How tech is empowering fashion

Image of a woman in an Iris van Herpen design.

Fashion is a language of creativity and the industry has always had a deep relationship with technology. In the 1950’s Cristobal Balenciaga famously took videos of his fashion shows rather than hosting them live. Alexander McQueen turned heads in 1999 when two robots spray-painted a dress at his runway show. In 2016, actress Gwendoline Christie lay on the runway of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s show while a dress was woven upon her, mixing several different techniques including laser cutting, hand weaving and 3D printing. It-girl favorite leather jacket brand Nour Hammour made such an impact on pop culture that Kendall and Kylie Jenner rendered the jackets digitally and featured the brand in their mobile-game, ‘Kendall & Kylie, which received 1.3M+ downloads in its first five days. Recently, Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato, a graduate of the fashion program at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, introduced “biosmocking” — a digital fabrication method of achieving three-dimensional textures on brewed protein, which involves a combination of designed genes and fermented microbes.

Below we dive deeper into how machines and tech touch nearly every aspect of fashion and design — providing a platform to debut and test new styles, creating fabric and material, rendering mock-ups, as well as the actual execution of the garment. And the e-commerce boom of the last 5 years, increasing by 32.4 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic alone, is propelled forward through social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which make fashion more accessible, collaborative and authentic.

Tech is fashion

Iris van Herpen wants to redefine fashion as the “engine of innovation,” leading her to design and create with varied mediums resulting in one-of-a-kind garments. Known for her unconventional construction of garments using various mediums, she describes her creative process as “a puzzle to be solved.” With specific and detailed silhouettes and textures, she combines technology with traditional craftsmanship to get the pieces to fit — merging hand-drawn sketches and drawings with their digitized counterparts.

“Technology is a paper for me to write on. It’s a tool. And as long as it is a tool that I can write my story with, I’m always excited to explore it. I think craftsmanship throughout the centuries always has really been about innovation,” van Herpen says. “So what I do is build onto that tradition of innovation within craftsmanship. I want to learn what has been discovered in the past, but I want to twist it into a personal language that is my own.”

Adobe Creative Cloud is a central part of the IvH Atelier’s toolset. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator help van Herpen and her team to create and prepare all digitized drawings and files that they work with — from printing to laser cutting to pattern making. “What was once a very traditional craft is now often done digitally because it’s so much more flexible. Technology in the atelier is incredibly important.”

Designing a dress in collaboration with Adobe for Paris Fashion Week, van Herpen and her team used a mix of tools — both hand sketches and digital with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator files. Once satisfied and confident with her hand sketches, she created Illustrator files to achieve the detailed level of intricacy needed to laser cut the designs for the dress.

“I wanted to keep the dress very organic — Adobe Creative Cloud gives me a lot of freedom to do that. This garment represents the organic flow of traditional craftsmanship together with technology — which gives designers a lot of power and creative freedom” she says.

Image of a model in a dress designed by Iris van Herpen in Adobe Creative Cloud.

Fashion sells

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, labels had to shift strategies nearly immediately — introducing digital tools to their business and sales process. Nour Hammour, the French label known as the ‘model off-duty brand’ for their made-to-order leather jackets favored by runway walkers and celebrities, knows this better than anyone.

“When COVID first hit, it was right in the middle of Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks — while we were presenting our Fall 2020 collection. As our store partners started to close down one-by-one, the only way we could sell was through our website. So we immediately shifted to concentrating on the experience there,” co-founder Erin Conry Webb explains.

Images courtesy of Nour Hammour.

Nour Hammour direct messages consumers via WhatsApp and Instagram throughout the design process, using chatbots for one-to-one interactions, and “EasySize” online fit technology so that clients can send exactly the right measurements. The brand also relies on analytics to run their business and inform Webb’s team on the products different client segmentations want most.

“When it comes to communication and interacting with our clients, it’s very much a two-way conversation — our team creates renderings for custom garments in Adobe Illustrator and we’ll work through feedback with them until it’s perfect. This applies to the professional woman, the mom, or even a celebrity like Beyonce,” Webb says.

As a result of the shift to digitizing their entire customer interaction process and experience, Nour Hammour has seen their sales triple since pre-pandemic, with ChatBots increasing their sales 20 percent alone.

“We’re solely made-to-order — we don’t carry any inventory. And it’s not about forcing someone to fit into a garment’s measurements. They tell us exactly what we need, and we make it for them. Allowing the customer to utilize digital tools makes it easy for them to design their jacket in their exact measurements and preferences — telling us how they want to look, and more importantly feel in the garment.”

Fashion is social

While in lock-down, with no in-person interactions on the horizon, Tik Tok and Instagram became a must-scroll – and not just for the viral dance videos, but fashion too. From style hacks, to outfit inspiration, to creators launching their own brands on the platform, in an overly-curated digital world, the appeal of TikTok is the authenticity — of the creators and their content — and their commitment to embracing their inner creative.

#TikTokfashion, for example, now has more than 20 billion views. TikTok stars are now being named as the faces of large fashion houses (looking at you Celine) and can be seen sitting front row at fashion week — a status once reserved for major A-list celebrities and Anna Wintour. Major labels like Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent are streaming fashion week runway shows to the app (netting 3M+ views) and brands are leaning into the platform via user generated content. Take the #GucciModelChallenge, for example, where the brand asked TikTokers to pile a bunch of clothing items on top of each other for a unique Gucci-inspired look for an unofficial “casting call.” The challenge has over 271 million views.

Christina Najjar, best known as Tinx with 1M+ followers, posts her honest, authentic, and relatable takes on fashion (amongst other things). Najjar has a background in traditional fashion, earning her Masters in Fashion Journalism at Parsons School of Design and working for brands such as Gap Inc. and Poshmark. Now, what she wears sells out nearly instantly as she posts her daily RMW (Rich Mom Walks) athleisure sets and items she wears to industry events or out with friends — always with a raw, honest review of what she’s wearing, why she’s wearing it, and what she likes best about it.

Tomorrow in fashion is happening today

Fashion brands and designers continue to evolve and embrace the latest in technology and yet we can argue that the industry has barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. The latest tech trends gaining traction? Blockchain fashion, spurring from the $9,500 sale of an NFT digi-couture dress, and all-digital fashion — designing articles of clothing or outfits akin to video game ‘skins’ that can be used in the multiverse for content creators and brands. No matter what’s next for the hottest fashion brands in the world, tech will be right in the middle of it — and Adobe is thrilled to continue to collaborate with forward-thinking designers. As Karl Lagerfeld, fashion designer, artist, photographer, and caricaturist and Chanel creative director said, “Even if you don’t like the idea: Technology rules the world because it changed the world.”