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Made in Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion

A photo of garments being displayed on digital screens as part of the Made in Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion installation
  • Written byYana Kasa
  • Published date 19 June 2023
A photo of garments being displayed on digital screens as part of the Made in Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion installation
Made in Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion, Instillation at V&A, BFTT/ Photography | Adam Razvi, 2023

The University of the Arts London (UAL), Business of Fashion, Textiles and Technology (BFTT), Creative Research & Development Partnership recently launched a prototype installation at the V&A to showcase the significant potential of digital fashion experiences across performance, film, games, archives, and other wide ranging cultural contexts.

Made in Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion combined state of the art (SOA) motion capture, garment simulation and cloth rendering, and display technology to create a unique and individual experience for users. Visitors were invited to have their body motion captured using marker-less motion-capture capability provided by MovieAI. Each individual’s movement data was then translated into a costume-based avatar, dressed in fluid digital representations of garments by British fashion designer Maria Grachvogel. Production company Happy Finish brought all the technical elements of the working experience together to provide the overall user experience, and Holition created the interface that facilitated audience engagement.

Launch event

On the opening night, over 50 VIP guests from across the industry were invited to learn more about the highly collaborative research and development work first-hand. Glenn Graham, Choreographer and Principal Dancer from the Matthew Bourne dance company, was invited to fully put the novel experience to the test, choreographing his own movement according to the design of each garment. Initially selecting a floor length gown to bring to life, Glenn focused on developing movement through his arms and upper body, where the fabric was looser and more sculptural.  Envisioning wearing looser shirt and trousers, Glenn created movement that was more expressive and unpredictable, really pushing the digital fabrication process to the limit, illustrating how technically robust the state-of-the-art fabric simulation proved to be.

Developed by software physics specialists Numerion, digital cloth simulation is notoriously complex, the realisation of which in close to real-time was core to the R&D scope of the project. Numerion provided a unified physics framework supporting the simulation of soft and rigid bodies with collision detection and motion constraints in a single pass, allowing full action, and reaction between all digitally modelled components.

Glenn was interviewed by the Director of the UAL Fashion, Textiles and Technology Institute, Professor Jane Harris. He described performing in physical costume scenarios, which can be restricting while others may be more relaxed and fluid. However, this digital experience was unlike any other. Not being governed by what you’re physically wearing made the improvisation of movement more freeing. Having chosen his garment, Glenn’s notion of the garment served to inspire his choreography.

“The experience enables you to consider how creative you can be with the virtual garment. There wasn’t that restriction that physical costume can impose. I felt quite free and inquisitive as to how my movement may drive or indeed choreography the final visual result.” said Glenn Graham, Choreographer and Principal Dancer, Matthew Bourne Company.

Prototype installation 

Over 500 visitors attended the five-day exhibit, and approximately 170 participants engaged in the ticketed opportunity to engage with the experience and view their final render on high-definition screens as part of the immersive installation, in addition the result was emailed directly to their mobile devices like an NFT.

Bringing the garments and her creative eye to the project was British designer Maria Grachvogel, who is a pioneer in luxury fashion, a digital artist and an expert in drape and form. Fashion is a unique expression of our identity, and her work always focuses on the woman first, on how something feels and moves with the body, not just how it looks. Grachvogel's design process operates from the premise of both sustainability, and beauty. Incorporating digital methods into her work for over 20 years she has developed processes that enable experimentation, limit waste, and optimise her creativity.

The Anthropology department at University College London is also a partner in this R&D activity. A key part of the installation was creating the opportunity to document the experience of participants.

Dr Adam Drazin, Associate Professor Anthropology, University College London and BFTT Co-I partner, said "The experience that Made in Code provides definitely resonates with peoples' own ideas of normal future life; and that people are clearly 'imagining' with this experience (not necessarily future 'identities' or personal transformations, but more often systemic ways of living). You could describe it as a tool of evocation of a particular kind.  Made in Code clearly speaks to a wide variety of both digital and physical practices, from performance dress to fashion retail. Being digital it is also of course more ecosystemic but more importantly it can provide a communicative and translational bridge between different contexts of use, which is clearly compelling to the users we had the opportunity to interview."

Made in Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion installation at the V&A.

Made in Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion Symposium 

The V&A who have also been a partner in this R&D hosted a symposium outlining the process of the Made in Code project. The project partners discussed their involvement in shaping the installation and the potential for this type of experience in various contexts, with additional contributions from Jade How from Lockwood Publishing; Sarah Ellis from the Royal Shakespeare Company; Jonathan Chippindale, from Holition; Andrew Chitty, from UKRI; Professor Susanne Kuechler, University College London, and Jo Norman, Head of Research, from the V&A, providing insight from industries that stand to benefit from development of the technology, related working practices, and commenting on the multi-disciplinary skills development required to realise this potential.

Professor Jane Harris chaired the symposium, and also spoke about her background with over 25 years pioneering work in hybrid textile material, and digital spheres which informed the R&D project.  She highlighted that the emergent aesthetic, and visual experience of virtual clothing and fabrics is slowly progressing, however is highly dependent on skill sets across both material and digital disciplines – in addition to the significant advances in technology this prototype showcased. The state-of-the-art innovation achieved via this cross disciplinary R&D partnership, illustrates how the digital experience of clothing in realms such as film, gaming, retail, and performance may be revolutionised. The necessary skills development was a key focus of the discussion.

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the AHRC, following attendance at the VIP evening stated:

“Recently I saw the exceptional advances made by a Creative industries Cluster funded by AHRC, the Business of Fashion, Technology and Textiles with near real time rendering of fabric generated by markerless motion capture. Think Abba Voyage but in close to real time, not across a four or five year development span. The consequences for sustainable fashion but also textile and fabric technology are huge – and we will be early at the door of the new UK Exascale facility.”

The Business of Fashion, Textiles & Technology Creative R&D Partnership, led by Jane Harris, Chair of Digital Design and Innovation, University of the Arts London, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Creative Industries Cluster Programme.

Led by the UAL, Business of Fashion, Textiles and Technology, CRDP

Made In Code: Reimagining the Experience of Fashion project partners include: