A Dutch innovator in “FashionTech,” Anouk Wipprecht combines fashion design with engineering, robotics, and user-interaction to transcend fashion into more than mere appearance. Ahead of her time, Anouk creates technological couture that moves, breathes, and reacts to the wearer and the environment around them. Partnering with Intel, Google, Microsoft, Cirque Du Soleil, and Audi, she imagines a future that will continue to embed technology into fashion.
Anouk is in discussions to collaborate on a fashion project with the successful STEAM fashion brand, SvahaUSA (SvahaUSA.com), which creates extraordinary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) fashions. The latest collection from SvahaUSA are fashions utilizing the actual stunning images from the James Webb Space Telescope.
What drove you to combine couture with high tech?
Anouk: My main fascination with fashion is that it be expressive and communicates something culturally or emotionally. I like to make things move, light up, talk, or sense.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started?
Anouk: In 2000, the technology and electronics were large and bulky. So the form factor of that technology was a problem when I first started. Today, technology is far easier to program and attach to the human body. Even the batteries are smaller.
What was your thinking behind the Smoke dress and Spider dress?
Anouk: With the smoke dress, the more people it senses, the more smoke it emits. The Spider dress, on the other hand, is intended to ward off any unwelcome intrusions into one’s personal space.
The Spider Dress is quite unusual. What has been the reaction when you’ve worn and demonstrated it in public?
Anouk: It’s my most robotic dress to date. People like it because it looks so powerful—almost like the powerful shoulder designs of the ‘80s. It also has a lot of detail in terms of symmetry and bone structures. People are enticed by it but when they walk up to it, it comes alive and defends the wearer’s personal space. One girl said she would like to wear the Spider dress when riding the subway to protect her.
Where do you think this melding of tech and couture will ultimately go? Say in 5 years or ten years?
Anouk: I see the development of an emotional, expressive interface. I see an outfit that would be able to sense your heartbeat, stress levels, body temperature, and movement, and a design that can react to your surroundings. We’ll use sensors that measure what’s happening in your brain. But we need to make sure to place these sensors in a certain way to ensure reliability. The other thing is, that we don’t want to have too many sensors all over your body. That would be uncomfortable. And with sensors measuring body details, it brings up privacy issues. The what-if questions I ask include what happens if you put all this technology on the body? Or if you connect emotions to your garments? Say you start blushing and your garment senses that and amplifies that. It could make certain people uncomfortable. The same holds true for your other emotions.
Have you looked into mind interfaces? Like Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chip?
Anouk: I am creating non-invasive BCIs (Brain-Computer-Interfaces), which attach to the head and not in the head. My BCI has up to 1,000 channels whereas Elon Musk’s Neuralink chip has over 3,800 channels. So his resolution is much higher. But it’s invasive and I don’t think people would want to go to that level for tech couture.
How do you begin the design process? Do you start with garment styling or the tech that goes into it?
Anouk: It depends. Sometimes a company will come up to me and say we have this piece of technology—a new sensor or scanning software. It depends on the story we want to put together. That said, I work mostly off the technology. I research the tech and I start to imagine how it can be used in fashion. I look at the resolution of sensors and what I can do with the information. When I look at robotics, I turn to animals and how they move and I translate that into the degree of freedom some new robotics can provide. The process is never the same. But once I enter the design phase, we start with a mock-up, then a prototype. The mock-up is a crude design whereas the prototype is closer to what you’re going for. You then do programming and tests, then move to the finished design. It usually takes six weeks because things need to be ordered. By the way, I often share what I’ve learned by giving free lectures and workshops on design and robotics. I’m a gender ambassador when it comes to technology because I use couture and fashion to get more girls into robotics and technology.
Have you considered integrating your concepts into male fashion?
Anouk: People have been asking that. I’ve created a lot of masculine designs for females. The Spider dress is more masculine whereas the Smoke dress is more feminine. My background is in female designs, so I lean toward that. I suppose I’ll have to add male designs to my to-do list.
Just wondering if Hollywood has approached you about including some of your designs in movies.
Anouk: Yes. Ten years ago, I was asked to do some designs. Today, almost everything is CGI. But to get actors immersed in a story, you need to have real products. Some studios have used my designs and pulled some CGI on them. The other thing is that actors could wear the designs they used in a movie on the Red Carpet during award ceremonies.
How are you integrating AI into your designs? What’s the most futuristic concept you have on the drawing board?
Anouk: I use AI for machine learning when I employ body sensors. These sensors provide information at high speeds so you need machine learning to process all that. If my dress needs to decide between sensor data and robotics interactions, those decisions need to be made rapidly. You need machine learning to recognize, measure, and process that information—basically anything to do with brain signals.