Foresight Analysis: Future Textiles

Materials Pushing Boundaries

Manus x Machina/Dress, Silicon feather structure and moldings of bird heads on cotton base, Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984), fall/winter 2013-14 Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo by Jean-Baptiste Mondino.

First seen in MIX Magazine, issue 43, Sarah Walker explores a whole raft of ideas exploiting the potential of materials to push boundaries and expectations, with additional research by Becky Lyon.

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presented Manus x Machina, the aim was to explore the impact of new technology on fashion, proposing the view that hand and machine processes are now equally influential in inspiring designers. This view was timely, as 3D printing, laser cutting and even ultrasonic welding battled with a surge of interest in couture crafts like embroidery, lacework and braiding. “Traditionally, the distinction between haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other,” explains Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute.

The show also revealed the sheer diversity of innovation currently at play in the field of textiles. “There has been a surge of awareness, innovation and interest in the future of our textiles and materials. Innovators are increasingly starting to care about sustainability and new techniques which seek to improve our lives either through a high-tech or traditional craft approach to design, or a combination of both,” explains designer Anna Laura Schlimm.

As far as Schlimm’s own work is concerned, her main interest lies in further exploring the possibilities of utilising material to improve physical and mental wellbeing. “I think there is a great potential in working with people, taking a human-centred approach to design, understanding people’s needs and tailoring a product to these,” she says.

Schlimm also believes that designing bespoke items could also be a more sustainable option and contribute to tackling the excessive production of textiles for throwaway fashion. “My main hope for the future of textiles is that it will continue to become a more responsible industry. New techniques, which are right now still being developed, such as organically growing fabric from algae, could in the future lower the impact of textile production on the environment,” says Schlimm.

Shape Shifters, designed by Angelene Laura Fenuta, is a clever approach to garment cutting that uses modular textiles to create a variety of different outfits. “The goal is for the textile to become the basis of future wardrobe components while preserving a robust quality for more longevity. I very much enjoy embedding surprise within the textile, where functionality is not perceived at first glance, but changes through kinetics,” she explains.

Fenuta agrees with Schlimm about the future direction of textiles, seeing them as more responsive to our needs and wants as humans; not just on a micro scale, but on a scale where change is perceptible. “If change is to be adopted and understood, I feel it must first communicate in a vernacular established throughout history. Maintaining the traditional feel of textiles, it is important to elevate with embedded function that is enabled through physical interaction. I think this will allow us to become more self-aware and re-gain presence that may be lost in a world that is often driven by technology,” she explains.

Finally, inspiration for the future direction of textiles can also be found in unexpected places. A case in point, Berlin digital art collective Zeitguised has devised a hypothetical range of self-generating or ‘procedural’ fashion. The artists have used textile simulation software to draft sewing patterns and stitch ‘materials’ together. Through a combination of generative pattern softwares (such as a programme designed to reproduce biological growth) the company has created textiles that behave like curious organisms. Undulating in a psychedelic fashion the ‘garments’ in a familiar palette of olive, rose, mauve and electric blue modify as the fabric behaviours shift; both beautiful and ever so slightly disquieting. Here, art is applied to explore extreme possibilities in fashion and follows a series of projects using algorithms to create crafted textiles.