Artist and designer Alexis Walsh has been on our radar since her graduation. Back in 2015, she took part in the first INTERLACED fashion tech catwalk show in London with her 3D printed Lysis collection, which gained her fashion forward fans across the globe. Not resting on her laurels, in 2017 Walsh teamed up with designer Justin Hattendorf for the Apex coat – a garment marrying handcrafted embellishment and generative digital form, for which 3D printed pieces were developed through custom software and applied by hand to the piece.
The response was so positive that the duo have now expanded their collaboration into a six-piece collection. The Apex series incorporates traditional craft with a custom physics simulation to generate 3D printed hardware for garments.
The 3D printed pieces were developed with a custom app designed to merge complex, precise digital models with the tactile, intuitive nature of working by hand. Once printed, the translucent hardware was outfitted with brass threads and manually screwed onto the garments.
The collection explores this novel assembly technique through several variations. For example, the Apex coat uses dense, fractured elements to ergonomically drape along the body, while the Apex clutch bag hardware acts as a handle for the wearer to grasp the bag.
By infusing fashion design with 3D printing and simulation, these designs can be quickly modeled, iterated on, produced, and assembled. Custom, interactive algorithms ensure that each stud variation is of the same formal language, each with an entirely unique character from the last. The full collection was recently debuted at the Harvard Identities Fashion Show and is expected to be showcased in Europe this summer.
We caught up with Alexis and Justin to find out more about the collection, their work process and the evolution of 3D printing in fashion.
How do you approach the design process when creating with 3D printing? Has your process changed since you started back in 2015?
Alexis: My process has evolved over the past few years. When I was first beginning to explore 3D printing, I was coming from more of a fashion design background, so my instinct was to design the garment first, and then figure out the 3D printed parts. Now that I have more experience with these modeling programs, having used them for about five years, I jump right into designing the 3D printed components. Then I’ll tailor the garment patterns and design to work around the digital aspects, instead the other way around. Collaborating with Justin has been incredible - we both think similarly and have different strengths. Our way of working compliments each other, and we can switch tasks seamlessly between the digital design and the physical garment making.
Justin: For our newest collection, developing our own app allowed us to use 3D printing in a much more flexible manner. 3d printing is typically used to make parts that are solid and inflexible, but by breaking the hardware into much smaller stud elements we were able to design the garment to drape and flow around the body. Although developing the app was difficult and a huge portion of the project, we designed it in a way that gives us much more freedom with our design process. While using it, we can create much more complex hardware formations, along with infinite variations of each type. Now we can spend much more time on designing how the hardware composition feels rather than focusing on the technical aspect of printing.
Has the technology (3D printing) changed at all since then? If so, what are the possibilities for fashion designers now? What can you do now that you couldn’t 3 years go?
A: 3D printing is much more accessible now. When I was a student, there were no 3D printing classes readily available. I had to take product design and industrial design courses to learn the tools that were being used for 3D printing. Now, most fashion schools have classes focused specifically on 3D modeling for garments, which is awesome! Designers are able to start learning these skill sets earlier in their careers, and 3D printers are beginning to become a common household item. Justin and I just bought our first desktop 3D printer, so I’m very excited to work out of our studio.
J: Other than increasing and speed and improving the quality of parts, 3D printing technology hasn’t fundamentally changed much. To me, the most interesting thing about the technology isn’t that it is changing or improving, but that designers are continuously discovering new and exciting ways to use it.
What is your vision for this technology in the future?
J: As technology continues to improve, it’s clear to me that we will be spending less time on the technical aspect of making, and more time on ideas. To some extent, this means we might see a decline in literal handcraft and a shift toward collaboration with technology. Although there are some aspects of handcraft that cannot be replicated or replaced, I truly believe that open mindedness toward designing with new technologies enables us to think about design in new ways. For example, because scaleless 3D modeling encourages a heightened attention to detail, it often reveals design opportunities that have not addressed by traditional ways of making. With 3D printing, we can act on those opportunities by creating our own details from scratch in our studio rather than using standard hardware.
What are some of the challenges you encountered while making the collection? How did you overcome them?
A: Our initial design challenge was to try to find a way to build 3D models around a body form. There are digital models of body forms available online, but to truly make a well-fitting garment, the measurements should be based on a physical dress form. Our process has shifted into developing the digital models based on a flat pattern piece. This method involves draping a garment on a dress form, deconstructing that design into flattened 2D pattern pieces, and then building the digital models on the garment pattern.
What’s next for you?
A: Right now, we’re working on expanding this collection into a line of products. We’re interested in producing more of the bags, and plan to eventually sell hand-made accessories. We will also keep iterating on this collection and will continue to release new work. We're very excited to see where it will take us.
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