Antwerp-based fashion designer Flora Miranda focuses her work on the human being, one’s body, senses and perception, performing in an actual or virtual reality. She embraces the experiment as a vehicle towards broadening established standards of craftsmanship and design, challenging the obsolete idea of high couture.
We came across Miranda’s innovative work during the third edition of Fashion Talks, which brings disruptors, emerging designers and established fashion and creative businesses to celebrate the industry and ponder the future. Miranda was exhibiting her latest project – IT Pieces – a tool that collects data about a user’s online behaviour to design a unique item of clothing, especially with him or her in mind.
People sign in with the app, which gathers information about their online behaviour, including Google searches, Facebook friends, places visited or music downloaded. It then personalises a t-shirt with a number of lyrics by Finnish musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi, which reflect the analysed information about the user. We sat down with the designer to talk more about IT Pieces, her creative process and breaking fashion conventions.
What is your background? How did you get into fashion and what sparked your interest in technology?
My identity is anchored in a world of art, my father and other members of my family in Austria are musicians and visual artists. To me, art was the most natural environment to move in, the language I grew up with. The other side of my family is from a more pragmatic origin, owning and running a big farm is their way of living. I believe this is where my attraction to the business way of thinking came from. As a teenager I was strongly occupied with painting, but after a while I felt restricted from a medium with only two dimensions. I longed for building worlds including movement, sound, related objects – all this crossing a systematic way of working. Fashion was for me, a challenging opportunity to work with the body, research alternative beauty and existential thoughts for myself and by this carve my own path.
Training at an art-focussed high school and then doing my master at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp was a wonderful education to strengthen my artistic position. But one factor was always leaking, there were no touching points offered to work with new technologies. In high school, I studied how the digital world has changed our view and way of painting, whereas in the academy each collection was related to the digital world, but merely through story telling. With this background I had a very personal view on the endless possibilities of technology, but most importantly, the aesthetics of technology versus fashion. For IT Pieces I started to team up with a Data Scientist, Generative Designers and other partners from the industry to apply actual technology to my work for the first time!
What do you describe as ‘fashion tech’?
Due to the evolution of the digital dimension, fashion must deal with technology. While the first image we have in our head when hearing “fashion tech” is wired, robotically moving, 3d printed or light emitting material sensing movement etc. fashion tech embraces the whole industry, starting from the way we design with new software, over to machines that offer new workflows, to the way we sell and buy fashion products.
How did the idea about IT Pieces come about?
The idea came from my preoccupation with the immaterial body, so to speak, the various “aggregate states” of the body. The body is made of atoms, you can scan and measure the body. You can rate it, and suddenly the body becomes information. This is a thought I have especially explored in my master collection, sidereal_ethereal_immatereal. From the idea “the body is pure information” and “the information that I spread online about myself” comes the conclusion that you can go back the same way and materialise information.
What did it take to make it happen?
I had the original idea a few years ago already but it was very vague back then. With many notes accumulating over time I finally wrote a concept. The concept unites several fields of expertise (artificial intelligence, big data, generative design, web architecture and automated, mass customized knit production) of which the only one I knew of was fashion in general. At the beginning I had no idea of the knitted process, but I knew this was the manufacturing method I wanted to create the pieces from because knitwear is based on a mathematical pattern and one can create volume within a flat panel. Furthermore knitting is simply a beautiful technique and it was important to me that the end product would not look like a robot, but like an actual garment to wear in the here and now. So I informed myself of the previously unknown and with this basic knowledge the concept became more coherent. I picked a team that could act intelligently and professionally within the separate fields of expertise. Eventually money was a crucial issue too, without the approved funding of Austria Wirtschaft Service we could have never released our first prototype, which is now the proof of concept you can see online at itpieces.floramiranda.com, on such a professional level. The team is spread across Austria, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands:
How does the tool work (eg. how many posts does the system analyse, how old are the posts, how many variations can there be in terms of the final product)?
The tool at this moment is text-based, meaning it analyses all the text you posted on your public Facebook profile: posts and comments. On another level, we trained 1.5 million song lyrics, from all over the internet, to our computer. With this knowledge, the tool is choosing lyrics that fit the sentiment of your posts the best. However, the lyrics used on our pieces are strictly by the Finnish musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi. There are about 400 different results that can possibly come out. Each of them a poetic phrase, for example: “Can’t you see that I’m dancing”, “The source of the absolute knowledge”, “expectations just feel strong”, “Last night information exchanged”, “To my girl in the world”.
You have presented the project in a few places already. What has the feedback been?
We have so far presented IT Pieces in Berlin at Forecast Festival in October 2017 and in Antwerp at Flanders Fashion Talks in November 2017. The visitors are thrilled as soon as the processes behind the shirts are explained. Visually, it’s simply T-shirts, made of a delicate material, you can not understand the development behind it from simply looking at them. And that is also the aim behind it: The garment should not be wired, it is not an otherworldly gadget but a wearable item for this moment. The visitors were also interested to see which other ways this design technology can be implemented in the future.
There have been plenty of data-related scandals over the last couple of years. How do you think we can use data in a non-creepy way? In a way that’s empowering people?
To give back the power to the individual is a core aim for me with this project. Of course, we use a person´s data to create these garments, but they are sold to that very person and we do not use the data for any other purpose. It all comes down to the basics of trust in a digital relationship. We have to be honest. We cannot sell the one thing and act in a different way. Gain credibility through transparent and consistent behaviour. Everything has to start somewhere, you cannot build credibility if you cannot show a history. But there are always people who are more welcoming to risk than others. They are the consuming pioneers, making the trust measurable after a while.
Personalisation is one of the biggest trends in fashion and data is, understandably, a huge part of this. Beyond recommending something that ‘you might like’ and creating personalised products (such as IT Pieces), where do you see this personalisation movement going forward?
I don’t believe in trend-forecasting, I only believe in my own actions. I can say that with It Pieces I want to not only create most commercial products, but also act as a research platform on where the personalisation through data in fashion can develop. By doing it, we develop it.
Your atelier stands for ‘freedom of expression, a space to breathe within the fashion world, not orienting on market requirements but fostering new ideas and visions’. So, what is your vision for the future of fashion?
Take a step away and observe: the brain has a vast capacity, but only certain parts are used, the empty space is necessary for it to function properly. Action versus relaxation – times of rest and leisure are needed for great ideas and productivity. A glade in the forest of skyscrapers and buildings gives rest to the eyes. You can only put so much furniture in a room, the left over space is needed to move around, to breathe, to expand the mind.
We cannot deny it, the contemplation of thoughts is needed to create value. Any industry would collapse if there is no place where ideas can be freely researched, inspiration needs commerce to survive and commerce needs value to sell itself. This is what I stand for when I say ” a space to breathe within the fashion world”.
What’s next for you?
In January 2018 I will present a new artistic collection in Paris during Haute Couture Week. This will be the first time I will organise a show myself. It will be another core step for me – to finally work together all elements fully by my own creation. Creating a show independently gives 100% freedom about the location, who will see your work, the cast – everything. Over the past years, showing in bigger runway organisations I felt my work could not flourish to the maximum. The audience was not the one I aimed for and essentially a runway is a product presentation. There has been much fuss about if the runway is the proper way to show clothes and honestly yes, I think so; if it is commercial collections. The runway is a clean, democratic, structured way to present and explain products. But my artistic work is everything but a product. It is pure inspiration and this needs to be presented in a different context.
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