Sensory Elegance: A Q&A With Conceptual Fashion Designer Ying Gao

Sensory Elegance: A Q&A With Conceptual Fashion Designer Ying Gao

Breathing, articulating, curling, and unfurling. These are but a few adjectives used to describe fashion designer Ying Gao’s technologically infused garments.

Professor at Université du Québec à Montréal and soon to launch a ready-to-wear collection and complete her doctoral thesis in fashion design and technology, Gao has made significant contributions to the past decade’s burgeoning sartorial experimentation. She finds inspiration in the changing social and urban environment and her interactive works of advanced sophistication have been compared to Hussein Chalayan.

Inconspicuously employing sensory technology in addition to software application, Gao opens our eyes to unprecedented and radical potentials. Today, we catch up with the acclaimed fashion designer and see an exclusive sneak preview of her current project No(where), Now(here).

The Creators Project: How do you describe your work?
Ying Gao:
Conceptual fashion. Although I do not consider my work as artwork, I’m more interested in garments that reappropriate their volume after having been transposed into other forms / functions / applications. I believe that any reflective work that has benefited from in-depth research on both conceptual and execution levels will have a positive influence on our daily lives.

The Show Still Goes On, 2012 (interactive dresses with microcamera)

Living Pod, 2012

How do you incorporate technology into your work?
I use two distinct methods of integrating technology with fashion design. The first method is direct, meaning the microelectronic technology is physically integrated into the garment. The challenge, in terms of fashion design, is to construct garments with free-flowing dimensions [allowing] the potential for numerous shapes, unlike the fixed measurements of so-called traditional garments. It forms a creative framework in which media devices (sensors, cameras, microprocessors) become components of garments.

Secondly, I use the indirect method. Technology is my source of inspiration, it is the base of my creations, but invisible on the garment. Some works are based on the unconventional application of software. Indice de L’indifférence (Index of Indifference) used data from an online survey to modify the pattern, angle, and width of a man’s shirt according to the indifference of voters. In (Uni)forms, a morphing software rendered new uniforms within seconds, ignoring their social implications.

Indice de L’indifférence / (Uni)forms

In your series of interactive dresses, we’ve seen you employ environmental elements like air, movement, and light to trigger different responses. Do you plan to use other elements of effect? Like water?
Yes, I’m currently working on a new interactive project using water that could modify the shape of the garment.

I understand you’re currently working with the DESTE Foundation.
Yes. Playtime is now part of the fashion collection of the Athens-based DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art. It was chosen for an art film shot recently by Athina Rachel Tsangari for the DESTE Foundation. The film will be featured in future exhibitions of the entire DesteFashionCollection and travel internationally on the film festival circuit. Current plans include the upcoming Venice, Toronto, and New York Film Festivals.


What new works can we look forward to?
I’ve been working on a project called No(where), Now(here). A first draft will be shown at Museums Quartier (Vienna) late this summer.

The core concept behind No(where), Now(here) is the idea of the “sham” within the fashion system. Two “sham” garments will allow the public to get a feel for the illusion and repetition that fuel the inner workings of my collection.

The first piece of clothing is made from a stiff material, it is visible from afar, in day or artificial light. The second is made using photoluminescent thread and pigment. It is visible close-up, in darkness. The two pieces are suspended on a hanger, the first superimposed over the second. A proximity sensor connected to a lighting system detects the presence of a spectator. When a spectator enters the room, the lights go on and the first piece is visible. When the spectator leaves, the lights go out and the second, evanescent piece shows itself.

This play of light and darkness reveals the truth of the forms, and brings to light representational relevance of the pieces. Their presence is so ephemeral and deceptive that they don’t seem to exist in space and time at all. Are these objects real, or not? This game of perception and illusion plays with what is not quite real, despite the concrete reality of the objects themselves whose forms are shaped by darkness but also respond to the light.

No(where), Now(here) photo by Dominique Lafond.

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