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High-Tech Apparel Fit For Fergie: Q&A With Designer Anouk Wipprecht

For the past four years haute-tech designer Anouk Wipprecht has been experimenting with fashion and technology with the goal of establishing a psychological connection and higher state of connectivity between our bodies and our clothing. Her residency at Rotterdam’s V2_ Institute saw her Intimacy and Pseudomorphs designs first come to light, and most recently she designed Fergie’s highly-praised costume for the Super Bowl 2011 halftime show. We caught up with the designer between her many collaborations and festival commitments to pick her brain on her current and future projects.

The Creators Project: You have an interaction design and electrical engineering background, how did you decide to switch gears to fashion design?
Anouk Wipprecht:
I studied fashion design for 10 years, I started when I was 14. The last four years of my studies I spent being involved with electronics and technology. In 2007, I decided to move to Sweden to study interaction design and took the course ‘Body, Fashion & Technology’ at Malmö University. This is when I started working with micro-controllers like the Arduino, coupled with sensors and motors, to do the things I wanted fabrics and jewelry to do.

Production-wise, you’re really prolific. How do you keep up the pace?
Being busy 24/7 and not having a social life does the trick. I just love what I do and people dig it, so why stop? With every project, another one pops up. I get invited a lot to other countries, and it forms a nice way to explore the world. I just got back from L.A. where I worked with a commercial client to design a LED embedded stage suit that was worn by Fergie during the Super Bowl 2011, which turned out to be the most viewed television broadcast of any kind in U.S. history—over 111 million viewers. I got a lot of emails from people who are inspired by my projects. That’s what keeps me going.

What were the dynamics like between you and Bea Akerlund, who co-designed Fergie’s superbowl outfit? How did your different backgrounds play off each other?
Bea contacted me at the end of December, she had heard of me and asked if I wanted to collaborate on the Black Eyed Peas outfits for the Super Bowl. We decided on a budget and a silhouette, and I proposed to let the design be ‘American Football-inspired’. Thank mankind for creating Skype. A month later, I was in L.A. and did the fitting with the Peas. It all went like it was meant to be. The shoes [designed in collaboration with René van den Berg] fit perfectly and Fergie was very enthusiastic about her fashion-tech look. It took several weeks of hard work but it eventually paid off!

Do you have the same relationship with Tom Talmon who engineered the garment?
I met Tom recently and hope to work with him again in the near future. People who talk about Tom say that he gets a difficult project and turns it into an incredible solution in the blink of an eye. He and his team are used to creating props for special effects studios and big movie and entertainment production companies, so it was very impressive to get in contact with the people behind ‘the cool stuff.’ I am amazed how hard-working the people behind the scenes in L.A. are. They are determined to give their all and 200% more. I like that kind of attitude and passion for the job.

A big problem with high-tech clothing is the cost of the components. When the technology becomes more readily available and economical, how will that impact the future of tech fashion?
I think in the near future people will start to experiment more with the combination of clothing and technology due to price and availability, but still, it has a bit of a geeky feel to it. When there are more role models that wear fashion tech in their regular lives, the industry will have more potential to flow with. For example, fashion tech is hot on stage, but celebrities don’t wear tech-enhanced accessories or wearables off stage. When someone like Will.i.am or Gaga shows up with blinking jewelry or color-changing bags, the crowd will definitely follow. But when you’re attending a club in a solar powered illuminated dress that monitors your body, it might be a little bit awkward.

Still, when eye glasses were introduced halfway through the last century, people didn’t believe in a future where we would put glasses in front of our sight, and now we’re even implanting them inside our eyes. We will never get a grip on how new innovations evolve, but I believe that smart fabrics and wearable technology can offer us a more sustainable future, we only should allow them to do so.

Tell us more about your artist residency at V2_labs, where you developed the technology for Pseudomorphs. How were you able to adapt that technology to create the cocktail-making dress, DareDroid?
I got invited to take part in the Summer Sessions of V2_labs in 2010 through which I got a budget and a space to realize one of my projects. When brainstorming for the system behind Pseudomorphs (self-painting dresses, above) I got introduced to pneumatic control valves, which I later re-used as part of the system behind the cocktail-making robot dress, DareDroid. This was a fun project that started when Jane Tingley, a Canadian artist, and I met each other during another artist-in-residency in Vienna, Austria. The dress senses the surroundings and serves little shot glasses when interacting with the system, it was presented during Roboexotica 2010 in Vienna—a festival for cocktail-making robots.

What are your favorite “fabrics” to work with?
I like to create my own constructions and like to design towards a certain kind of fragility or uncontrollable aspect that electronics have to offer. This past January I flew to Prato, Italy for a week to engineer a illuminating dress made out of optic fibers called Luminex. I’m researching other possibilities and effects that I can reach while using lasers and motion. I like to keep away from LED integration as much as possible, since I think that this is a dominating source for many wearables. But on the other hand, they have a certain kind of ‘proofed stability’ that makes it reliable to use for commercial projects.

Can you give us a peek into your next collection or insight on any current projects?
At this moment I’m busy with updating some of my projects, like Pseudomorphs, for the exposition Pretty Smart Textiles during May in Denmark, as well as the cocktail-making robot dress for Elektra Festival that same month in Montreal, Canada. That’s the fun part with such pieces; they grow and need updates and upgrades. Furthermore, I am busy in collaboration with Studio Roosegaarde on the new Intimacy (interactive dresses using smart foil) designs and am working on a new project based on body sensing. Additionally, I’m doing more stage wear collaborations, but unfortunately I can’t say anything about those yet.

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