On a Wednesday night in February, one week after fashion’s biggest names descended on New York for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, techy designer Diana Eng’s models were strutting a different kind of stuff: the Twinkle Dress, for example. As a striking brunette model slinked by, her flirty frock, embroidered with LEDs, conductive silverized thread, and microphones, lit up in response to tunes from a quartet playing homemade digital instruments. Off the runway, the dress’s microphones can pick up sounds from the wearer’s voice: when she speaks, she lights up in true diva style.
Video: Footage from Diana Eng’s electrified fashion show
Although labs around the world have been creating wearable computers for more than a decade, and spacesuits and military uniforms are technologically versatile, you probably won’t find them on the cover of Vogue anytime soon. But Eng is one of several up-and-coming technophiles who take fashion as seriously as technology. Her delicate silk chiffons stand apart from the hardware that makes up most of our gadgetry, yet they enable the wearer to make technology a working part of her wardrobe.
According to the designer Amanda Parkes, among the most important functions of technologically enhanced designer wear are power generation and storage. Parkes designed the Piezing, a dress that uses piezoelectric discs and film to harness the body’s movement for electrical power, which is stored in a battery near the belly button. (Piezoelectric materials use vibrations from movement to generate electricity.) The battery can then be used to charge a favorite device. Elena Corchero’s exquisite parasols and fans are adorned with intricate embroidery. But solar cells, conductive thread, and batteries give her old-school style a modern twist: Corchero’s Light Gown is a sexy nightie that turns into a night-light when hung on its charger-hook.