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scan it, print it, wear it: the future of fashion is 3D

In the future you’ll be able to print your party dress at home, your T-shirt will be able to hug you, your clothes will clean themselves and models will just be holograms on the catwalk! Except wait… this is all happening right now. Innovation in fashion is developing at full speed, so what does the future look like?

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A year ago there were rumours of a fabric called Quantum Stealth that could bend light around the wearer to portray what was behind them, in front of them – a real-life invisibility cloak! While the fashion world hasn’t yet set eyes on this elusive material (for obvious reasons?! Not to mention it is apparently in the top secret care of the American Army), there are other technology marvels that are developing at full speed, changing the way we see, design, make and buy clothes.

Models can catwalk through holograms of themselves, T-shirts can hug you and couture is being designed virtually and then printed using a 3D printer – no needle and thread involved. CuteCircuit is the fashion house that is made up of Ryan Genz and ex-Valentino designer, Francesca Rosella, the inventors of the HugShirt. They made hugging a friend on the other side of the world as easy as sending a text. Sensors in the shirt measure the strength of touch, skin temperature and heartbeat of the sender. This information can then be Bluetoothed anywhere in the world and the HugShirt will squeeze you back in the exact same way as your mate would. The questions Francesca usually gets asked are “can you wash it? How do you charge it? Is it comfortable? The answers are: Yes, USB, Yes. It was awarded as one of the Best Inventions of the Year by Time magazine, and this is what really got people alert about a wearable technology revolution; and the Galaxy MiniSkirt, I love to wear it and watch the reactions of people seeing it in action, I got mobbed in Shoreditch just last week!” says Francesca.

CuteCircuit are also the team behind Katy Perry’s romantic, dream dress at the 2010 Met Ball. Posing on the red carpet, she flicked a switch in her sweetheart neckline and the dress lit up with over 3000 tiny bulbs, a vision all sweetness and light, triggering another 3000 flashes as the paparazzi exploded. The future’s bright! “All the garments we make are straight out of our dreams, we wake up in the middle of the night to sketch them down right away before forgetting any detail. A CuteCircuit garment always starts with thinking, ‘wouldn't it be amazing if...’ And then we just try to make it happen in a meaningful and beautiful way.”

It didn’t look too far off the futuristic Hunger Games idea of Lenny Kravitz as stylist, creating Katniss’ Girl on Fire dress. These creations are like something out of a fairytale, they’re designed to be clever and exciting, and these are innovations in fashion but they’re one-offs – showstoppers. The real phenomenon that’s revolutionising fashion seems to be 3D printing. Iris van Herpen is the 29-year-old Dutch designer who uses 3D printing to make couture that is fantastical, heliacal and 100% symmetrical in every tiny detail. “The huge advantage of 3D printing is that there are no complications or limitations in terms of 3-Dimensionality or complexity, everything imaginable is possible,” she explains. At the moment the main thing holding 3D printing back from taking over the fashion world is that the materials used can only make solid forms. Whilst this is great for 3-dimensionality, you won’t be able to print out a T-shirt at home any time soon, “normally a garment is built up from a fabric, so all shape, all 3-dimensionality that you want to add has to be manipulated by seams. So you start 2-dimensional (with the fabric) and you want to end up 3-dimensional (so that a body fits well into it). This transition from 2D to 3D gives a lot of difficulties. With 3D printing you start 3-dimensional; it’s total freedom. I can go as complex, detailed, in all 3-dimensions as I want, without any seams.”

But if we can’t print using fabric how is this any less of a gimmick than Katy Perry’s light-up ball gown? Maybe this is just the start of the potential of 3D printing. It is rare to come by a creative university without a 3D printer today and if the future generations are using them, this must be going somewhere. London College of Fashion’s mission is to ‘Fashion the Future,’ and they have their own 3D printer – the Makerbot 3D. Using a 3D scanner, students are able to either scan an object or scan themselves to create a digital mannequin and virtually stitch garments together before draping them onto their personalised mannequins to make perfectly fitting clothes. “The Digital Bureau in LCF has two 3D printers: one using plaster, and another one using plastic called PLA. They are used mainly by MA students: Fashion Footwear and Fashion Artefact. Our printers are good for prototype printing. If the students are aiming to make final products which require very high quality finish, and are robust and wearable, we advise them to use commercial 3D printing services,” explains Gabriela Daniels, LCF’s Technical Manager – 3D and Science.

Clothing sizes are so specific at the moment, an 8 has a 24.75 inch waist, 34.75 inch hips, a 14 has a 30.75 inch waist and 40.75 inch hips but we’re not mannequins; loads of us are different sizes on top and bottom, tall, short, slim, curvy, all mixed and matched. In March 2013, noughties pin-up, Dita von Teese wore the first fully articulated 3D printed dress, made to fit her and only her perfectly. So how long until we’ll all have jeans, shirts, lingerie that will fit our bodies exactly? I mean, scanning yourself is the easy part. From Victoria’s Secret Angel, Lindsay Ellingson to i-D’s own Associate Producer, Declan Higgins, making an exact digital replica of yourself isn’t hard. “You can make a 3D scan really easily with an Xbox Kinect; you can get this plug-in which picks up your sensors,” Declan said (it’s true). But Declan got the full experience, he was asked by a mate who works at Europac 3D if he wanted an action-man sized, exact version of himself. “There was an 80 grand fucking sick scanner and it was kind of like an iron, like your mum would use to do clothes and the guy went, ‘stand on the X’ and then waved this iron over every part of my body but it had within it a sensor that picked up something like every square centimeter of your body, as a different sort of pixel. He did it really quickly as if he was colouring me in and it was all coming up on the screen in front of me, but it was really blocky. So then he came up close and went over me slowly which did a very in depth 3D scan, taking in colour as well. It took about five minutes.” At the end of the week a twelve inch tall Declan arrived at the office in the full adidas 3-stripe, classic blue shell suit that he’d been wearing on the day.

“I don’t think 3D printing as we know it today will be the future of fashion, but I definitely think that the old methods of building in all creation – whether it is architecture, design, art, fashion – where we often start with a 2-dimensional surface manipulating into 3-dimensional objects will become history. The developments are going fast, research and prototyping in 4D have already started. So I think 3D printing as we know it today will not be the way we make garments in future, but the essence of 3D printing – starting 3D and skipping the phase of 2D, will be it, yes,” explains Iris. It might still be in its early stages but 3D printing is currently being used to make everything from guns to pizza (the Foodini 3D printer is set to go on the market at a very reasonable £840 – although can only print food that has a paste-like consistency) and considering you can now buy your own 3D-printer from Maplin (the UP! Plus 2 3D printer is just £1619.99! and can be used to make anything from an iPhone case to an egg cup), surely it can’t be long until we look at 3D printers like we look at computers ie. can’t live without one.

I’m pretty sure it won’t be that long until we’re all buying our designs online, there’ll be an app to alter them so they fit us perfectly and then we’ll print them out right there, from the 3D printer that’s sat on the desk next to us. “I think the applications for it now are limitless, I think we're about five years away from having a domestic version in every household. Very soon I think you'll be able to buy your Prada shoes online and print them directly from their site. Right now you can print chain mail sheets so being able to print fabric cannot be far behind. It’s not too far-fetched to think that in a few years we could be downloading entire outfits,” predicts set design and artist extraordinaire, Gary Card.

In conclusion – what Iris said – everything imaginable is possible.

 

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