Why Innovative Fashion Plays With Natural And Artificial

Fashion has found in technology a way to make the industry more efficient and sustainable while also exploring the dichotomy between natural and artificial through its creations

Our Occidental culture may be based on several dichotomies: black and white, good and bad, natural and artificial. But contemporary researchers such as the Israeli historian Yuval Harari has made the former dichotomy a case in his best selling book Sapiens: for him, everything that happens in the world is natural, otherwise, it wouldn’t exist at all.

And this is specifically the tonic of his historiographic work: telling the story of humanity by the lenses of technological development. Such an approach makes our tools and innovative techniques something that is actually part of human nature, which ultimately leads us to the conclusion that nature and culture are not an opposition either.

Fashion Zeitgeist: Innovative Experiments

This is the spirit of our times, and fashion, since always, has been influenced and an influencer for the construction of a future that blends aesthetics with ethics. With current innovative developments in the technology field, fashion has also been made more and more efficient, sustainable and precise.

In this sense, tech-savvy designers and experiments in fashion have been taking the leap to blur the separation between natural and artificial, being it in haute couture, with names such as Iris Van Herpen and Yigal Azrouël, or among smaller brands that are revamping the sense of sustainable fashion for something beyond natural fabrics.

That is what the 25-year-old French designer Arthur Avellano has been exploring with his new collection based on hybrid materials. His innovative exploration on hybrid version latex displaces the material from the fetish subcultures and brings it to high fashion runways, renewing tailoring and sportswear.

By making this material stronger and washable, Avellano proposes wearing latex every day, since this new experiment was created with properties similar to leather, in spite of keeping the texture and brightness of the original.

Natural vs Artificial: Hybrid Experiments

This investigation for innovative materials has become stronger, with even the Parsons School of Design in New York creating a new department on their campus, one that was named Hybrid Design Studies.

Led by the trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, the department targets inter-disciplinary collaborations, meaning that not just fashion and design students will take advantage of this new mindset and tools, but also performance and visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, journalists, architects and social sciences researchers.

In the fashion industry though, brands such as Gucci have introduced in 2018 an innovative gaze to fashion and society by presenting a new interpretation of Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (1985), a famous essay in which the author defines a cyborg as a rejection between the boundaries between human, animal and machine; including the physical and non-physical. Alessandro Michele turned that representation into his Fall-Winter 2018 show, a surreal performance inside a surgery room, where a parade of hybrid creatures was dressed in genderless clothes: a true experiment on crossing boundaries.

The Nature Machine

While Michele has presented a hybrid form of human life with the help of a special effects company that designed third eyes and baby dragons, Iris van Herpen revealed her “Syntopia” collection during Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2018. It played with the merging of biology with technology, an experiment with “slowing down the movement of a fabric” as the designer said in an interview with Vogue. This dialogue is very common in the Dutch designer’s work: in 2016, many of her creations were exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (MET, in New York) Manus vs Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology.

The show featured a Machina section for machine-made clothes, and pieces from 3 of van Herpen’s collections were featured: “Crystallization” (from 2010, that featured her innovative first 3D printed piece), “Capriole” (from 2011, a collaboration with Belgian architect Isaïe Bloch that had the now famous Skeleton dress), and “Hybrid Holism” (from 2012, inspired by Philip Beesley’s “Hylozoic Ground” project, which explores the idea that all matter is alive). Despite being 3D-printed, her pieces still experiment with the form of nature by emulating birds, feathers, waves, and other natural references. For van Herpen, the dichotomy between nature and technology is a fallacy: “Don’t forget how engineered nature is, itself. I think we as humans don’t even come close to the intelligence within nature. It’s funny how people think that nature is simple and technology is complex - it’s the opposite; technology is simple and nature is complex.”

Frankenstein Pieces: Hybrid Garments

Fashion designers have experimented widely with the structural shapes of clothes, and that experiment doesn’t exclusively extend to haute-couture. Prêt-a-porter has also played with the functionality and expected gender of clothes, sometimes very simply, in a subversive way of styling – think the camisole trend worn outside the bedroom or Diane Keaton in impeccable menswear. Even styling can subvert the line between what it’s considered natural, breaking paradigms and socially constructed expectations.

At other times, designers can also innovate with the structure of pieces: once upon a time, a pair of dungarees’ top with a skirt bottom became a pinafore, and that sort of mix and match experiment can still be seen on the runway. Burberry’s famous trench coats in plastic, like childhood raincoats, are one example, or the now infamous Balenciaga trainers – aren’t they a bit of a hybrid between a sock and a shoe? –, or Raf Simmons’ first collection for Dior in September 2012 with a bar jacket pleated like a skirt, mixing traditional tailoring with endless creativity.

Post-human Dress Code

Similarly to van Herpen’s statement, the Icelandic singer Björk has been using fashion for the exploration of a new identity where sculptural clothes and 3D-printed accessories are able to alter her body and present a paradoxical view upon how technological fashion creations may, in fact, be inspired by nature and make human form closer to other animals.

Along with innovative designers such as Kevin Germanier, the musician follows the trend to make sustainable fashion more glamorous and up to date to the “mash-up” trend for fabrics, which stands for a new generation of synthetics, natural and man-made fibres and fabrics that use hybridization as an important asset for smarter and more eco-friendly fashion design.

A must-have element in current textile fairs, the “mash-up” trend involves both the recycling of materials and the new and more conscious blends for textiles, but above all things is the goal to make fabrics more efficient and adaptive.

In other words, our times have been defined by the successful encounter between geeks and fashionistas, who are combining functionality to aesthetics while also designing a better future for humans and nature as well. Sign up now and explore alternative textiles and materials for your collection.