Looking for an outfit that can withstand high-voltage electrical shocks? What about a dress that can make personalized cocktails for your friends? Maybe a getup that actively defends your personal space with spidery appendages? If so, then Dutch "fashiontech" visionary Anouk Wipprecht is the designer for you.
Bored by traditional textiles early in her career, Wipprecht began moonlighting as an engineer, and soon found herself implementing microcontrollers, data collectors, and other exotic gadgets into her outfits. The result is a captivating line of futuristic garb, that will make your own wardrobe seem inexcusably 21st century by comparison.
Take, for example, Wipprecht's "Faraday's Cage dress," which debuted at the San Mateo Maker Faire earlier this year. Fashioned from hundreds of chain-mail rings, adorned with two plasma balls on the shoulders, and finally topped off with a badass spiked helmet, the dress is a fantastic example of how function can enhance style.
The project was a collaboration between Wipprecht and the band ArcAttack, virtuosos of the Tesla coil. "Me and ArcAttack met each other in Los Angeles and we seemed to click on the idea of pushing boundaries regarding technology, experimentation, and innovation," Wipprecht told me. "We had a little brainstorm on the topic of fashion vs high-voltage, after which the dress soon was born."
Wipprecht herself modeled the dress, because none of her usual models wanted to brave the million volts of electricity produced by the Tesla coils. Nobody can blame them for that, but even so, they must regret it now, because Wipprecht ended up taking over the stage like some kind of unstoppable lightning god. Witness the electrifying glory of the Faraday's Cage dress for yourself:
The debut of the Faraday's Cage dress. Video: Anouk Wipprecht/YouTube.
Eat your heart out, every runway show in the world! I would say fashion has no other place to go after something so awesome, but Wipprecht is always thinking of dazzling new ways to integrate technology into clothing. Her portfolio so far is filled with projects that are every bit as bonkers as the Faraday's cage dress.
Her "Spider Dress," for example, is a wonderfully creepy riff on the defensive instincts of arachnids. The shoulders on the dress are rigged up to robotic spider legs that ward off anyone who seeks to invade the wearer's comfort zone.
The Spider Dress. Video: Anouk Wipprecht/YouTube.
"It attacks intruders when they come too close," Wipprecht explained to me. "We would sense but never easily say that a person comes too close in your personal space. What if your interface can do this for you instead?"
"These 'what if's' are going through my head," she continued. "How we can use fashion to convey our emotions, our behaviour, our actions? And can we use these technologies as extension of the self? My designs are very emotional, functioning almost as little creatures on the body that help us or make us aware. They think with us and compute our emotions. "
Another example of Wipprecht's trademark idea of wearable sentience is her "DareDroid" cocktail dress, which literally makes cocktails. The dress is rigged up to a computerized version of Truth or Dare, which decides what kind of drink you get based on how you play the game. If you get too close to the "human host" wearing the dress, the whole thing shuts down. All of this requires that the dress be rigged with medical tubing for the liquids, proximity sensors, and a touch phone with the game installed.
The DareDroid dress. Video: Anouk Wipprecht/YouTube.
"I use fashion as interface into our world and try to create new ways of communication between ourselves and our surroundings," Wipprecht told me. "Mostly with expressive motifs—what if our clothing would react, protect us from people stepping into our personal space, that embrace or compliment our bodies in technology." For her, it's about "creating new kinds of dialogues between ourselves, our bodies, and our surroundings."
But not all of Wipprecht's designs have defensive reactions to personal space invasions—the " Intimacy 2.0 dress" actually becomes more transparent with proximity to other people. Other items in her catalogue react to closeness by ejecting smoke through adapted smoke machines, like a squid ejecting ink. (And speaking of ink, Wipprecht has also engineered a self-painting dress outfitted with several tubes of the stuff, allowing the dress to change color as it's worn).
With so much inventive work behind her, it's exciting to speculate about where Wipprecht will take her fashiontech edge next. We'll find out soon enough, she said, though she was coy about the details.
"I need more computational power, and one of the major tech companies connected to me is helping me with this," she told me. "Together we are involved in a project bringing my new ideas to life using their computer board. It's for a release which will be showcased later this year."
"More I can't tell, unfortunately. But it will be mind-spinning," she promised.