Biocouture at Holon Fashion Week – by Silvia Bombardini


Dear Shaded Viewers and Diane,


Fashion does not grow on trees, God knows we've tried. However, it might now be possible to harvest a perfect denim jacket in our own bathtub, if we follow carefully the unique recipe of Biocouture's founder Suzanne Lee, and practice a little beforehand. One of the most inspiring talks at Holon Fashion Week 2013, Suzanne revealed the hidden, minute potential of bacterial cellulose, and the truly innovative practice of designing living organisms to produce for us the most organic textile of all. Little else but green tea and sugar, vinegar and water and a precise blend of yeasts and bacteria can in fact generate a sort of pellucid, slick and seamless material, leather-like and flexible, and only ever so slightly smelly. Spongy and washable, it swells and soaks up colours when dipped in charming vegetable dyes, made out of beetroots or blueberries.

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Bacterial cellulose is so far employed on an industrial level only by the most advanced biomedical research, and oddly enough, an Indonesian brand of tinned desserts. The extended experiments of Biocouture demonstrate nonetheless a whole new world of charming options to bring its incredible properties to the field of fashion and product design. For example, metal proximity could create darker patterns, and we now know that our grown garment will last much longer if coated with Kakishibu: a traditional dye of fermented persimmons once used to protect firemen's paper kimonos from fire itself, that Suzanne has learned in Japan from the master of the craft, one Masamichi Terada. 

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This all reminds me of a couple of flats ago, when my flatmate received from her uncle a "friendship cake" called Herman. Herman contained yeast and living lactic acid bacteria, which meant that if regularly fed with flour and milk, it could eventually keep growing forever. We would eat nothing but cake for weeks on end, until the unfortunate explosion of the Golden Globes nights, which could only be marginally contained due to us being awake at the time to watch the Red Carpet. The same process could be applied, hopefully with more success, to the growth of bacterial cellulose. Once one sheet is harvested, the same culture could be reused to grow more and more, in the ultimate eco-friendly production process. 

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But Biocouture is not the only company devoted to the study of such pioneering techniques, others are for example Ecovative or Modern Meadow. Suzanne's latest project then aims to develop an online platform for all practitioners of the living material movement to regroup – a place where to share ideas and recipes, meet future collaborators and a growing network of bacteria enthusiasts. If this sounds like your cup of tea you would want to follow her updates on twitter @biocouture, and you might get some exciting new tips while you wait for your cellulose to dry.

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