Pro­file Ying Gao on the merg­ing of fash­ion and sci­ence

From gar­ments that are im­pos­si­ble to pho­to­graph to dresses that move to sound, Ying Gao’s sen­so­rial cloth­ing em­beds fas­ci­nat­ing cri­tiques on our tech­no­log­i­cal de­pen­den­cies


Can you elab­o­rate?

For in­stance, I’m cur­rently work­ing on a project called Pos­si­ble To­mor­rows, which is in­ter­ac­tive cloth­ing em­bed­ded with fin­ger­print recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy that ac­knowl­edges only strangers. There are two robo­tized gar­ments that are con­nected to a fin­ger­print recog­ni­tion sys­tem that be­comes an­i­mated in the pres­ence of strangers, whose fin­ger­prints aren’t iden­ti­fi­able by the scan­ner. The pur­pose is not se­cu­rity but rather anti-se­cu­rity: se­cu­rity has be­come a po­lit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy that too of­ten pre­vents us from con­nect­ing with one an­other. That’s why these gar­ments open to peo­ple they don’t know.

How did you find your­self work­ing in such a sci­en­tific realm?

I re­ally be­lieve that for fash­ion to be mean­ing­ful it needs to be deeply ex­per­i­men­tal. When I was a child, my mother took me to the first ex­hi­bi­tion of Yves Saint Lau­rent at the Palais des Beaux-arts in Bei­jing. To be truth­ful, his work didn’t strike me for its el­e­gance of style, or the rich­ness of the fabrics; or even the in­tense colours, which ac­tu­ally hurt my eyes. His work com­mu­ni­cated to me in a much more es­sen­tial way that’s in­flu­enced me for years: the con­cept of the for­eign, the dis­sim­i­lar, and the dif­fer­ent. The only thing I re­ally saw was a cer­tain dif­fer­ence in cul­ture

and in world vi­sion. I felt very blue and grey that day, and I re­mem­ber telling my­self that no mat­ter what it took, I would ac­com­plish some­thing dif­fer­ent when I grew up.

Has de­sign­ing in­ter­ac­tive cloth­ing changed your per­cep­tion of fash­ion?

I of­ten say fash­ion is a sort of “en­counter with time.” The fu­ture be­longs to those who use the tech­nolo­gies of their time. But both tech­nol­ogy and fash­ion em­body the most frag­ile and ephemeral as­pects of our cul­ture, in­so­far as that what is cut­ting-edge today will be old to­mor­row. Fash­ion de­sign­ers have known for a long time that they are work­ing with a fleet­ing ma­te­rial that will never be time­less. The in­te­gra­tion of elec­tronic tech­nol­ogy seems to mod­ify that creative process.

So fash­ion has its lim­its?

All too of­ten I have heard that fash­ion de­sign­ing is point­less. I used to won­der a lot about my role be­cause I wanted to do what a de­signer is sup­posed to do, which is to in­no­vate. The world evolves only when we in­no­vate, other­wise we are just run­ning in cir­cles. ying­

Gao’s lat­est gar­ment is em­bed­ded with fin­ger­print recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy that ac­knowl­edges only strangers, invit­ing in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple the wearer doesn’t al­ready know.

The (No)where (Now)here se­ries is made of pho­to­lu­mi­nes­cent thread and em­bed­ded eye-track­ing tech­nol­ogy. The dress is ac­ti­vated by a spec­ta­tor’s gaze.

A hooded dress re­acts via a fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem and stops mov­ing as soon as the on­looker be­gins to ex­press them­selves. Gao says it’s a gar­ment that “de­mands a level of hu­mil­ity, which is clearly out of sync with today’s over-the-top ex­pres­sive­ness.”

This top ap­pears blurry in images, mak­ing it al­most im­pos­si­ble to pho­to­graph ac­cu­rately.

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