Will the 3-D printer replace the sewing machine as the favored tool of fashion designers?
In recent months, 3-D-printed clothes and accessories have shown up on Project Runway (contestant Justin LeBlanc of Raleigh printed belts, necklaces and bracelets), the actual runway (Dutch designer Iris van Herpens 3-D-printed collection called Voltage) and on the Neiman Marcus website (which sells 3-D pieces like Bathsheba Grossmans sculptural stainless-steel orbs).
In December, 3-D-printed fashion had perhaps its biggest moment when CBS broadcast the annual Victorias Secret Fashion Show. Model Cara Delevingne walked the runway in computer-generated angel wings, while Lindsay Ellingson was outfitted in a corset, bustle and arm pieces intricately designed to look like snowflakes.
Architect Bradley Rothenberg, who operates a Manhattan-based design studio called studioBRAD, collaborated with Victorias Secret to create the garments. He is excited about the technologys potential to change how clothes are made and fit.
Clothing can be custom and even specific to your body, Rothenberg said, citing as an example the way a garment could be made to stretch more in the elbow than in the forearm.
The other advantage for 3-D printing with textiles is the level of complexity, he added. When you think of constructing with a sewing machine, youre always thinking in terms of the thread. With 3-D printing, youre not limited to that. Imagine having a knit sweater mixed with a T-shirt mixed with a jacket.
At the moment, the material used in 3-D printing is not super-thin, so the process does not yet lend itself to printing delicate and soft clothing. The 3-D-printed garments tend to be made of nylon and are still more art project than everyday attire.
But the improving functionality of 3-D fashion was illustrated earlier this year when Francis Bitonti designed, in collaboration with costume designer Michael Schmidt, a laser-sintered gown for burlesque performer Dita Von Teese. Constructed like chain mail, the gown had 3,000 articulated connections.
Bitonti, a New York-based fashion designer, has been working with 3-D printing since 2007.
The materials are getting better every day, he said. The design and fitting process for Von Teeses dress were done virtually, he said. When you see it in reality, and its exactly as pictured, its surreal.
The Dita dress was printed by Shapeways, a company that acts as a marketplace and service for 3-D-printed goods, as well as a booster for designers. Duann Scott, whose title at Shapeways is designer evangelist, said that the low financial risk (objects are printed on demand) is ideal for fashion designers looking to stretch boundaries.
Short seasons, doing new things all the time: Thats what works for the fashion industry, Scott said.
The companys all-white futuristic-looking factory in Queens houses several industrial printers; designers can work with a range of materials, from nylon to bronze to stainless steel.
Kimberly Ovitz turned to Shapeways when she wanted to design rings and other jewelry to complement her womens clothing line.
The technology allowed me to revolutionize the timeline, Ovitz said. People could look at my jewelry on the runway and get it in two weeks. And they could customize the material and color.
That embrace of the new is drawing fashion to 3-D printing. We dont need to reinvent jeans, Scott said. Cotton is good. Its about making something unique that would otherwise be impossible.