The day we were assigned book reviews, I had just come from a lecture on electronic textiles. I took the fact that Fashionable Technology, a book all about electronic textiles and fashion, was up for grabs as a sign and decided I was chosen by a higher power to review it. While the book and I did not necessarily have a divine connection, it’s a fascinating volume. Fashionable Technology aims to be a comprehensive reference guide for students and researchers in the field, but it’s accessible to the layman. Over the past few decades, engineers and designers have been working together to create clothing that goes beyond ideas of style or warmth. Innovations in technology have allowed for garments that react to outside stimuli or receive messages via Bluetooth. The book features myriad creations by more than fifty designers and companies, from undergraduate students to Nike. The projects profiles are supplemented by a preface on what components you need to design your own electronic textiles, as well as comprehensive lists of blogs, suppliers and institutions that might lead you toward your technological dreams.
When a new medium emerges, bizarre things are apt to happen. Some of the projects featured in Fashionable Technology are downright baffling. I have no idea why you would need a wireless camera blogging your dog’s point of view or why your spray-on bikini should also help you quit smoking. That being said, even the strangest projects have a conceptual seed that could be fleshed out into something truly amazing. One artist, Donna Franklin, is working on a fermented fabric that grows on the body. Right now, it looks a little gross, but the idea definitely has great potential. Another favourite of mine is the Petal Pusher by Maggie Orth, which is a felt lamp that lights up when you touch conductive threads. The design is functional, and really beautiful. I also felt a swell of pride to see the amazing work that comes out of Canada: the work from the Hexagram Institute is stunning. Hexagram funds a burgeoning E-textiles scene in Montreal, providing funding to independent artists like Ying Gao, who makes delicate pneumatic dresses. The organization is also involved with grad programs at Concordia; Studio subTela and XS Labs have worked with Hexagram to make some amazing wearables.
One of the book’s weaknesses is inherent in its medium; movement is integral to many of the works, which does not come across on paper. Many pieces would be better enjoyed with a video. Because of that, I suggest reading this book next to a computer for Google tangents. For example, reading about Hussein Chalayan’s mechanized dresses will not make much sense without having seen them in motion. Some experiences are hard to replicate statically, so many of these descriptions left me wanting more.
Hussein Chalayan’s tech-heavy F/W 07 collection, as shown on FashionTelevision
Also, I would have liked to see a more comprehensive and critical engagement with the subject matter. Essays discussing how fashionable technology fits into a larger context would have rounded out the content of Fashionable Technology. The projects are sorted into categories like “electronic fashion” or “wearable explorations,” which to me came across as rather synonymous. I would have liked to see an essay accompanying each section, so the nuances of the interaction between “fashion” and “exploration” could be looked at more closely. I realize the goal was to create a reference book, but without context it falls apart and, structurally, it becomes a little monotonous. I think more writing could have made this book a little more accessible to people who aren’t necessarily going to engage more deeply with this niche community.
That said, Fashionable Technology really does provide an interesting array of work. The photos are stunning, and you can open the book up to any page and be captivated. Ultimately, it’s the kind of book you should keep around to open up to any page and read for a couple minutes, and without fail you will find something enthralling, charming, or perhaps just bizarre.
If you are interested in the subject, but aren’t sure you want to invest in a hardcover volume, check out this blog of a similar name, Fashioning Technology.
By Sabine Seymour, SpringerWienNewYork, 2008
Reviewed by Hillary Predko