Milan Fashion Week

Why robotic fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht wants you to wear your heart on your sleeve

She designed the famous LED dress for Black Eyed Peas star Fergie and has created 3D-printed outfits for Cirque de Soleil, but now Wipprecht wants her digital-driven fashion to reveal its wearers’ true emotions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 7:46am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 7:46am

Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht has a vision for a world in which people stop telling themselves little lies about their emotions – and she believes hi-tech fashion is the key.

Her creations combine digital technology with haute couture while playing with social norms. Her aim is to engineer a “cold turkey” solution to our dearest deceptions, she said during a talk at Milan Fashion Week.

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The 32-year-old has already seen her creations worn by former Black Eyed Peas star Fergie during a performance at the Super Bowl. She has also created 3D-printed outfits for Cirque du Soleil.

Yet one of her most deviously disruptive designs is a piece she is developing with crystal maker Swarovski that uses built-in sensors to blink in time with the wearer’s heartbeat.

It sounds simple, and maybe even poetic to put that on display, but it is also incredibly revealing.

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Imagine wearing the thing while talking to a special someone with whom you would like to be more than just friends. Or how about during a job interview? The other person would be able to see that your heart is pounding with fear or excitement.

“It’s almost like having goosebumps or blushing – you cannot control them,” Wipprecht said. “So in a really pure sense, you are able to broadcast your emotions.

“If you are wearing your heartbeat on your sleeve, it is a really pure thing. It also gets you in a lot of really awkward situations that for me are super interesting.”

This fascination with where human behaviour and digital couture meet has already led Wipprecht to conduct similarly striking experiments.

One of her most famous is called the “Spider Dress”. The 3D-printed garment is topped with a collar that is studded with robotic spider legs. The legs jump out, or “attack” as Wipprecht said, when someone moves into the wearer’s personal space. After showing off the dress in Europe, China and the US, she has made some interesting discoveries.

“People in the Netherlands, they go very fast, very close, while in America … they stand further away,” she said.

“I sometimes need to push people into the person’s space a little bit … because they really have the notion of respect.”

The things I do are out there to provoke and to be more experimental
Anouk Wipprecht

Wipprecht was about 14 years old when she fell in love with fashion, which she said is because it is “expressive and you can communicate with it”. She began to study design, and later she discovered robotics.

“For me, robots basically have a brain and a heartbeat. That’s what I wanted my fabrics and garments to have,” she said.

In the mid-2000s she discovered the Arduino community. Arduino is an open source computer hardware and software company, named after a bar where its founders met in the northern Italian town of Ivrea. It is also a collection of people who use the company’s kits to build their own digital devices, as Wipprecht now does.

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She is optimistic that her work will one day lead to a ready-to-wear collection coming down the catwalk, but at the moment she is focused on pushing boundaries.

“The things I do are out there to provoke and to be more experimental,” she said. “If we would all just make dresses that light up and change colour it would be super … boring.”