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The Original Creators: Diana Dew

Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator” — an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Diana Dew.

Long before LED clothing was shown on the runway, or celebrities flaunted light-up clothing onstage and on the red carpet, Tennessee native and “it” girl Diana Dew was designing, engineering, and wearing her own rechargeable illuminated clothing.

By the mid 60s, the 20-something former model’s designs could be seen on the patrons of Max’s Kansas City, a NYC nightclub and restaurant that was once the storied hangout of artists, musicians and poets, including Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, and the Abstract Expressionist artists. Dew’s fashions were also sold in the NYC-based Paraphernalia boutique alongside other breakout designers of the decade, such as Betsey Johnson and Deanna Littell.

The actual technology itself was made up of pliable and removable plastic lamps sewn into her clothing in segments, connected to a rechargeable battery pack worn on the hip. The batteries were good for a full five hours of flashing, and could produce between one to twelve flashes per second by adjusting a control knob called a potentiometer. “They’re hyperdelic transsensory experiences,” said Dew in a 1967 Time article.

Even though Dew insisted that any problems with her clothing could be addressed at the nearest radio-tv repair shop, the flashing lanterns weren’t completely flawless. According to Brigid Berlin, a daughter of the chairman of Hearst and notable figure in Andy Warhol’s inner circle: “Diana Dew, the electric-dress designer for Paraphernalia, had those dresses where the tits would light up; or you could flash the crotch and that would go off. But they weren’t fool-proof, and one night two girls went totally off in Max‘s! I mean, right off. They went BOOM! It’s true.“

The same Time article stated that Dew was working to expand her line to include flashing ties, a dress that spelled out words, and even one that was wired to play music. It was said that Dew eventually sold her technology to the U.S. Military, and after the day-glo, acid phase of the 60s, her presence in the scene and in the news subsequently seemed to evaporate along with The Factory.

A 1967 New Yorker profile, and mentions in Edie: An American Girl and Joel Lobenthal’s Radical Rags, seem to be the only proof of her existence today. Even so, we believe her legacy has lived on. Here are three current projects that we believe have taken direct inspiration from Dew’s illuminating clothing and charisma.

Havaianas Gummy Light Flip-Flops

Dew’s parents divorced while she was in high school, so she left Tennessee to live with her father in West Palm Beach, Florida where she scuba dived and worked as a car mechanic before a brief stint at Bard, followed by engineering school at The University of Florida. Even though these flip-flops are technically a string of lights, a light-up flip-flop would have been Dew’s go-to when driving across the country and popping into clubs between Tennessee, Florida, Berkeley, and New York City.

Katy Perry in CuteCircuit

On the red carpet at the 2010 MET Ball, Katy Perry wowed fellow celebrities and the press with her custom-made LED dress from CuteCircuit. No bulky Dew-esque battery packs here! And no explosions, we hope.

Jennifer Darmour’s Zip Hoodie

Jennifer Darmour’s rigged sweatshirt integrates fashion and music, much like Dew sought out to do. In this prototype, the zipper acts as the volume control, amplifying as you zip up the garment.

Images of Diana courtesy of Radical Rags. Illustrations of Diana’s “Movie Dress” and motorcycle jacket by famed fashion illustrator Tod Draz.

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