to point out something missed and to add to what the photo poster knows about an object.

There was also a lot of talk about 3-D printing and other technologies that are being developed. Interesting, but what really caught my attention was this maternity coat, designed by Chanjuan Chen and Kendra Lapolla at Kent State University. The pattern for the coat was developed using a computer program, and the placement of the pattern on the fabric was analyzed by computer which was able to fit the pieces onto the fabric with less than five percent waste. That five percent was then used to make the appliques, so there was essentially no waste in making the coat.

The embroidery was also made using a high tech embroidery machine. I really did think it was hand embroidered.

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed coming along with me to Cincinnati.


Filed under Fashion Issues, Viewpoint

The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology

One of the highlight of my trip to New York was a stop in at the Museum at FIT.  The current exhibition is called Fashion and Technology, a look at how changing technology has affected fashion design and garment production.  Don’t be misled by the name, thinking that all the garments are of modern, high tech fabrics.  The earliest garments in the show are a man’s coat and waistcoat, circa 1780-1800.  The items were made from machine knit fabric, the latest technological advance in the textile industry in 1780.

The five dresses shown above each illustrate a technology that we simply take for granted today.  The circa 1800 white dress is made from cotton, which was not easily manufactured until the invention of the cotton gin and the spinning jenny.  The circa 1844 brown dress is made of fabric woven on the new jacquard loom.  Note the sewing machine in front of the next white dress.  That dress shows a combination of both hand and machine stitching.  The last two dresses show advances in fabric finishes and dyes; the light brown dress has a moiré finish and the purple was dyed using the new to the 1860s aniline dye.

Note the computer screen in front of the white dress.  It shows the inner workings of the dress, letting the visitors see both the machine and the hand stitching present in the dress.  This was just one use of modern technology in the exhibition.  There were videos set up throughout the hall showing several runway shows that have incorporated technologies, including Burberry’s holograms and McQueen’s robotic paint sprayers.

The exhibition continues through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th.  There are some beautiful 1920s garments that show the influence of the the Art Deco movement and how technology influenced the design motifs of that era.  And the new technology of zippers is shown with a Schiaparelli dress and one by designer Charles James.

In this 1955 Charles James dress, the zipper helps to form the shape and fit of the gown.

With the 1950s and 60s came synthetic fabrics.  One really interesting dress was a “wash and wear” fabric dress by Claire McCardell which was displayed along with an ad for a washing machine (or maybe it was for powdered soap; I lost my note on it).

The photo above shows some of the interesting fabrics of the 1960s.  Starting on the left you see a pair of “space age” inspired boots and a dress by French designer André Courrèges.  The first pink dress is made from paper, and the second one is a dress from Pierre Cardin, made from a heat molded fabric.  There is a plastic disc dress from Paco Rabanne, circa 1965, and a jumpsuit by Emilio Pucci made of an elasticized silk shantung fabric, “Emilioform.”  Finally, the yellow coat is made by Yves Saint Laurent from PVC.

Here’s a closer look at the Courrèges and the paper dress.

No talk about technology and fabrics would be complete without a look at Ultrasuede®.  The suit on the left is by Halston, circa 1975.  On the right is a dress from Mary McFadden made from her signature poly pleated fabric.  And don’t miss the platform shoes with the built-in wheels.

On the left is a Pleats Please dress from  Issey Miyake , 1997.  The hologram ensemble is from Kenneth Richards. 1996.  And the jumpsuit is Jean Paul Gaultier’s look at cyberspace, 1996.

And of course, in the past few years, we have seen more and more influences from technology:  Gareth Pugh, 2012, Louise Gray, 2012, and Mandy Coon, 2013.

Fashion and Technology runs through May8, 2013, and if you are going to be in the New York City area, you really should make time to see it.  I went with my two friends, neither of whom gives a whit about fashion history (or so they thought) but both of whom were completely absorbed in the experience.  The only disappointment was that this was the only exhibition, as Ivy Style had just closed, and it left them wanting more.

The small photos are clickable to see enlargements.

All photographs copyright and courtesy of The Museum at FIT, New York.  To see more of the exhibition, visit the special website that FIT has set up for it.


Filed under Museums