Dutch fashion designer Maartje Dijkstra who previously wooed us with her seductive design for Studio Roosegaarde's first Intimacy dress is now challenging DJs with an interactive and high fashion approach to controlling tracks. Her latest design DENZIPFADEN combines fashion, music and technology in an atmospheric, junglelistic and dark men's outfit that allows you to change the volume of your music and add samples -or anything else that you might do with a midi controller- by pulling on the six golden zippers on the suit and a bracelet. The project was developed together with DJ and electronic composer Beorn Lebenstedt (Newk), who developed the technology and wrote music for the suit, which he performed during the opening of the exhibition TechnoSensual in Vienna where DENZIPFADEN is currently on display.
The suit is completely handcrafted out of golden silk and polyester wires and custom made golden zippers. The development of the suit is very specific to the way that Maartje Dijkstra designs, using laborious handcrafting methods to create unique one-of-a-kind pieces that take months to complete. Although she’s now designed two highly technical garments she considers herself quite un-technical, preferring analog materials to digital ones. This preference is clearly visible in the final design of DENZIPFADEN. Although the suit is electronically enhanced it was designed not to appear that way, making the midi-controller function of the suit secondary to its function as a high fashion outfit. And of course keeping the technology hidden also adds a great element of surprise to a DJ set.
I spoke to Maartje about her process of developing DENZIPFADEN and her approach as a fashion designer towards wearable electronics.
When you develop a new collection you will often work by yourself for a long period of time. Is it very different to collaborate with a musician on a wearable piece? Does it change your own process as a fashion designer?
Collaboration automatically changes the creative process because it inspires you. In collaborating with a composer my process did not change much, because music was already a big inspiration for my designs. Newk and I both believe there is no fashion without music and the other way around. Working with a musician like Newk is great, because he makes music that I consider almost the 'High Fashion of music'. His music is spherical, individualistic and unique and has attention for the little details in sounds. All in all it was an inspirational process for us with an amazing end result.
Having seen the piece in action it occurred to me that performing with DENZIPFADEN creates an inward focus for the DJ. He manipulates the garment on his own body, making the performance intimate. Did you consider this when you created the design and did it change how Newk composed and performed his music?
The first focus in the design and development process was to literally make a bridge between fashion and technology. The process of composing music did not change, because you can use any music for this suit, but the performance part became more intimate than we’d ever thought. The crowd usually does not see the DJ using the mixer. It is hidden behind the DJ desk and is overshadowed by a lot of attitude, arms in the air and jumping. But now, with this suit, the act of mixing can become more expressive. The focus of the performance shifts the audience’s attention towards the technical action of the DJ creating sound effects that would normally go unnoticed. I think it’s an overall enrichment for both the performing DJ and the party people.
One of the things that I particularly like about the piece is how you’ve insisted on not making it instantly recognizable as a piece of wearable electronics. It reminded me of the choice regarding usability that designers have to make for all interactive products to either create controls to be easily recognizable or to make aesthetically pleasing controls that blend in with the overall design. Do you think that if a larger group of fashion designers will start making interactive garments that they will, like you, choose beauty over functionality?
That will depend on the type of fashion designer. I think the choice between functionally and beauty depends on if you consider yourself a commercial designer or someone who designs unique high fashion pieces like myself. If you design high fashion you are focused on the visual and atmospheric properties of the piece, like details in handcrafting, the use of special materials and sculptural silhouettes, and not so much with the 'wearable' part of fashion. My opinion is that the term functionality belongs to clothes we wear in our daily life and not to fashion. Fashion needs to stay a discipline and platform to express your most extreme and creative thoughts and ideas. For DENZIPFADEN we only considered practical issues when we designed the interaction for the suit. A DJ or musician needs to use his gear as simply and as fast as he can.
Do you feel that adding electronics is specifically suited to the style of garments you design?
Yes, I think High Fashion is extremely suitable and progressive to combine with technology.
Can we expect more wearable electronics from you in the future?
Oh yes, and I’d especially like to do more collaborations! I’d like to make a high fashion silver woman’s version of the DENZIPFADEN suit. Newk and I will continue developing the technology and in the beginning of 2013 I will start designing my first high fashion men's collection, all with music/jungle related effects built in. I can't wait!
Photographer: Michele Pauty
Model: Edgar Retro/Motheragency Vienna