Steventai is not afraid of experimenting with fashion and technology. Back in 2015, we invited the designer to showcase his Pen Nib Dress – made of 795 pen nibs on tiny motors, sewn into the dress – at INTERLACED’s first fashion tech show.
For his AW18 collection, Steven is rewriting the rules of fashion presentations by partnering with the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) and Lucas Film’s Immersive Entertainment division (ILMxLAB).
Guests’ at the Steventai presentation, held at the historic Durbar Hall at the British Foreign Office, witnessed the global debut of LiveCGX – ILMxLAB’s performance-driven digital augmentation technology. But what does this mean?
Like traditional presentations, the showcase consisted of a podium where live models showed off the collection. A giant screen behind them layered a background inspired by Macau, making it seem like the models were standing around the neon streets of the Chinese region.
On a separate, second podium nearby, a single performer wearing a motion capture suit was moving and twirling like the models on stage. Through this sensory garment, she was transformed as a digital avatar onto the giant screen and shown next to her real-life model peers, all while wearing two Steventai digital garments.
Yes, it’s a lot to take in. Which is why we sat down with Vicki Dobbs Beck, ILMxLAB’s Executive in Charge, Mohen Leo, Director of Content and Platform Strategy at ILMxLAB, Matthew Drinkwater, Head of FIA and Steven Tai himself, to find out more about the project.
Can you give us a summary of what we saw today and the challenges you faced when putting it together?
Mohen Leo: What’s interesting about this is the real time component and the fact that we used computer graphics to enable a creative vision that is still improvisational. The performer can respond to the other models on stage, to the background or the audience but is presented in a digital way that is not possible physically.
How does a fashion designer approach a project like this?
Steven Tai: It starts with the story, the concept of the collection and communicating that story through the presentation. Being aware that these garments are going to be digitised, we had to be really conscious about how these materials reflect, how they can translate and being very thoughtful about the silhouettes that they produce in a digital format.
Does this require a designer who is open to have technology influence the design or materials of the garments then?
Steven Tai: I think it’s quite similar to working with fabrics because there are limitations with that too and designers sometimes try to change the properties of things. So every problem is an opportunity for a new idea. I see it as a way to learn more and understand what works best.
Why did you decide to make the technology podium and the performer visible?
Steven Tai: We tried a few variations of representing the space but if you didn’t see her you could think it was all pre-recodred.
Vicki Dobbs Beck: It was interesting watching the audience because some people didn’t see the mocap performer for a while and then all of a sudden they made the connection and went back and forth to see it again. It’s more powerful, you need to see it to believe it and really understand what was happening.
How can this technology be used in other areas in fashion, outside such presentation?
Steven Tai: Mixed and augmented reality allow people to see themselves wearing garments virtually, change their colours and hopefully, in the future, to be able to purchase instantly. There’s a lot to it because there's a commercial and immersive element.
From your different perspectives and roles within the industry, what were you hoping to achieve with a project like this? Where do you see it going?
Steven Tai: To make people experience the presentation, to allow them to feel it and be part of it. This is not anything that I’ve ever seen before and it’s amazing to be able to do that and share it from my story.
Vicki Dobbs Beck: We’ve done a lot of work in virtual reality but when we started thinking about what storytelling means in mixed reality, one of the questions we always ask ourselves, regardless of the technology, is Why? We wanted there to be a really compelling reason as to why we would use mixed reality. The why here was to help complete Steven’s story and bring the inspiration of Macau to life here and now, instead of a piece of paper and a static press release. It was an opportunity to test the technology and take a first step forward.
Mohen Leo: We’re moving into a world where people spend more and more time representing themselves in digital ways. Whether that’s using filters on video chats or social media status updates or avatars in video games. And as VR, AR and MR become a bigger part of society, I think fashion will naturally play a role in that. In the future, you will want to choose how you show yourself to people and if you want to change how you look by augmenting your look through digital fashion.
Matthew Drinkwater: That’s where I wanted to experiment. I wanted to see what the world would look like with a digital layer on top of it and what does that mean for an environment. But also what it means for the fashion industry - when you can begin to think about augmenting your clothing in real time. Does that allow designers like Steven to begin to add value to a garment? Could they begin to think of a future where they create digital garments that are never physically produced?
The performer wearing motion capture suit, which replicates her movements onto the screen
What is your main learning from doing this project?
Vicki Dobbs Beck: You can achieve extraordinary things if you find extraordinary partners that are willing to collaborate and learn from one another. Everybody came together with a common vision but a different expertise. When you want to experiment, do something bold and brave, find partners who share your vision but bring complementary skills and expertise.
Mohen Leo: For us, it was very interesting to go out of our comfort zone and solve a problem that we wouldn’t normally have to solve. It made us think about how we can use this technology to work in different ways with creatives and designers and apply it to other industries outside of our own.
Matthew Drinkwater: I wanted to get a sense of how the audience would react. Just seeing the levels of excitement was incredible. You know you’re moving in the right direction. Clearly, there are opportunities for us to progress but we can see people are excited by that and something that audiences want.
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