DRESS CODE

LUX­URY FASH­ION AND AC­CES­SORIES BRANDS STAND AT THE GATES OF A NEW ERA THAT’S GO­ING TO CHANGE THE WAY WE SHOP AND CON­SUME. Adam Hay-ni­cholls IN­VES­TI­GATES 3D PRINT­ING AND HOW IT’S AL­READY PART OF OUR DAILY LIVES

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

PRINT­ING THE FU­TURE NEW YORK DE­SIGN­ERS MICHAEL SCH­MIDT AND FRAN­CIS BI­TONTI USED A 3D PRINTER TO CRE­ATE A DRESS FOR DITA VON TEESE

mag­ine walk­ing into a fash­ion out­let ARMED WITH A USB FLASH­DRIVE CON­TAIN­ING A SCAN OF YOUR BODY AND LEAV­ING SHORTLY AF­TER­WARDS IN A PER­FECTLY FIT­TING GAR­MENT MADE ON THE SPOT, WITH­OUT A MEA­SUR­ING TAPE OR SEAM­STRESS IN SIGHT. OR IMAG­INE THE SAME FOR JEW­ELLERY AND AC­CES­SORIES CUS­TOMISED TO YOUR TASTE, DE­LIV­ERED VIR­TU­ALLY IN­STANTLY COM­PARED TO THE USUAL WAIT FOR BE­SPOKE PIECES. ONCE SOLELY THE DO­MAIN OF SCI-FI FAN­TASY—THINK The Jet­sons FASH­ION MAVENS JANE AND DAUGH­TER JUDY DON­NING THE LAT­EST COM­PUTER-GEN­ER­ATED OUT­FITS THROUGH­OUT THE AN­I­MATED SE­RIES—THIS FU­TUR­IS­TIC SER­VICE IS NOW ON THE CUSP OF RE­AL­ITY.

The tech­nol­ogy that will de­liver all this, 3D print­ing, has been in use for more than 20 years, but only re­cently has it come down in price suf­fi­ciently to move from fac­to­ries into our daily lives. The prin­ci­ple is sim­ple: Like an or­di­nary printer squirts a layer of ink onto pa­per, a 3D printer fires droplets of ma­te­rial, layer upon layer, grad­u­ally build­ing up a three-di­men­sional ob­ject ac­cord­ing to the dig­i­tal code it re­ceives from a com­puter. Another method uses lasers to sculpt a block of ma­te­rial into the re­quired form. 3D print­ing has been in use in sci­ence and in­dus­try since the mid-1980s, when the ma­chines were the size of large cars and cost hun­dreds of thou­sands to mil­lions of US dol­lars. They en­abled sci­en­tists and techies to cre­ate pro­to­types for test­ing in a frac­tion of the time of tra­di­tional fab­ri­ca­tion, cut­ting costs and speed­ing up prod­uct de­vel­op­ment.

Now, tech­ni­cal ad­vances have “desk­topped” the ma­chines, cre­at­ing a range

the size of mi­crowave ovens and cost­ing from hun­dreds to a few thou­sand dol­lars, bring­ing them into the realm of the home, of­fice and bou­tique. At present, the range of “inks”— in­clud­ing plas­tics, met­als and even choco­late—is limited but it’s rapidly de­vel­op­ing. Plas­tic resin can be bought on­line for US$30 a litre.

While the shop­ping sce­nario posed above is still some way off, clothes, jew­ellery and other ac­ces­sories are al­ready be­ing 3D-printed. Three years ago a New York-based de­signer, Mary Huang, pro­duced the world’s first 3D-printed bikini. Huang, who de­scribes her brand, Con­tin­uum, as “part de­signer la­bel and part lab,” has since used 3D print­ing to make shoes and jew­ellery. “I came upon the tech­nol­ogy with the sin­gu­lar ob­ses­sion of be­ing able to make fash­ion with­out sewing,” she says. “I think the most beau­ti­ful fash­ion would be cre­ated en­tirely by robots, in an au­ton­o­mous chore­og­ra­phy, with­out any hu­man labour.”

When Tony Stark used 3D print­ing to make his ar­moured suit in the 2008 film Iron Man, it was just fan­tasy, but New York de­sign­ers Michael Sch­midt and Fran­cis Bi­tonti brought the con­cept to re­al­ity last year. On a com­puter, they cre­ated a gown tai­lored ex­actly to fit a scan of volup­tuous bur­lesque queen Dita Von Teese. They printed it out in 17 pieces of lac­quered ny­lon, which were as­sem­bled and adorned with 13,000 Swarovski crys­tals. It looked stun­ning on Von Teese, though it per­haps lacked a lit­tle in the com­fort stakes.

Also last year, the fash­ion world sat up when pi­o­neer­ing Dutch de­signer Iris van Her­pen un­veiled her 11-piece Volt­age haute cou­ture col­lec­tion dur­ing Paris Fash­ion Week. “At the very be­gin­ning,” says her col­lab­o­ra­tor on the col­lec­tion, ar­chi­tect and de­signer Neri Ox­man, “we set out to cre­ate a piece of cloth­ing that was seam­less. Us­ing the mul­ti­ma­te­rial tech­nol­ogy, we were able to re­de­fine cou­ture by re­plac­ing hand­work with code. You can now print con­tin­u­ous sur­faces with­out seams or parts, and you have gra­di­ents of ma­te­rial that vary in size, flex­i­bil­ity and com­plex­ity. To be able to make highly com­plex things in a rel­a­tively short space of time is com­pletely chang­ing the fash­ion in­dus­try.”

The abil­ity to cre­ate a pro­to­type quickly and cheaply is cur­rently the main ad­van­tage of the tech­nol­ogy for the fash­ion sec­tor,

ac­cord­ing to Bre Pet­tis, co-founder of a lead­ing US man­u­fac­turer of 3D prin­ters, Maker­bot In­dus­tries. “They can in­no­vate faster,” he says. “It used to take weeks or months to get a pro­to­type made, whereas Maker­bot al­lows you to in­no­vate mul­ti­ple times a day. It can bring things to mar­ket faster.” With­out the need to make dozens or hun­dreds of gar­ments to send out to stores, the tech­nol­ogy ef­fec­tively cuts the man­u­fac­tur­ing cost to zero un­til a gar­ment is or­dered. It also al­lows de­sign­ers to ex­per­i­ment in small batches and to sell limited edi­tions.

Van Her­pen reck­ons 3D print­ing will find its way off the cat­walk to the high street. “I can imag­ine peo­ple get­ting their bod­ies scanned in the fu­ture, and they can or­der clothes that are a per­fect fit,” she says. That would fill the gap be­tween haute cou­ture and ready-to-wear. What’s more, on-de­mand cloth­ing would cut down on the mil­lions of tonnes of waste pro­duced by the in­dus­try each year.” 3D-printed T-shirts and jeans are still some way off, she notes, but not too far. “If you look at the flex­i­ble ma­te­ri­als that are be­ing printed in fash­ion now, they feel like a brick com­pared to cot­ton or wool. I wouldn’t want to wear a 3D-printed T-shirt right now. The ma­te­ri­als have to be im­proved to be­come softer and thin­ner and then it’s heaven. In some years, 3D print­ing of ex­otics like leathers will be in­ter­est­ing.”

Pet­tis says it’s only a mat­ter of time un­til an A-list brand such as Louis Vuit­ton or Chanel em­braces the tech­nol­ogy. “Some brand is go­ing to take it and go crazy and change the way we think about fash­ion.” Van Her­pen adds that the lux­ury pow­er­houses will start with ac­ces­sories. “Clutches, jew­ellery, shoes, hats, et cetera will be the first. [3D print­ing] also has big po­ten­tial to be an al­ter­na­tive

“what ex­cites me is that tech­nol­ogy can em­power both the de­signer and the con­sumer to col­lab­o­rate”

“i’ve never seen some­thing that is so in­spir­ing and so scary at the same time”

to tra­di­tional sewing-ma­chine pro­duc­tion, es­pe­cially in the high-end ready-to-wear seg­ment where de­tail is lead­ing, cus­tomers like a per­fect fit, and quan­ti­ties are low.”

London-based de­signer Cather­ine Wales, who has 3D-printed a range of be­spoke fash­ion ac­ces­sories, rel­ishes the medium’s po­ten­tial. “What ex­cites me is that tech­nol­ogy can power the de­signer and the con­sumer to col­lab­o­rate on a more per­sonal level, each hav­ing an equiv­a­lent im­pact on the other.” Renowned English milliner Gabriela Li­genza uses 3D print­ing to cre­ate sculp­tural hats while shoe de­signer Anas­ta­sia Rade­vich, who was born in Be­larus but now lives in Mon­treal, uses the tech­nol­ogy to craft fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing heels.

Liz Bace­lar, the founder of tech­nol­ogy in­cu­ba­tor De­coded Fash­ion, pre­dicts 3D printer code will be part of the lux­ury in­dus­try’s DNA within three years. Bi­tonti and Pet­tis give a sim­i­lar es­ti­mate, but they say re­al­i­sa­tion of its full po­ten­tial is fur­ther off. As ma­te­ri­als im­prove, the mar­ket for 3D-printed prêt-à-porter and high-end goods will only ex­pand. They pre­dict a good pro­por­tion of our clothes and ac­ces­sories will be 3D-printed, as op­posed to bought off the peg, in 10 to 20 years.

Given the tech­nol­ogy’s abil­ity to pro­duce pro­to­types and small runs of prod­ucts, it’s a nat­u­ral fit for the lux­ury sec­tor and firms pro­vid­ing be­spoke ser­vices. Main­stream brands such as Nike are al­ready us­ing it to cre­ate shoes tai­lored ex­actly to the cus­tomer’s feet and to al­low buy­ers to cus­tomise colour and de­sign. And it’s re­ally shak­ing up the jew­ellery sec­tor. Ma­jor depart­ment stores now carry lines of 3D-printed rings, neck­laces and bracelets, and some com­pa­nies of­fer

be­spoke ser­vices. For ex­am­ple, Amer­i­can Pearl takes a cus­tomer’s de­sign, cre­ates a dig­i­tal blue­print, and prints and de­liv­ers the fin­ished jew­ellery in three or four days.

Top-end jew­ellers use 3D print­ing to cre­ate life-size mock-ups be­fore ar­ti­sans get to work with pre­cious met­als, thus re­duc­ing de­vel­op­ment costs by cut­ting waste, says Paul Red­mayne-mourad, the Hong Kong-based Asia de­vel­op­ment man­ager for London jew­eller David Mor­ris. But it may be a while be­fore they use it for the item it­self. “I’m not sure high-end jew­ellers would use [3D print­ing] just yet in fin­ished pieces,” he says. “As yet, no ma­chine or com­puter can repli­cate or re­place the years of ex­pe­ri­ence of a craftsman.”

This year, in part­ner­ship with Maker­bot, Bi­tonti launched the Cloud Col­lec­tion, a range of 3D-print­able dec­o­ra­tive bowls and vases. Clients can cus­tomise the items, down­load the code for US$1 each, and print them out at home or at one of 75 pro­duc­tion hubs.

So the home is on the verge of be­ing a mini fac­tory. In Bi­tonti’s words: “Con­sumers are be­com­ing pro­duc­ers.” Soon, with a wider range of “inks,” we’ll be able to choose an item on the web, cus­tomise it, click to buy and down­load, and press print—and our new vase, or what­ever, will ap­pear as if by magic.

With the prom­ise of such per­for­mance, the mar­ket for 3D prin­ters has phe­nom­e­nal po­ten­tial for growth. It was worth more than US$3 bil­lion last year, hav­ing grown six-fold in a decade, ac­cord­ing to Forbes mag­a­zine. In­dus­try an­a­lyst Terry Wohlers says it will hit US$10 bil­lion by 2021, a fig­ure many con­sider con­ser­va­tive. Sev­eral hun­dred com­pa­nies are mak­ing desk­top ma­chines priced from US$500 to US$5,000, the US$100 Peachy Printer is due out at the end of the year, and IT gi­ant HP says it’s join­ing the band­wagon this year.

Bi­tonti is un­cer­tain about the po­ten­tial of home print­ing and doesn’t think the lux­ury au­di­ence will bother with it, though he sees a big op­por­tu­nity for Ama­zon.com and its ilk. “I’m not sure about pro­duc­ing at home. Not ev­ery­one wants to as­sem­ble their own things. But the shipping com­pa­nies are go­ing to be the fac­to­ries of the fu­ture. Files will be sent to lo­cal hubs, printed there and then de­liv­ered.”

De­coded Fash­ion’s Bace­lar has mixed feel­ings about the tech­nol­ogy. “I’ve never seen some­thing so in­spir­ing and so scary at the same time. It’s like you’re sell­ing the sketch but let­ting go of how it’s pro­duced. De­sign­ers spend so much time se­lect­ing the right ma­te­rial, de­cid­ing how it’s go­ing to be stitched, how it’s to be cut.” By sell­ing the code, she says, “You’re pretty much [re­duc­ing] an artist like Zac Posen to a sketch artist.”

There are other con­cerns, too, such as prod­uct safety and piracy. Imag­ine, for ex­am­ple, the risk of a child down­load­ing the code for a func­tional gun, print­ing the parts and as­sem­bling them—which is al­ready pos­si­ble. And how do lux­ury goods pow­er­houses, or any owner, fare when ev­ery­one has the tech­nol­ogy to be a boot­leg­ger? Once 3D print­ing and ma­te­ri­als are ca­pa­ble of ac­cu­rate, high-qual­ity du­pli­ca­tion, how long will it be be­fore a Nap­ster-style file-shar­ing web­site makes the codes for lux­ury goods avail­able for free?

“It’s im­por­tant to con­sider the im­pli­ca­tions of this tech­nol­ogy, for bet­ter and for worse,” warns Hod Lip­son, pro­fes­sor of en­gi­neer­ing at Cor­nell Univer­sity and co-au­thor of Fab­ri­cated: The New World of 3D Print­ing. But he says brands shouldn’t panic. “When it comes to home 3D print­ing some­thing like de­signer sunglasses, the qual­ity is not there yet, and it’s not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able when you con­sider all the ef­fort re­quired.”

But there’s noth­ing to stop or­gan­ised coun­ter­feit­ers from us­ing ex­pen­sive in­dus­trial prin­ters. Such ma­chines “could make ac­cu­rate du­pli­cates of de­signer goods, cer­tainly, and they can be traded on­line and shipped around the world,” Lip­son says. “Again, though, qual­ity can vary.”

When in 1980 Bill Gates voiced his vi­sion of “a com­puter on ev­ery desk and in ev­ery home,” many scoffed, but look at our homes and of­fices to­day. Now that 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy has gone desk­top, there’s no stop­ping it. In its leap from the do­main of sci­ence and in­dus­try into the hands of bou­tique de­sign­ers and con­sumers, it’s democratis­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing and likely to change the way we con­sume ev­ery­thing.

OUT OF THE BOX BRE PET­TIS, CO- FOUNDER OF 3D PRINTER MAN­U­FAC­TURER MAKER­BOT IN­DUS­TRIES

NEW DI­MEN­SIONS FROM LEFT: CATHER­INE WALES PRINTS AC­CES­SORIES SUCH AS FEATH­ERED SHOUL­DER PIECES AND MASKS; MARY HUANG’S 3D- PRINTED BIKINI

AP­PEAR IN PRINT

FROM LEFT: A GABRIELA LI­GENZA HAT; TWO OUT­FITS BY IRIS VAN HER­PEN; A CUFF BY PAUL RED­MAYNE- MOURAD— ALL CRE­ATED BY 3D PRIN­TERS

WELL HEELED ANAS­TA­SIA RADE­VICH’S 3D- PRINTED SHOE

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