When Chanel presented its classic two-piece suit, created with 3D-printed elements, at Paris Fashion Week last month, artisanal fashion entered the 21st century. Using selective laser sintering—a high powered laser fusing together tiny particles —much of the suit vest was sculpted, appearing boxlike, with no sewing necessary.
For an industry defined by exclusivity and handmade pieces ordered to fit, 3D printing tools—around since the mid-80s—may finally look to "widen haute couture,” as was stated by Chanel’s creative director, Karl Lagerfeld, to AFP back in July.
Architect and 3D fashion designer Julia Koerner thinks so, too.
“3D printing is a tool but also a material,” says Koerner, who's worked with a range of 3D printing companies and fashion houses. “It allows for new ways to design, which may not have been possible with a fabric or textile.”
Typically coming in a powder or resin form, 3D-printed materials can range from stainless steels to nylon plastics. While not originally intended for fashion, the more flexible and stretchable materials available are being used by designers to circumvent the limitations of fabrics like lace, cashmere or tweed. Using the same material, different strengths can also be designed, sometimes even with a cloth-like look.
“It really depends what you design and create. There are materials and processes for different budgets and functions,” Koerner tells The Creator’s Project.
Days after the Chanel suit hit the runway in Paris, a 3D-printed vest designed by Koerner and Berlin-based designer Marina Hoermanseder made an appearance at Berlin Fashion Week. “It was a hard material and meant as a corset,” explains Koerner. “This was a two-part piece, made using a stereolithography process, connected with straps and buckles. It was later galvanized by an Italian company.”
Unlike the Chanel suit, which is thought to have been made using a flexible material such as nylon, the corset was printed with a metal resin. Both printing processes—selective laser sintering and stereolithography—use high-powered lasers to form 3D objects layer by layer. Differences come in the strength of the laser and the chosen materials.
No stranger to the Parisian catwalk, in 2012 Koerner, in partnership with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen and 3D printing company Materialise, released a 3D printed dress in a honey color made from transparent resin. Earlier this year, she collaborated with 3D printing company Stratasys Ltd to create her own ready-to-wear fashion designs from polyjet technology—essentially, inkjet printing for rubberlike materials.
With endless possibilities in shape, texture and transparency, the experimentation of 3D printing techniques and materials has a worthy place on the cutting edge of couture. But fashion designers must learn how to generate computer files and complex computer-aided drafting techniques for the printing process to work.
“It’s still all a matter of proportion,” says Koerner.
Despite being able to print a garment immediately, however, digitally manufacturing crystal-embroidered dresses or extravagant feathered caps is still a costly process that’s unlikely to make high fashion more accessible any time soon. “Designers are digitally crafting the technology,” says Koerner. “The amount of time that goes into it is comparable to someone stitching pearls into a gown for hours and hours. It’s just different dimensions.”
Based in LA, Koerner continues to merge technology with fashion. See more of her work here.