Anouk Wipprecht is a rising star in the field of wearable design. A rare combination of sartorial knowhow combined with engineering smarts and style, she has in a very few short years created an impressive body of fashiontech designs combining intimate interaction such as “Intimacy Black,” a ‘disappearing’ dress, or ”DareDroid,” a robotic dress which plays truth or dare with you and serves you cocktails, to integrated shape-changing displays such as the self-ink-staining dresses of “Pseudomorphs,” or Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas 2011 SuperBowl outfit! I interviewed Anouk to find out more about her process, goals, and insider vision of the fashiontech industry.
What is your background?
I studied Fashion Design for two years of at a preparatory fashion school in Amsterdam, four years at the Modelyceum (Fashion College) where I studied couture/tailoring, and four years for a Bachelor in Fashion Design at Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU). Combined with that I did one and a half years of Interaction Design at the University of Mälmo in Sweden (Kristina Tornblom’s course on body, fashion & technology) and learned electronics/engineering while attending workshops about micro-controllers both at Mediamatic in Amsterdam and in David Cuartielles’ Arduino Lab in Mälmo.
What led to your interest in wearables?
I started out being fascinated with fashion, and wanted to ‘animate’ my designs. However, I got bored of just making garments for visual effects. I attended many theatre productions while studying fashion design (2002-2006) and did an internships at the famous Amsterdam Theaterschool (Theater Studio) in order to get movement into my designs through dance and performance. However, I soon found out that utilizing the body to create movement in clothing also did not satisfy my hunger to ‘animate’ my designs. So, I started animating my garments and fabrics during art school (2006-2010) using Arduino coupled with small motors, thus creating pulsations of light and movement such as with “Fragilis” (2007-2008), and finally by using nitinol (shape-memory alloy) in my graduation year project.
Please describe your studio.
I am based in the Netherlands and have a small studio space near Amsterdam in Purmerend, as well as an appartement with my partner in Vienna where I share a studio space with one of my collaborators, Robert Lunak. However, since I am on the road 80% of the time, I spend my weeks living the ‘modern nomad’ life and my studio is whereever I am. Mostly, I get invited to labs/institutions and universities to work or collaborate on projects, or for artist in residencies. My macbook is my home is a concept that I still agree on.
My studio—overall—consists of: different kinds of sewing machines (from leather, to plastic, and old machines as well as a high tech Bernina computerized sewing machine, the love of my life); a big table for pattern drawing and cutting; an electronics area with soldering iron and hardware; a small space in the back where my hardcore machines such as drills, steel working tools, ovens, and grinders are placed; a storage space for fabrics; and a hanging space for leather next to my rolls of latex. When you come into the studio I have a table where I sketch my ideas and brainstorm with collaborators or clients. It all sounds bigger than it actually is! I estimate the room to be no more than 80 square meters, stuffed full of these machines and production equipment.
I am also a pretty social type who really needs a good energy flow with people.
How does the environment you work in influence the types of wearables you produce (i.e. access to technology/specialists)?
A lot! This is why I like to travel so much. I think this kind of work (wearable fashion) is all about collaboration, and I am also a pretty social type who really needs a good energy flow with people. For the creation part I prefer going back into my own world, but production-wise I love to bounce balls between collaborators, or working next to each other at our own individual projects. Rather than looking what a collaborator can do or have already done and make a spin-off of that, I like to check possibilities within fields that none of us are familiar with. This type of collaborative environment really opens up new sets of ideas and explorations.
Can you give us an example of this kind of ‘intimate’ side-by-side creative collaboration that you experienced in a studio/laboratory setting and describe how it concretely changed the way you worked and developed a design?
For example, Jane Tingley is a Canadian-based artist who works principally in sculpture, and is an excellent welder. As I like to create towards organic forms, I had never really tried to sculpt my own pieces. I had already started making neck-braces out of airplane epoxy for “Pseudomorphs,” however working with Jane made me go into more ornamental/decorative corners than I had before. For her part, Jane had never worked with airplane epoxy before. So, by sharing our knowledge, we created a structure that worked really well for both of us.
I start from a little story that I have in my head and work up the design from there.
Can you describe how you work? Is your work concept-based or technology-driven?
Some of the works are concept-based (“Fragilis,” “Pseudomorphs,”) and others are technology-driven (“Intimacy,” “DareDroid,” “SuperBowl”). For the concept-based projects, I start from a little story that I have in my head and work up the design from there. For the technology-driven projects, I’m working with a certain kind of technology and start to design/explore towards the potential that the technology has to offer and build up the design from there, so it’s the other way around.
What kinds of materials and technologies are used or integrated into your designs?
– “Fragilis” (2007): servo motors, Arduino, electro luminance wires, radio transmitter + receiver, 9V battery.
- “Intimacy” (2010-11): smart foil, custom designed circuit board, distance sensors, voltage regulator, 9V battery.
- “Pseudomorphs” (2010): solenoid valves, custom designed circuit board, elastomeric pumps (pressure pumps), 9V battery, felt (textile), ink.
- “SuperBowl” Chestpiece (2011): airplane based epoxy, LEDs, customized micro controller, 9V power supply (chargeable/plugging in), Swarovski crystals.
- “SuperBowl” Shoes (2011): leather, hard epoxy, laces, Luminex optic fibers, 3.6V battery, pushbutton.
- “DareDroid 1.0” (2010): solenoid valves, custom designed circuit board, elastomeric pumps, distance sensors, dragonskin epoxy, 9V battery.
- “DareDroid 2.0” (2011): solenoid valves, customized/printed micro controller, elastomeric pumps, distance sensors, custom designed 3D printed parts, dragonskin epoxy, 9V battery.
How much do the materials and technologies used in your designs influence the aesthetics? Or do the aesthetics dictate the technologies and materials, and how?
Materials, and especially technology, influences the aesthetics. The first concern is the interaction (i.e. what does it do?) then the function (i.e. how does it work?) and then it is the ‘feel’ (i.e. how will it look?). For the technology part, you always want to make it partly visible, or at least, I like to do that. A play between what is hidden and what is revealed is interesting to me. “DareDroid 1.0 / 2.0,” for example, has most of its electronic parts on the outside in order to create a ‘mechanical feel’ in the design. Whereas a project like “Intimacy,” which is more about the notion of the ‘second skin,’ hides the technology.
What are the challenges for you as a designer working with innovative materials and technology?
The main challenge is to make the garment as light and comfortable as possible, as well as easy to use (i.e. user experience design) which all depends on the battery packs, hardware and the design itself.
It’s a new way of exploring both communication and expression.
What do you think technology brings to fashion design?
It’s a new way of exploring both communication and expression. Although you can do a lot with it, and wearables differ in several stages and kinds from lightning up to moving or interacting. I think that it is not an easy question to answer and it depends on the kinds of designs you’re talking about. Either way, it is an added value in the two categories I mentioned in the first phrase: communication and expression.
But what about the world of fashion specifically? Do you believe that technology adds something to sartorial expressiveness and style, or is it just a ‘gadget’?
We’re not there yet, but soon the field of wearable fashion will move towards being more about ambient and sensual technologies. It’s a game of provoking or communicating emotions or feelings and as fashion is what we display, it is our interface into the world. The switching of a dress to the exact color of the bag that you are using—customizing according to your needs—is another area we will see developing.
As wearable technologies grow towards mass consumer products they will be easier to accept.
Where do you see wearable technologies and its impact on fashion going?
Technology and smart materials will become smaller and smarter and increasingly easy to integrate. Also technology will increasingly become a mobile power solution. As wearable technologies grow towards mass consumer products they will be easier to accept and I think that this is something that needs to happen. At this time there are a lot of fashiontech ideas out there that are really interesting and should be further developed. As soon as designers start to collaborate more with industry, and companies begin to invest more in innovative research, it will become very interesting.
You developed two wearables in collaboration with V2_, which occurred in different circumstances: the first, “Intimacy,” was as a fashion designer contributing to an existing project, while the second, “Pseudomorphs,” was as an independent designer working on your own project. How did the two roles differ?
When working on “Pseudomorphs” I was still busy finishing the “Intimacy” project with Studio Roosegaarde AND I was graduating from my degree in Fashion Design. So, it was a heavy 2 months!
The difference between “Pseudomorphs” and “Intimacy” was that with “Pseudomorphs” I could work as an independent designer on my project, whereas with “Intimacy” I worked as a contracted designer who had to work in a certain—already set—atmosphere and series of goals. With “Intimacy” I explored and worked with the limitations such as the materials (PDLC foil) and the concept, which was already set by Studio Roosegaarde, to which I gave my own vision and style. I based my design very much on the ‘architectural part’ of the materials and was more busy making structures than figuring out the technological system and interaction, which is what I am accustomed to. With “Pseudomorphs” there were no limits and the V2_ team followed along with all of my ideas. Basically with “Pseudomorphs” I started with a blank sheet, whereas with “Intimacy” the sheet was already painted in and I just needed to give my vision on the structure.
Could you describe your contribution as a fashion designer in developing “Intimacy Black” with Daan Roosegaarde at V2_?
With “Intimacy Black” I wanted to create a more ‘evil sister’ of the earlier ‘white’ version. My goal was to create a work that would do well in a museum-setting next to “Intimacy White.” Also, Studio Roosegaarde wanted something that could be easily reproduced on a larger scale when necessary. So I had to work with the notion of less is more, while keeping my ‘dramatic’ signature. The result is a design that covers the whole body—starting from neck to knees—in a pear-shaped silhouette.
How did the material—PDLC (Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystal) foil—influence the design? What kinds of limitations did the material dictate, and how did you implement technical and aesthetic accommodations?
Limitations where—next to working with plastic—not very difficult to disguise. I had done some designs with plastic before joining the project, so it might be different for me than a ‘normal’ fashion designer. All through art school I was trying to find ways of using nonwovens instead of woven materials (such as fabrics). This fascinated me, and next to this, being allergic to fabrics doesn’t really help in my field! So, working with PDLC foil was a win-win situation for me as it is the kind of material I am used to working with, other than fabrics. A technical issue when working with the foil, however, was that if the cuts are too small the electronic voltage, which flows through the material, does not work. This dictated some of the design choices.
Who were your technical collaborators working on the V2_ projects and how did you collaborate with them?
My technical collaborators where Simon de Bakker of V2_ and Peter de Man from Studio Roosegaarde. Peter created the boards for “Intimacy 2.0” while Simon developed the circuits for the “Intimacy 1.0” version. The process involved continually bouncing back and forth between fashion design and circuit/board design, function, settings, interaction, reaction, programming, de-bugging, user-experience design and end-testing, until a particular system fitted the needs of the work.
Piem Wirtz was the project manager and helped me out with all kinds of stuff. She is a very important person at V2_ in terms of coaching and leading the artists in their process.
I was always fascinated by the ‘dance’ of a drop of ink in a glass of water and wanted to recreate this idea…
As part of V2_’s Summer Sessions residencies, you developed “Pseudomorphs”: where did the idea come from and can you describe how this dress works?
I was always fascinated by the ‘dance’ of a drop of ink in a glass of water and wanted to recreate this idea by using a ‘dispenser’ and let it be driven by technology so it could create uncontrolled patterns from a ‘controlled’ source. Basically letting technology be a co-creator of the work.
How did the material—coloured liquid—influence the design? What kinds of limitations did the material dictate, and how did you implement technical and aesthetic accommodations?
The ink got absorbed by the dresses. After a few tests with absorbing materials I ended up liking felt the best. For budget-reasons I had to go with industrial felt that I embroidered with some designs here and there in order to create one-of-a-kind patterns. I used industrial felt because it was a mass production of several dresses, which were all with the same shape but with different kinds of structures sewed into them. Ideally, I would have liked to use handmade felt, since this already has an uncontrolled structure in itself, which I like.
Who were the technical collaborators and how did you collaborate with them?
My technical collaborators where again Simon de Bakker, with the help of Stan Wannet from V2_, and project manager Piem Wirtz. The whole V2_ crew. Simon came up with a lot of technical solutions as soon as I proposed the idea. That was great! He knew a lot about valves and liked the project right way, so that helped. With only 6 weeks to develop something as part of the Summer Sessions (and actually an even a shorter time for me since I was graduating at the same time) this really came as a big help: Simon’s knowledge and interest.
How do you imagine “Intimacy Black” to be worn? Whom is it for and for which context?
“Intimacy Black” is more of an architectural piece, a haute-couture approach certainly, but not an everyday-dress. At this time, I just finished the second series of the project “Intimacy 2.0,” which are two dresses that are ‘truly’ wearable due to the fact that the transparent foil is placed on the shoulders (as opposed to all over the body in earlier versions) and the dress parts are made out of soft leather. Where the firsts “Intimacy Black” was about ‘eye catchers’ shape-wise, this new series is focussed on ‘wearability.’
How do you imagine “Pseudomorphs” to be worn? Whom is it for and for which context?
“Pseudomorphs” is a project that started at V2_ as a mock-up/prototype. I am now busy with a second version of the project, which involves a system that makes the ink go around. The main impetus or purpose of the design is to inspire, just like the ‘dance’ of the drops of ink in water did to me. To have a liquid display that can be placed as art work to be seen was the goal. But also, performance-wise, as a little factory that produces new patterns. I like to see the pieces that I make as works that are transformed each time I update them, rather than finished works. The idea of ‘liquid displays’ really triggers me. Designs that can change according to fluids instead of changing according to light/led solutions.
– Anouk Wipprecht, “Pseudomorphs” –
Do you feel that, through technology, you have now found how to ‘animate’ your clothing in the ways in which you desired?
In a way: yes. In another way: you always want more. I know now how to animate a textile way beyond what I thought could be possible when I started out four years ago. But, a curious mind is never satisfied. From this point on I would like to design towards the notion of technology as an extension of the body, looking at ways to interpret designs physically, emotionally and psychologically and how to couple emotions with smart textiles in order to create direct extensions of our senses.
It’s the constant back and forth between the role of the artist, the designer, the engineer, the scientist, the nerd and the fashion designer, which I really like. I like to move between these worlds.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Working more as a) costume designer (i.e. SuperBowl); b) interactive art/designer (i.e. Intimacy or Pseudomorphs); or c) fashion designer (i.e. with your own Anouk Wipprecht label)?
I will never focus on only a label or stage wear. It’s the constant back and forth between the role of the artist, the designer, the engineer, the scientist, the nerd and the fashion designer, which I really like. I like to move between these worlds. I might eventually ‘land’ in a certain role, but I think that it is through the combination of all of these disciplines that a field such as fashiontech becomes interesting.
What are your working on now?
“Intimacy 2.0” got released last month (December 2011) and at this moment I am doing an artist in residency in Vienna/Austria where I am developing two secret projects, which I can’t say anything about yet. Furthermore, I am curating a exhibition about fashion, technology & wearable electronics called “TechnoSensual” for which I coach the artist in residency, which I am organizing with Melissa Coleman (curator of “Pretty Smart Textiles”) to be shown during the summer 2012 in Vienna.
In between all that, I get invitations to do talks (which I still find very scary!) and I am working for a few academies (University of Applied Science in St Polten) in order to eventually set up some courses where students can collaborate on fashiontech works within interdisciplinary teams.
Vienna, January 2012