In the last few years we may have seen all sorts of things happening on the runways of the world's fashion capitals, but there are only very few designers genuinely pushing the boundaries of fashion in a unique and clever way. Hussein Chalayn is definitely among them.
The key to unlock his S/S 17 collection, showcased yesterday during his runway at Paris Fashion Week, and the project behind it, entitled "Room Tone", was a voiceover by the designer, stating "I find it difficult to express my emotions. My accessories are helping me measure how much I can reveal."
Some of the models walking down the runway in a darkened room donned indeed a piece of fashionable technology powered by Intel that enables to show the levels of nervousness, fearfulness, stress, or emotional self-repression of the wearer.
The piece consisted in a pair of sunglasses and a thick belt: the former gather biometric data using sensors and microphones monitoring the heart rate, breath rate and brain waves (thanks to the capacitive electroencephalogram electrodes that measure asymmetrical brainwave activity).
Once the biometric data are collected, they are communicated via an onboard Bluetooth LE connection to another device. In real life they could be transmitted to a smartphone, but in this case it was a thick belt characterized by a sort of stainless steel grid on its back.
During the fashion show the belt, powered by the Intel® Compute Stick - a tiny computing device the size of a pack of gum - captured the data and translated them into visualizations.
The final piece of the puzzle was a small Pico projector embedded in the belt that displayed the visualizations onto a wall in real time, revealing the wearer's stress level.
Models trying to reduce stress were instructed to inhale through the nose for six seconds and exhale for four seconds, in this way the projected animation also changed.
Five models wore the device during the runway show: this was a symbolical reference to Chalayan's five studies or chapters on specific attitudes or realities -the busy city environment, the rise of the digital age, sexual desire, the cultural norms like the British tendency to keep a "stiff upper lip" and the always-looming threat of terrorism attacks and therefore the imminence of danger - in London life. The main point of his studies is to find a way to proactively manage stress, the cause of many other diseases.
The projected imagery also changed in correspondence to the response of the wearer: during the runway show, the projections included moving legs (the "Imminent Danger" moment) that ran faster when the model in reconstructed army clothes started to breathe quicker or got nervous.
The tension of living in a big city, and therefore the dichotomy generated by joy and sorrow, was depicted by two hands pulling on a rope (symbolising the "Omnipresence" chapter of Chalayan's study) and was represented on the runway by a model wearing clothing that echoed elements of the rope. The calmer her mind, the less the hands tugged in the projection on the wall.
There was also a projection dedicated to emotional stifling with the projection of a rose partially obscured by a pixel that kept on becoming bigger and bigger, hinting at an emotional block and stifled sexual desire.
The clothes were not as disquieting as the technology, though, but they still referenced it. Striped shirts, jackets and pants introduced the grid theme that was then developed into a print decorated with partially obscured roses and in tailored garments. In the latter the grids were reproduced via ingenious elements in the garment construction.
The jackets and the dress inspired by kimonos were among the highlights of the collection, the sort of timeless pieces representing a good investment, while the round-shoulder blue jackets decorated with tightly folded ruffles running up the inner arm, may be trickier to wear, though they represented good options for consumers with avant-garde tastes.
The collection closed with four self-inflating designs - silk ballooning tops and a dress - inspired by the fact that inhaling and exhaling can help managing stress.
This was a symbolic finale as well, because, while we collectively suffer from anxieties at different levels, stress plays a key role in the fashion industry.
Chalayan, who has so far developed quite a few behavioural garments, seems to have switched the attention onto biosensing wearables, therapeutic accessories that can tackle, question and improve specific moods and feelings.
For Intel this show represents a way to enter the European fashion markets, after developing connections and projects with designers showcasing at New York Fashion Week.
Intel has definitely found in Chalayan a conceptual designer with bright ideas who doesn't follow the herd and the trends and prefers to go his own way rather than copying what everybody else is doing.
What will be happen to the bionsensing wearables seen at the show? Well, don't expect to see these devices on the market tomorrow, as these presentations help us understanding the potential of technology and push consumers to think how they may be applied to real life one day (glasses capable of reading brainwaves and integrating heart rate sensors may represent a change in the medical field...).
Yet, if you want to know more about these pieces, head to the Design Museum in London in November, since this collaboration will be on display at the "Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World" exhibition.
The event will feature eleven installations by architects and designers about issues that define our times and, apart from Chalayan and Intel's pieces, it will also include new work by OMA, Neri Oxman and Ma Ke. Sounds like an unmissable and exciting exhibition.