“What might a Louis Vuitton or Off-White digital piece of clothing be like?” Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion, mused to Vogue in April earlier this year. The question came in the wake of Carlings, a multi brand Scandinavian retailer, selling out its first digital-only clothing line. The process saw fashion designers manipulate photos of customers, so it appeared as though they were dressed up in Carlings' apparel. Customers would then go on to share the photos of themselves on digital platforms, Instagram, Facebook, and the rest, without actually having to wear the clothes.
To us circumspect Kiwis, dressed up in woolly shoes and Kathmandu puffer jackets, this may seem like a peculiar concept. But digital clothes may not be very far away, as modern designers wield digital tools to make clothes in a variety of different ways.
One local designer who has consistently explored the new frontiers of the digital fashion world is Dylan Mulder, a Wellington-based industrial designer, self proclaimed 3D printing ninja, and a World of Wearable Art four time finalist who uses artificial intelligence, or alternatively coined ‘generative design’, to create his garments.
Every year he uses the latest digital tools to design his costumes, in 2013 he created the Samurai Silent Dragon – winning the New Zealand Design Award – where he produced an entire full-length garment directly from a laptop using 3D modelling, in 2014 he harnessed emerging 4D design methods to create things like paints that changed colour under UV light, a plasma disc that would interact with people touching it, or a hidden hidden smoke system made from e-cigarettes.
Then in 2016 he used the latest in virtual reality technology to form a piece called Digital Stealth Gods, in partnership with Air New Zealand, which won the Cirque du Soleil Award, where he was flown to Montreal, Canada to take on a four-week internship at Cirque du Soleil HQ, working on the ground as a designer.
“It’s one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world,” Mulder said. “It made me realise that coming from Aotearoa meant I have a unique approach, and that I am confident enough to compete on the world stage.”
Since his return, he has worked as a ‘portable designer’ in the fields of engineering, gaming, film, jewellery, medicine and sport. To work remotely, he operates cloud based designing using a plethora of open source and custom setups including Rhino, Grasshopper 3D, ZBrush, Houdini, and the Adobe suite, but is equally cagey about the software he uses.
He often juggles up to ten commissions at one time, working on massive global projects including with Miodrag Guberinic, a revered costume designer in NYC, plus a number of TV series including Gotham on Fox, The Tick, and others.
He’s pushed the boundaries even further for this years entry into WoW, using artificial intelligence to weave Māori design into the garment. He says that much like a Māori carver or ta moko artist, artificial intelligence intuitively reads the organic canvas, takes influence from spiritual concepts and grows itself in response to its form.
He says, from flint to steel tools to dremels, artificial intelligence is just another tool in the shed.
“In my trajectory, there is a new concept of working with a computer, instead of on a computer. That is the most fundamental principle behind the garment. What that means is you let the computer decide a lot of the aesthetic decisions.”
Although not typically linked to creativity, machines can pull from a variety of references to form concepts, ideas, or images that wouldn’t be possible for the human brain.
An example being the German artist, Mario Klingemann, a pioneer in AI art, who uses neural networks, code, and algorithms to form human portraits – but the faces are different from anyone that has lived. They appear, as The Guardian reports, “to have been dreamed up somewhere deep inside the machine’s imagination.”
Mulder calls it the ability to grow design. Asked what he means by this idea of 'growing design', he points to his tattoo work, assisted by AI, which can grow up the arm specific to the scan of the person, then detail itself taking from existing patterns to accentuate its own unique patterns.
Mulder is currently focused on expanding into this new era of 'AI' design, where you 'grow' the garment around the 3D form (body), enabling customised clothes that are unique to the customer.
Mulder says, “It’s completely different from typical CAD modelling where you are limited to your brain and the programme does everything you tell it to do. By working with artificial intelligence, it gives you identities and characteristics you wouldn’t consider as a singular human.”
As for what is to come of Mulder's work, he is currently focused on interlacing machine learning and iterative design into the fashion world, alongside his many other projects, such as creating VR jewellery from his portable studio in Wellington.
This story originally appeared on Idealog.