I’m republishing today a piece I did in November on my site, Irenebrination.
From thenext few days Amsterdam residents and tourists will find themselves surrounded by very eye-catching posters advertising a new exhibition about smart technologies at the local NEMO, the largest science centre in the Netherlands.
The exhibition – focusing on current and innovative applications of light in different fields including art, design and healthcare – has also got a strong LED dress donned by Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas, a piece made with organic LED lights and a specially commissioned new design, the NEMO LED dress.
The latter, created by Dutch designer and couturierLeon Klaassen Bos, is a retro futuristic garment characterised by a Haute Couture silhouette and integrating 2,000 lights controlled by a small compact computer.
A passionate fan of Madame Gres and Azzedine Alaïa, Klaassen Bos trained in Paris where he briefly worked at Yves Saint Laurent in the ’90s. The designer currently works in Amsterdam catering to
Where does the retro futuristic shape of the NEMO dress come from?
Leon Klaassen Bos: When I draw I immediately go for the waist, but in this case I also had to keep firmly in mind the fact that the dress had to integrate some technology under it. The first sketch was a little bit too Madame de Pompadour, so I tried to make it a bit more contemporary by sending her on a trip through space. I did it by borrowing elements from architecture and in particular from the museum itself. The NEMO, located in a building designed by Renzo Zaha Hadid and of her organic and futuristic shapes and in a way the dress preserves these qualities: it is futuristic, but it’s not hard, it preserves a soft fluidity and gives a vision of the future as a very harmonious place.
What influences your designs?
Leon Klaassen Bos: The curves of the female body. I love the seductive shapes and silhouettes from the ’50s. Women from those times such as Sophia Loren had the power of stopping the traffic even when they wore long skirts. Their seduction was elegant and not brutal or vulgar. I remember reading when I was 16 years old an interview with Emanuel Ungaro in which the designer said he always worked from moulage: he would drape the fabric on a three-dimensional form and during that process he imagined how no man could resist holding in his arms a woman clad in a dress made with that fabric. I thought it was a beautiful thought and that stayed with me forever. I also remember once seeing while working at Yves Saint Laurent a black velvet dress for Claudia Shiffer, it was strapless with no back and, according to gravity, it would have falled down, but it stayed up as if by magic. The beauty, the research that went into fabric and the attention to detail was mind-blowing in this piece, it was so smooth, like a warm custard falling on your head and on your body, but, right because it looked so effortless, it was so difficult to do. So when I design I always keep in mind the sensuality of the fabric, the graphic of the shape and the technical bits, all these elements have got to be aligned together to come up with something perfect.
Technology-wise, did you find it challenging designing this dress?
Leon Klaassen Bos: It was challenging, but it was also exciting. I was supported in my research by a LED company and a company that supplied the batteries. I wanted the design to be soft and light and one of the first things I did was getting in touch with the company producing the LED lights to see how far we could push the boundaries. I discovered through them that there is a computer device – Madrix’s Plexus – usually employed in nightclubs or to programme LED screens for TV shows that is as small as a box of chocolates and that could help with the programming. Looking for the battery was the trickiest part as the dress features 2,000 LED lights. After a long research, a company from The Netherlands supplied the latest model of battery that seemed exactly what we were looking for also from a health and safety point of view: the battery in question only weights 2.5 Kg and can’t explode since there is no acid in it. The final weight of the dress was a great concern, but in the end we only needed one battery pack and all the models who tried the dress said it wasn’t uncomfortable and that they could perfectly walk and even dance in that.
What’s the most exciting feature of the dress?
Leon Klaassen Bos: A sensor that will allow the museum visitors to actively interact with it: if you’re wearing something red and you pass in front of the dress, the garment changes its colours accordingly and becomes red as well. Guess this will be a wonderful surprise for kids who will see it changing in front of their eyes as if by magic!
What kind of audience is this project aimed at?
Leon Klassen Bos: The NEMO is a museum for kids up to 16, but I designed this dress as a combination of playfulness and sensuality that could charm both children and grown ups. The dress is visually enticing, so I’m sure children will enjoy it, while grown ups will be fascinated by its sensually elegant and modern shape. I think that at the moment the fashion industry is lacking the emotion, the feeling, things pass so quickly because we’re so overwhelmed also by the influence of fast media. Yet we did a presentation event at the museum one evening and we mainly had grown ups in the audience and I felt it was amazing to be able to divert their attention from the screens of their mobile phones to the dress and watch them standing with their mouths open. It was great to see them experiencing the dress like that and it proved that fashion designers shouldn’t be living in an ivory tower, but should be part of a creative family and share with other people their researches.
What kind of applications could the technology employed in this dress have in everyday fashion?
Leon Klaassen Bos: During the background research for this project I learnt a lot of other things about LED lights and sensors that we couldn’t obviously apply to this dress. These new technologies might have different applications not just for visually pleasing effects. They could be developed and integrated as safety devices for example in everyday clothes or accessories.
What’s the future of the dress, will it be exhibited also in other countries?
Leon Klaassen Bos: The dress will be at the NEMO science centre for two years as they commissioned it. We are going to make a short film featuring the dress that will hopefully be ready for the “Amsterdam City of Light” Festival. I’m also trying to develop some plans with other people to put the LED industry in Holland on the map and see how we could introduce the dress to other countries such as Germany and the UK.
The NEMO dress by Leon Klaassen Bos will be on display at the Science Centre NEMO, Oosterdork 2, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, from 27th November.