Future Fashion

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Space Age Fashion

Space Suits
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The clothes of the future will be so cheap that every young woman will be able to follow the fashions promptly, and there will be plenty of fashions. Artificial silk that is superior to natural silk is now made of wood pulp. It shines better than silk. I think that the silk worm barbarism will go in fifty years, just as the indigo of India went with the production of indigo in German laboratories. Thomas Edison, 1910 "I was thinking of something more in earth tones" These fetching gowns will come complete with remote controls, global positioning systems and radio frequency identification tags, making catwalk shows look more like scenes from Mission Impossible than showcases of exclusive designer wear. Why? With the rapid merging of fashion and technology, future brands of haute couture will probably owe more to Cisco Systems (nasdaq: CSCO - news - people ) than Coco Chanel. Designers have been experimenting with innovative materials for years. Once-revolutionary synthetic fabrics such as polyester, Spandex, Gore-Tex and Ultrasuede are now used in a wide range of apparel and footwear. Recently, hip, Los Angeles-based denim designer Serfontaine Jeans started using DuPont's (nyse: DD - news - people ) Lycra T400, which is made from multicomponent yarns, to create stretch jeans that don't lose their elasticity, thereby virtually eliminating the need for a belt. See the Fashions Of The Future. But we're not just talking about clothes made with cool fabrics that retain their shapes or better resist stains--what's known as "smart clothing." We're also talking about clothes with new technology incorporated into its design, aka "wearable technology." Many companies are already blending fashion and technology in a limited way: Burlington, Vt.-based snowboard maker Burton sells the Clone Mini Disc Jacket, which is a coat with a built-in Sony (nyse: SNE - news - people ) mini disc player and a remote control sewn into the sleeve. And to help fashion-forward customers keep even cooler during the summer, Japanese company Kuuchoufuku makes jackets with built-in fans. But the real high-tech designs of the future have yet to reach the stores. These will consist mainly of technologically enabled fabrics and garments that are only being sketched out in ateliers and research labs around the world. According to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD group, wearable technology still accounts for less than 1% of the U.S. fashion industry's retail sales. Although this sector is still in its infancy, the fashion industry as a whole is exhibiting solid growth. Last year, total U.S. apparel sales reached $181 billion, an almost 4% increase from 2004. However, Cohen says wearable technology will eventually become a basic commodity, much like the blue jean. "Why buy a basic pair of khakis when future ones will be able to keep your legs warm with heating coils built into the lining? The future of technology in fiber and products is only a few years away." As usual, expect to see wearable tech and smart clothing first adopted by fringe groups such as skiers and students before it catches on with the mainstream. NPD expects that skiwear and active-wear companies, such as Nike (nyse: NKE - news - people ), Columbia (nasdaq: COLM - news - people ), adidas and Timberland (nyse: TBL - news - people ), will be the most likely to drive development. Last year, adidas released adidas_1 footwear, a running shoe with an embedded microchip that monitors the terrain underfoot and accordingly adjusts the level of shock absorption provided by the shoe's heel. Students at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., believe young men with a keen interest in technology are more likely to embrace wearable technology trends than are women, who will prefer "computational-clothing," which does not sacrifice its aesthetic value for the sake of technology. In London, it is not just clothing that is becoming technical--designers are innovating with the way clothes are fitted. Bodymetrics, a London-based fashion-technology firm, and Serfontaine Jeans, have joined together to create the world's first pair of perfectly fitted jeans. Using a light scanner, Bodymetrics has created a pod to scan a client's body and record their exact body measurements. Once in their underwear, the client stands in a pitch black chamber while a light flashes over their body for eight seconds. Their measurements are then recorded and a pair of "perfect-fit" jeans arrive in the mail within two weeks--for $530 a pop, or more than twice the price of a regular pair of Serfontaine jeans. But innovative clothing need not be so expensive. Students at MIT's Media Lab are also experimenting with affordable wearable tech. Using fabrics imbued with various metals, such as organza, copper, carbon and stainless steel, they have produced conductive clothing that is still soft to the touch. Amanda Parkes, an MIT student, has been studying how nitinol--an acronym for the Nickel Titanium Naval Ordnance Laboratory, a material that contains a nearly equal mixture of nickel and titanium--changes shape during fluctuations in temperature. With the application of a small amount of heat, a nitinol-based long-sleeve shirt can become short sleeved in seconds, while still being able to revert back to its original shape. Some ideas are even more radical. Suzanne Lee, a senior professor at St. Martin's School of Fashion in London and the author of Fashioning the Future, describes a " spray-on dress" made from a chemical formula that allows you to create a temporary dress from virtually nothing. The chemical is sprayed directly onto the skin to form a cloud of nonwoven cloth, which can be styled as desired. At the MIT Media Lab , students have also conjured up "epi-skin," a piece of jewelry made from epithelial skin cells that are cultured in the lab and grown in a test tube. Some of the concepts being explored, such as air-conditioned jackets and wrinkle-resistant sweaters, will probably be on the market before long. But others, such as hug shirts and airplane dresses, may never find a practical application, let alone see the light of day--no matter how cool they sound. Now if we can get a pair of sneakers that give us a good workout without us having to move, we'd be set. Clothes not only make the man, but the era-- especially if the clothes in question forego wool, cotton and silk in favour of rayon, nylon, dacron and any of a host of other "ons". But what would clothing look like in the 21st century? Would it be dignified three-piece suits set off with a crisp Windsor knot? A charming summer dress suitable for country luncheon? Perhaps something in a herringbone tweed? Nope. None of these even got a look in, and with no Chanel or Mulberry bags around to anticipate the forthcoming trends, there were some pretty bizarre predictions. If the prognosticators had any say, it was going to be overgrown footie jammies for men, miniskirts for women, and something in stainless steel for the style-conscious automaton.