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Experimental Design and Label Clothing: a Conceptual and Production-based Study of Montréal Contemporary Fashion Design.

research question

How does conceptual fashion design relate to commercial clothing? How can they influence and enrich each other?


Modular Pleated Lights

photos: Karin Demeyer
model: Sarah Nesbitt
XSLabs, directed by Joanna Berzowska, with Marc Beaulieu and Marguerite Bromley

Modular Pleated Lights is a dress integrating animated photonic band-gap fibers and silk woven strips. The modulable pleats allow the possibility to conceal or reveal the light shining from the internal part of the dress. This cocktail dress presents a silhouette that combines organic shapes with contrasting origamic structure, referring to the natural and artificial properties of the light.

Combined to black waxed cotton and mat bamboo jersey, the photonic band-gap fiber and silk strips are creating a textured effect when light up. The leds are emitting a light that is reflected, transformed and animated through the pleats. The wearer can interact with this animation by hiding the luminous structure, concealing it inside her second skin, or revealing the luminosity by unfolding the pleats and showing, at various levels, the ongoing animation.

The volume created by the bottom right of the dress is implemented by the printed circuit board and which is controlling and empowering the system.


light bulbs

Thomas Edison first light bulb (1880)

Skin Light Bulb, Izumi Hamada and Hideo Hashimotode of PD Design

Flat bulb design by Joonhuyn Kim

Pieke Bergmans, Virus light bulbs, led

Thomas Alva Edison light bulbs

Shadow bulb, Melissa Borrell

An instructable on glass etching here.


annotations for the Human Powered Illumination project

Brief: For this project, I am interested in the idea of exploring the energy used in the creation of a garment. The measurement of this energy could be represented visually through light in the analyzed garment.

Tools to calculate energy
In order to to measure the energy of the making of a garment, here is an overview of some tools that are used to calculate human generated energy. The ideal would be to build one myself, and use it to measure the approximate amount of energy used in the construction of the garment. The objective is obviously not scientific, but a list of measurements of different data could be put up and displayed poetically on the garment.

heart rate monitor DIY

"A device you wear that measures and displays your heart rate while exercising. Commonly, it has a monitor strap held in place around the chest by an elastic band. The heart rate is displayed on a watch, badge, or translated into sound through earphones. Walkers, runners, bikers use heart rate monitors to achieve the intensity of workout they want. Various models have other functions such a stopwatch, time of day, pre-set workouts, calories burned." (source : dictionnary).
old mechanical pedometer

pedometer DIY

Invented in 1723, the pedometer (from French Podomètre, etymologically from pied:foot) is an instrument usually in watch form that records the distance a person covers on foot by responding to the body motion at each step. For this project, the use of a pedometer could allow me to calculate the movements in the workshop during the construction.

electrostatic meter (photo: natural ressources canada)

Wikipedia: "Electrostatics involves the buildup of charge on the surface of objects due to contact with other surfaces." Electrostatic meter is a rare tool because not quite developed yet. If possible, it could be an interesting tool to insert in the material and then analyze if there is any charge happening durink the making.

Visual inspirations and ideas

Dress form trompe-l'oeil, Maison Martin Margiela, 1997

Maison Martin Margiela has been exploring the world of making fashion for more than two decades. Master of the mise en abyme, in the 90's Margiela was often designing about design, and the Maison is still creating fashion inspired by the creation of fashion itself. The world of craft and the workshop tools are presented as part of the presentation, and the trompe-l'oeil are part of the mise en scène.


Curated by Luca Marchetti & Emanuele Quinz, mosign.

Maison Martin Margiela, project curated by Dysfashional

PARAsite, by Bless, gallery boutique which present the work or emerging designers.

On January 20th, I have been lucky enough to assist to Emanuele Quinz's conference about Dysfashional exhibition at École supérieure de mode de Montréal. The exhibition is including the work of Maison Martin Margiela, Bless, Husein Chalayan as well as about 15 others fashion designers of labels. The interesting and unique fact about this exhibition is that, even if being about fashion, no garments are presented in the exhibition.

"Consacrée à la mode, DYSFASHIONAL n’expose pas de vêtements, mais scénarise tous ces matériaux qui font de la mode un dispositif d’exploration esthétique et identitaire. DYSFASHIONAL ne définit pas la mode, mais met en jeu la vision de créateurs et d’artistes d’horizons divers pour aborder ce domaine aussi frivole qu’essentiel. Un parcours spectaculaire et dépaysant où les protagonistes ne sont pas les objets mais les processus : la création et l’expérience."

Those projects (environments, objects, movies...) present the designer's imaginative world, and show fashion as a construction of experimental projects.

Viktor & Rolf, The Fashion Show, autumn/winter 2007/8. Centraal Museum, loan H+F Collectie.
Photo Peter Stigter, model Maryna Linchuk (DNA Models).

"In recent decades fashion and fine art have moved ever closer to one another. Fashion designers create installations and performances and in their turn inspire the art world. ‘The Art of Fashion: Installing Allusions’ traces this development and seeks out the borderline between the disciplines."

For this exhibition, Viktor & Rolf, Hussein Chalayan, Walter van Beirendonck, Anna-Nicole Ziesche and Naomi Filmer have been ask to create new work under those three themes: fashion as total experience, the pattern as sculpture and the imaginary world of the fashion campaign. Being at the edge of fashion and art, those five designers are presenting work that is going beyond the limits of garments, they are presenting a whole. The environment and the presentation of the clothing is part of the creative process. This aspect should be taken explored in this project.

photo: Guide to Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller has been working on principles of energy as well as material efficiency. Thinking on a molecular scale, Bucky works on human scale, and represent his ideas through materiality. Those representations, such as the geodesic dome, become efficient design structure. Bucky's work could be an inspiration for garment's structure, as well as use of material.

source: A Fuller Explanation, by Amy C. Edmondson

The theory of critical design is presented in Design Noir. Instead of the glossy beauty of gadgets, this book is about the sometimes dark side of electronic objects, and how there is an unexpected narrative as well as unexpected interactions emanating from those. It questions the use and the design of electronic objects surrounding us in the everyday life, and how they affect the daily routine. The placebo effect of electronic objects (or presupposed electronic) is also an fascinating aspect viewed in the book.

Dunne, Anthony and Raby, Fiona. Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objets. Birkhäuser Basel, 2001.

This book is a collection of essays analyzing, from an anthropological point of view, the relation of different communities with clothing. Divided in four parts, the book overviews from historical to contemporary trends. The Historical Perspectives part refers to five ethnic cases of present days. The second section, Living Tradition, explores senses and mixed cultures of nowadays. The third part, Challenging Tradition, presents the traditional culture when facing globalization and rethink authenticity. The final part, The Future, shows two cases of recent fashion trends, one extremely marginal and one related mainly to teenagers and pornographic amateurs. Surprisingly the useless part for my research. The Introduction section gives a nice overview of the whole as well as a complete resume of each chapter. Each case has its own bibliography, which makes easier the references. Seeming at first very historical and ethnic, those essays ended up giving a lot of analysis methods that can be applied to many fields. It also presents the richness of analysis potential of fashion, clothing and accessories.

JOHNSON, Donald Clay and FOSTER, Helen Bradley. Dress Sense, Emotional and Sensory Experiences of the Body and Clothes, Berg Publishers, New York, 2007, 208 pp.

The interesting use of Light in Design Objects

Lucy Harvey, Pedestal Ring - found bottle, oxidised silver, fly
Unatural History Series of 3. Objects for the body, 2007, UK

My work explores the psychological necessity for narrative structure and how anxieties are sublimated through the mundane and extraordinary. I use craft processes as a vehicle to speak of the unknown, the uncanny and the melancholy. I manipulate the pre-existing to create enigmatic artefacts which toy with our longing to believe in the fantastic."

The Pedestal Ring from Lucy Harvey is shaped as a lighting bulb, transformed into a ring. I enjoy the reinterpretation of the object, and I think it could be an interesting avenue for my garment.

Thelermont Hupton
Tight Light, London, 2006

Thelermont Hupton is a studio of products and furniture design. They produce a series of glass lighting objects which present interesting luminosity qualities. Tight Light project has beautiful qualities of light textures that are filtered through textile.

Cloud, materials: nylon, wire and light
Jess Shaw, Imaginative and emotional lighting designs, UK

This is a beautiful installation by Jess Shaw. Simple but effective, the Cloud is using light to create an soft but bright atmosphere. It seems to be circles of nylon fabric layered over leds, then displayed as suspended bouquets.


exercice de style #2: the presentation

The dress interaction will be presented through a short black and white movie created in collaboration with filmmaker Tom Fennario.

visual inspiration

Institute Benjaminta, Quay Brothers, 1995

Rough scenario:
An emply room, where a sewing machine and a pair of tailor's scissors are found on a table, inanimate. Slowly, the sounds of a busy workshop are heard. A women is sitting in front of the sewing machine. Her seat seems disproportional for the machine table. The sounds are slowly fading out. A subtle vibration is creating a wave in the dress. Zoom on the murmuring texture of the dress. The scissors are falling on the floor. Sounds of metallic tools are fading in. The women is slowly picking up the scissors. She opens widely the scissors, close to the felt, threatening. Sounds are fading out. The dress is murmuring again, softly, quivering. The women close the pair of scissors. Sounds of fabric being cut by metallic scissorsfading in. View of the empty room.


exercice de style #2

I am fascinated by the process behind the creation of clothing and I enjoy revealing these making operations in garments. Draping on a mannequin, pattern making and sewing are part of a beautiful atmosphere found in clothing design but often hidden. I understand clothing as memory maps of their own stories; where they have been made, with which tools, by who, when. Each action taken to achieve a garment is imprinted in it. For Exercice de Style #2, I decided to explore the memory of a dress being constructed.

Here are some sound captures that have been made with Marjolaine Bourdua in my workshop while I was working on the first prototype for Exercice de style #2. You can hear different sewing machines, fabric being cut, ironing seam, pattern making tools, etc. Those interesting sounds are my daily environment, they are my routine and I enjoy each time I am listening to them. You can listen to them one by one or all together, creating a different atmosphere.

Listening to them afterwards, and reading about the science of sound, I liked the idea that a sound atmosphere is composed of different sound layers; we can illustrate that by talking about a sound texture. Even if material, these data are invisible to human eye. With the software Bitmaps & Waves, we can visualize those; it converts sounds to image. I presented some of those images in a previous post. It gives an idea of how they "look like". It is a long rectangular stripe of black and white dots, squares and stains. Looking at them, we feel a rhythm and progression.

visual data collected in the Bitmaps & Waves software

Having those concepts in mind, I though about communicating the memory of the dress by illustrating the different layers of sound it has been accumulating since the beginning of its creation. By a similar process than the ground is accumulating a story through sedimentation, the sound story of the dress is composed of layers of sound and textures. In the bottom of a pleat could be hidden a memory map of the sound adventure the dress has been through. This piece would be a poetic rendering of an object memory. Instead of presenting objects as continuity of memory and continuity of self (as seen in Csikszentmihalyi's Why We Need Things), this project reveals workmanship as property of the object, it reveals craft and labor as continuity of design.

terrestrial sediments records
source: Natural Resources Canada

To illustrate those layers of sound, I decided to create a three-dimensional structure with layers of fabric, inspired by the generated images from bitmaps and waves as well as from sediments images. I cut stripes of felted wool and between each of them I inserted some layers of plasticized gauze and silk. Those materials together have a sound feeling that is really interesting. It feels like if it is subtly creaking. The contrast with the wool, known for its isolating property creates an interesting opposition.

black plasticized gauze, white silk, black felted wool

When the dress prototype will be finalized and this textile memory map included, the idea is to integrate the circuit presented in the previous post in the making of the final dress. The memory map would create a sound wave activated by the silence of the environment. The silence would then be filled by the dress memories. How it will be integrated in the dress is the next challenge of the project: the circuit should be soft and be really part of the garment.

Canada Science and Technology Museum. What is Sound?
Dunne, Anthony and Raby, Fiona. Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objets. Birkhäuser Basel, 2001.
Entrée des fournisseurs, Éditions Assouline, Maeght Éditeur, Paris, 1990.
Maison Martin Margiela
Marjolaine Bourdua
Johnson, Donald Clay and Foster, Helen Bradley. Dress Sense, Emotional and Sensory Experiences of the Body and Clothes, Berg Publishers, New York, 2007.
Xàrene. Tentative Architecture.

Libellés :


exercice de style #2: le circuit

Working with Elio Bidinost at the Sensor Lab. The objective is to build a circuit where a microphone would capture the sound environment. When the environment would be silent, vibrating motors would be activated to create a visual and sound wave in the textile layers. Here is the first version. The challenge was first to remove all kind of noise in the circuit. Then, it was to accurate the sensitivity of the microphone; at first, it was feeling touch and blowing, but not the environment sound waves. The following visualizations have been made with the Fritzing software.

breadboard visualization

schematic visualization

Eventually, we will have to invert the microphone so silence will be the input instead of noise. We also might need to integrate a micro-controller to control the activation of the motors, so their own noise won't stop the output going on for a determinate period of time. Here are some short videos of the circuit while working (the vibrating motors are replaced with a LED for debugging reasons) and of the use of the oscilloscope to adjust the potentiometer.

Libellés :


pretty switches

mercury tilt switches
magnetic switch


post industrial folk wear

Mau (Marian Schoettle) designed this collection of simple coats and accessories made from Tyvek. She has an interesting view on her process and on materiality:
"The garments are essentially built: with all detail emerging from construction decisions. The material is featherweight tyvek(R): a high performance non woven taken from construction and graphic trades and adapted and manipulated here for personal use. Along with excellent performance properties, I was drawn to the material because it looks fragile and perishable like paper but is in fact a tough and resistant modern material. (Partially recycled and is recyclable)

I am not interested in making hard or perfect futuristic clothing, smart clothing, or high design. I am trying to coax the genie that is so commonly found in folk wear to appear in work that is of our time. [...] The work is designed in my studio in the Hudson Valley, sewn in the NYC Garment District under the auspices of the Garment Industry Development Corporation. The material is made in the USA, surplus materials are gathered from the local computer, snowboard and automotive industries, and design studio scraps are recycled."


wendy legro

Student in the Man and Well-being program at the renown Design Academy of Eindhoven, Wendy Legro created this coat:

White LEDs are embedded in the folds of this classic looking jacket. Pleats really are one of my favorite textile structure to integrate all kind of movement or implemented material, as electronic. It is a way of creating some hidden space, some volumes or some modularity that give infinite possibilities. Unfortunately, there is no information about the inspiration, the process or the interaction of this jacket on the artist's website. But while I was searching for it, I found this other project of Legro, Morning Glory, which is better explained and is quite lovely:

"The sun is our natural light source. Our homes are filled with artificial light replacing it, undeliberately disrupting our biological clock.

This product works autonomously with a light sensor. During the day, mechanical flowers are closed enabling sunlight to come in. When sun sets, the flowers open and start to emit light. In this way, awareness for a beautiful phenomenon will be brought back."

A stop motion video of the project can be seen on the website.

Merci à Julie L.

Libellés :


Tentative Architecture

By Xárene:
"This architecture allows for ventilation by mimicking the breathing of its wearer.
One version uses galvanic skin response sensors and shape memory alloys which respond to the wearer's mood and ambient temperature changes. A second version is powered by a bio-kinetic hand-fan."
In collaboration with Joshua Hernandez, PhD student, Math UCLA
Materials: Hand knitted and felted wool, shape memory alloy (Dynalloy Muscle Wire), Arduino Lilypad

The way this garment is moving, "living", "breathing", is making me very uncomfortable. I am shivering when I look at it; its organic motion gives me the feeling that it is alive, that it really has a breathe impregnated inside of it. The structure of the garment in itself is not so impressive; it is basically a felted piece of knitted wool that is crinkled. There is no garment shape in it, it is just placed over the model for the outside picture. Xárene being a conceptual architect, I guess she has no formation in pattern making of any kind. But the potential in this piece being transformed in a garment is quite promising.

Tentative Architecture of Other Earth from Xárene on Vimeo.

Libellés :

the fat map

UK designer Shelley Fox and Sir Peter Mansfield, who won a Nobel prize in 2003 for his contributions to medicine centered on his work with medical resonance imaging (MRI), collaborated in 2008 to create this series of garments.

"The Fat Map collection explores how the patterns of clothing change as garments are altered for different bodies. Shelley has monitored changes in the internal and external body fat of six volunteers who undertook a controlled exercise and dietary regime. Using an MRI scanner, the volunteers have been scanned before; during and after the regime and their “fat maps” form the basis of the collection.

Shelley questions both technical and conceptual conventions in a bid to redefine how clothes are worn. Her use of unorthodox pattern cuts and materials such as scorched felted wool, using Braille markings and Morse code, have earned her a string of illustrious prizes. Motivated by an interest in humanity and social interactions, her distinctive style results from a training in both fashion and textiles."

I think this is a nice way to integrate sciences in the experimental design field. It doesn't just inspire: it also addresses questions to users or viewers about weight, physiognomy and their relation with fashion. I think this methodology of collaboration between designer and scientist in the process of creation could be applied to a vast variety of thematics, which could be more poetic and subversive.

Found via Fashioning Technology.

Libellés :