London-based fashion designer specializing in fashioning technologies, founder of Studio Nancy Tilbury
You recently teamed up with Philips to create a show-stopping outfit for Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.
I’m very pleased to be collaborating with Rogier van der Heide, Chief Design Officer at Philips Lighting. We designed a luminescent dress for the female singer of the band for their live performance at the Billboard Music Awards in late May. It’s not the first time light has been integrated into clothing, but the project was truly innovative in the way we body sculpted the lighting and programmed the effects to pulse and transform in time with the songs.
What role can lighting play in clothing design?
I believe it can change our intimate relationships with what we wear. Today, our clothes are indirectly communicative, so people judge us on just one look, in whatever we are wearing in that moment. If that clothing could react – by sensing electrodermal activity, for example, to show our arousal, excitement or stress – those clothes will go from being static communicators to being digitally intimate. This would enable us to interact with ourselves and others in new ways, to communicate far more about who we are and what we feel.
How is light being integrated into clothes today?
Technically light is being integrated in a few different ways, by incorprating circuits into ordinary fabrics or using flexible substrates on which to mount electronic devices. Within my studio we are very focused on Generation D – the generation that has grown up with digital devices and digital culture. Currently at Studio Nancy Tilbury we are collaborating with a flexible lighting manufacturers to make commercial fashion pieces that use digital light to link to social media networks. Fashion Phreakin – a design process developed in my studio – is a perfect example. We have designed a bespoke system that can be used to customize clothing. One example is ‘The Wink Pocket’, a simple soft technology circuit with a built-intextile switch – when you meet someone of liking the wearer can tap their pocket to indicate their interest, acting like a physical facebook poke.
What are the biggest challenges for designers in this field?
It is critical that larger fashion companies invest in the fashion and technology industry. Currently, sportswear brands are slightly ahead of the game. I think it will be fascinating to see who picks up wearable technologies in a big way in the coming years, as I believe that we are now on the cusp of these technologies being fully integrated into commercial product as consumers seek out innovation in fashion. Will it be the tech companies or the fashion houses?
What is the next step for luminescent clothing and fabrics?
There are universities already working on computational yarn, which contains active chips in every few strands. With the fashioning of technology really being pushed by musical artists such as The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, I believe that in the next year the wearable technology market will really open up and we’ll start to see more and more designs in stores. Over the next 20 years I think the market is set to change radically, with clothes becoming computational systems that integrate much more than we can imagine, in the same way smart phones have come to integrate so many facets of our lives, the surface of our clothing and skins will become intimate digital communication platforms.