Last night the place to be seen was on the red carpet for the annual Met Gala. The Costume Institute event was themed around the dichotomy between traditional handmade haute couture and technology’s growing involvement in fashion and its creation. With Apple sponsoring the accompanying the exhibit and Jony Ive serving as a co-chair of the Gala, the stage was set for last night to be the coming out party for wearable technology. But was it?
Over the past year we have seen amazing integration of technology into statement-worthy clothing. From Rebecca Street’s motion sensitive LED gown, to Chromat’s temperature reacting sports bra, to Zac Posen’s LED dress coded by high school students, we were expecting to see designers embrace this year’s Met Ball as a chance to explore what was possible with wearable tech. Unfortunately the theme seemed to confuse most of the evening’s guests; the majority seemed to opt-out, wearing gowns and tuxedos they would chosen if there had not been a theme. A select few of the attendees had fun with the theme, wearing clothing that was a vintage interpretation of what tomorrow would hold for fashion or looking for inspiration from clothing created from what were once cutting edge machines, such as looms. But wearing a gown that is silver or metallic doesn’t equate to “machine.” With the theme being “Man versus Machine,” man clearly won the night.
In fact, there was only one (thankfully there was even one) gown that incorporated wearable technology at last night’s event. Unsurprisingly it was created by 35 year old Zac Posen, whose previous LED gown was a standout of his SS2016 NYFW runway show and later adorned by Lupita Nyong’o. Worn last night by Claire Danes, the new gown looked like an exquisite, if perhaps overly traditional, Cinderella style dress (it was even light blue). Walking down the red carpet, you would never know that there was anything special about the gown, that is until the lights go down. Zac Posen used his previous experience to create a new piece featuring LEDs highlighting the structure of the gown and a dress that lights up like a star filled sky. It was an incredible example of how technology can be used to create a garment that is almost magical while looking like a traditional haute couture gown. Zac Posen proved that there was nothing to be scared of in integrating technology into fashion.
So if Zac Posen was able to create a technology filled gown for the Gala, why was it the only one? And what does that mean for the future of fashion tech? These aren’t easy things to answer. I believe part of the issue is the designers. When a guest to the Met Ball walks down the red carpet, they want to make a statement, but they want to make the statement with a known designer to back them up. The old guard of designers that we always hear mentioned when people are asked “What are you wearing?” simply are not ready to embrace the concept of wearable technology. It is not traditional, in their eyes likely a gimmick, and, frankly, not something they have a familiarity with or a willingness to learn. Like teaching your parents how to Snapchat, these designers are not at a point where they are ready to bring technology into their clothing. There are several companies, such as Chromat and Cute Circuit, that would have been perfect for last night’s Met Gala but they aren’t known entities, and chances are the Beyoncé’s and Nicole Kidman’s of world aren’t ready to walk the red carpet in a technology filled dress without a major designer’s name behind it. Zac Posen is in an unique position though. As an established young designer whose garments have adorned many red carpets, there is no stigma in taking a chance with his tech laden gown.
Claire Danes’ unexpected dress has turned out to be one of the most talked about gowns of the evening and has made several lists of the best looks of the night. This is the most high profile event that a fashion-tech outfit has ever been worn and it should prove that technology doesn’t mean that you have to give up elegance. Hopefully more designers follow Zac Posen’s lead and are willing to take chances to explore how to include tech into beautiful garments. In the meantime though, there is also a lot of incredible work being done by “start-up” fashion houses with a tech focus. Perhaps Claire Danes has begun to set a precedent that wearable tech and fashion are ok to co-exist and other people walking down a red carpet will think about turning to some of these smaller designers to find something unique. In our mind, Chromat’s gown with a 3D printed lattice which opens or closes based on the wearer’s adrenaline would have been an ideal fit for this year’s Met Gala. We hope that the reason we didn’t see it last night was not because it didn’t have a Givenchy name on it, but instead people were trepidatious to broadcast their adrenaline level!
People are doing amazing work in fashion-tech and it deserves a place off of the runway. Claire Danes’ and Zac Posen made a bold move last night. While we wish more guests had fun with this year’s Met Gala theme, we are so excited that someone stepped up to the plate to show how beautiful technology can be.