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Part of the business of fashion is staying at the cutting edge of innovation. This has traditionally been an enterprise involving the design, cutting and draping of fabric into garments. Today, in a world where technological innovation leads the way, that edge is being pushed further than ever. CODED_COUTURE, the current exhibit at the Pratt Institute Gallery in Manhattan, explores new intersections of fashion and technology. The exhibit focuses on fashion that is directly shaped and altered by code, along with designers who incorporate interactive applications into their designs. 

The works on display comprise a virtual Minority Report on what the not-too-distant future of fashion might look like. They go well beyond the already humdrum wearability of Apple watches, as well as beyond mere physical measurements as the parameters for customization. According to exhibit co-curators Judith Hoos Fox and Ginger Duggan, code, in its many forms, rather than simply a sewing machine, is the tool these designers employ to achieve the desired effects. These effects are themselves ultimately determined by the wearer’s movements, moods, behavior and biorhythms – personalization to the extreme.

The CODED_COUTURE exhibit features 10 designers, and is categorized according to four coding themes: biological, cultural, psychological, synergistic. One of the first pieces in the exhibit is an amazing cape of purple and black feathers by Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, who teaches industrial design and fashion design at Pratt. The cape tracks the wearer’s heart rate, causing the feathers to flutter when it detects anxiety, nervousness or excitement. This could definitely make for some interesting mating rituals.

French designer collaborative N O R M A L S came up with an augmented-reality T-shirt/app that creates and projects real-time images on the shirt, based on information from the wearer’s tweets. Along the same lines, British design team CuteCircuit presents a tweet-powered iMiniskirt that displays actual tweet feeds and changes color according to audience input (via hashtags). There’s also an evening-dress version decorated with some 2,000 hematite elements, and from designer Ying Gao, a pin-studded, sound-activated dress that. The latter features thousands of dressmaker pins that move and change patterns in response to sound.

Perhaps the most intimidating piece in the exhibit is the so-called Holy Dress. This little black dress utilizes a lie detector and LED lights, lighting up and giving the wearer a shock whenever it senses they are lying. Obviously, this represents a more Orwellian vision of fashion’s future. Let’s hope it’s more about tweeting mini-skirts.

CODED_COUTURE is free open to the public at Pratt’s NYC gallery, 144 West 14th Street, 2nd floor until April 30, when it travels nationally through spring 2018


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