2016 Update: Looking for truly comfortable wearable tech? Check out the new ILLUMISCARF. A fleece constellation scarf with subtle, blue LED illumination. Learn more.
I got commissioned to do a Particle-Physics printed dress for UX Designer Chung Hay Luk in mid-October. She wanted something to wear to her father's Physics Award Ceremony. Chung-Hay is also a wearable tech designer, so we were to do an equal collaboration of Fashion & Technology.
We sorted through particle physics inspired photos together and used Pinterest as a collaboration tool. After much digging, we both gravitated toward the images below. The digital print we chose was a bubble-chamber photo of a particle collision (or cascade).
Chung-Hay's Physicist father explained the science:
"A bubble chamber is used to capture the trajectories of charged particles when they go through the chamber. This is similar to taking a long-exposure picture of moving cars at night that we can see the light trails. The bubble chamber is an old kind of sensor for seeing the tiny particles (slow). The new one used at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is significantly faster and is based on different kinds of technology such as digital electronics. A crude analogous comparison would be between a film camera verses a digital camera."
I am always kind of obsessed with radial light, lines, and symmetry, so this particular image really excited me. I felt it could be easily engineered into a print. So after much rearranging in Photoshop...it became this: the photo is a rough layout of the sections and repeats of the image to be placed onto the digital printed fabric. The concept was to start the LED right at the center point (that I created a teeny little heart to be lighted up). There would be a Polar heart monitor worn against the skin underneath the top of the dress. Chung-Hay would program the LED to change its pattern of movement and pulsation based on the fluctuation of the heart rate. We both really wanted to diffuse the light, because with a lot of wearables you get this "Christmas tree" pinpointy effect and we didn't want that. We wanted to have a lightbox effect.
At that point, I'd actually gotten a message from a contact of mine who found out I was working on this, and asked if I wanted to put our dress in a Fashion & Tech Show that- just-so-happened to be right before Chung needed it for her event! What a coincidence, I thought. So the hustle began.
Adding IBM BlueMix into the Mix
After discovering more about the show and speaking to the organizer (visionary Fashion Techie/model Anina Net) we decided to take on another level of a challenge, and try to incorporate the sponsor of the show IBM's Bluemix into our dress. First off- I personally knew nothing about developing apps! So I was quite overwhelmed in the beginning. But after some major investigation and deep questioning from just about every techie I knew, I learned more about how we would be able to build our app on IBM Bluemix and host it there. I posted our urgent project (now only a week away!!!) and hired a programmer from freelancer.com.
Honestly, most people around us where quite doubtful we could finish it all in time...but we persisted and believed... This became our "make it work moment"! The minute the fabric arrived I dug into patterning, cutting and assembling (gladly with the help of my amazing pattern maker and seamstress).
For the silhouette/ design of the dress, I really wanted to do something different and pull in kind of a vintage/couture feel to the dress. I thought the contrast between vintage and futuristic would be really neat. I explored this in the feminine lace-up corset inspired back.
Once the dress was put together and while the programmer coded away (building us an app in node.js) Chung-Hay & I sewed in the LED and she started programming the patterns for the lights.
One of the most exciting moments for me was when I discovered we could make the dress light up in PINK, of course!
At the 360 Fashion and Tech Show
Gladly everything was finished in time for the show, and we were so happy with the result. We presented at the 360 Fashion & Tech Show at the very swank venue CityView Metreon.
Our app on particledress.mybluemix.net allows anyone anywhere to live up vote the color of the dress! The data is transmitted to a micro controller that is connected to the LED. You can see it in action below.