Future fantastic

Creative collaboration with Wim Michiels, the managing director of Materialise Malaysia.

IN January, I received an e-mail from Materialise, a company that works with the relatively new media form of 3D printing. They asked if I’d like to collaborate with them for Asia’s first 3D-Print Fashion Show.

My first reaction was: “What do they mean by 3D print?” Initially, I thought that it would be similar to normal ink printing done on fabrics. Needless to say, this didn’t excite me much because, as a designer, material ink printing is not something new to me. However, my husband Dirk told me that I was mistaken. It was much more innovative than that.

Intrigued, I began to research the subject online. One of the first Internet pages to appear was a website containing fashion designs by a Dutch-born designer, Iris Van Herpen. I had always wondered how her amazing pieces were moulded, but never realised she used 3D printing technology. The effects are out of this world!

So, now, I’m really excited. As I’m taking part in a 3D-Print Fashion Show, I’m going to have to immerse myself in this fantastic technology. For me, it’s like a dream come true because I am always on the lookout for new materials and ideas to create something different. I am very honoured to be the first fashion designer in Asia to collaborate with Materialise for the Accessory Design Contest – of which I will be on the panel of judges – as well as a participant in Asia’s first 3D-Print Fashion Show.

3D printing can be used on a variety of materials, including cloth. In the case of couture, it requires the co-operation of many different companies for the different aspects involved. This new technology is bringing new ways to create fashion, in which delicate handmade embroidery and needlework are being replaced by code.

Dita Von Teese recently caught the world’s attention when she stepped out for an event in a gown made by 3D printing. Her figure-hugging dress was designed by Michael Schmidt and generated by the architect Francis Bitonti. It was created using laser sintering – built up, rather like a building, in layers out of nylon powder that had been fused together by lasers. According to Schmidt, the hardest part of designing the dress was giving it flexibility.

From the moment we stepped into the office of Materialise for my first meeting with them, I was completely taken up. At the entrance, they had samples of 3D printing so we were able to see, touch and feel what this new method of printing was all about. We also had the chance to meet Wim Michiels, the managing director of Materialise Malaysia, who not only explained the technology behind 3D printing but also showed us pictures of what other designers in Europe are doing with it in the manufacture of garments, furniture and art. Let me just say they were simply amazing! In fact, I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

That night, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about the possibilities of 3D printing. Just imagine what new frontiers this technology could create in the world of fashion!

In Asia, 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology, is not very well known outside of the industrial sector, so the show would be a great way to educate the general public about the endless possibilities it brings.

Almost immediately, I set about designing two different collections, both related to nature. After a discussion with Wim and his team, we decided that I should base my collections on the theme of birds, creatures I have always loved and thought to be beautiful. Materialise was also in love with the idea and asked if they could use the same theme for their 3D design competition, which I automatically agreed to. It will be interesting to see how different designers interpret the same theme in their works.

So far, there have been a lot of challenges in the process but, all in all, it has been a great learning experience. It just goes to show that technology is not always boring and about numbers. It can be beautiful and creative too, not to mention fun! For me, fashion is like art – it’s for the artist to use whatever tools and materials available to create a masterpiece. This collaboration is allowing me to use AM technology to create something fantastic and new.

As always, I’m working with a tight deadline as the show will be held on June 14. I have already pulled together a team, which includes some of my old school friends – Sam Lee Wong and Michel Jason – as well as a couple of 3D modellers. We are still at the early stages of designing, but I can feel that our work is not going to be in vain; the outcome is going to be simply marvellous.

I will give more details of my new collections when they are ready to be shown off in June. Meanwhile, I am also preparing my Raya ready-to-wear collection, along with some other projects. So, I do have my hands full – literally – and I’m certainly not complaining. I just pray that everything goes as planned and turn out better than hoped for!

If you’d like to know more about the Accessory Design contest, check out Materialise’s website for more details at i.materialise.com/challenge.

Mel’s Place is a fortnightly column by Melinda Looi for The Star newspaper.


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