Intelligent Fashion: The High-Tech Designs of Ying Gao

When it comes to the works of fashion designer and professor Ying Gao, the old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” may apply — but with a twist. Transforming the metaphorical into the literal as only the marriage of science and art can do, Gao has created multiple collections of robotic dresses that respond to human behaviour. Each collection is developed with different interactive qualities — for instance, a response to the fingerprints of strangers, voices, or light. These works challenge the spectator’s relationship to a garment, reinforcing the idea of beauty as a subjective, unquantifiable notion. In one such collection, titled No(Where) Now(here), beauty has never been more literally in the eye of the beholder: these dresses use imbedded eye tracking technology to respond to the spectator’s gaze.

Despite the wide variations in technological capability across these collections, each individual piece possesses a common ethereal quality — a romantic, other-worldliness that we love. And while the materials range from cotton, nylon, and leather to thermoplastic, our favourite is perhaps the super organza, which floats like dreamy clouds in the collections Possible Tomorrows, Now(Where) Now(here), Playtime, and Living Pod.

So: what exactly does a robotic dress do? Well, in the case of Gao’s creations, the dresses are animated largely to adopt the behavior of a living thing in response to external stimuli. The dresses wave and dilate, like breathing organisms or microbes gently propelling themselves through water. In the case of No(Where) Now(here), the movement of the dresses is enhanced by photoluminescent threads; when reacting to a spectator’s gaze, these dresses take on a blue glow. “A photograph is said to be ‘spoiled’ by blinking eyes,” says the designer. “Here, however, the concept of presence and disappearance are questioned, as the experience of chiaroscuro (clarity/obscurity) is achieved through an unfixed gaze.” Who wouldn’t want to wear one of these dresses while strolling along the famous phosphorescent blue beaches of the Maldives?

Montreal-based Ying Gao has presented solo exhibitions in France, Switzerland, and Canada, and participated in seventy group exhibitions across the world. Her innovative approach to fashion, through channels that are every bit as artistic as they are scientifically exciting, has earned her international media attention from publications like Time and Vogue.

The goal of Ying Gao’s work, according to the artist, is to question our assumptions about clothing by combining urban design, architecture, and media design. Deriving her inspiration from the ever-evolving social and urban environments, Gao utilizes technology to endow garments with poetic and interactive qualities, as well as the body’s relationship to clothing as a fragile barrier between the wearer and external factors and interferences.

But wait, fashion lovers — for now, you’ll have to put away your chequebooks. It perhaps comes as no surprise that these pieces aren’t available for retail; after all, they don’t exactly scream “ready to wear.” For now, the innovative works of Ying Gao stand both as exciting pieces of art and offbeat inventions. But if this is the future of fashion in the digital age, we’re reserving our front row seats at the runway.

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