With the speed of a rocket engine, Anouk Wipprecht has produced more projects than any other person in her field. 36 pieces, and counting. Equipped with movement, system intelligence and an illumine-scent smile she creates dresses with an extreme attitude. Very literally – as one of her designs attacks you when you approach. Her 'Spider Dress', with mechanic limbs on the shoulders – this dress notices approachers and protects the personal space through, which Anouk calls, '12 states of behavior'. Depending on how you walk up to this dress; it reacts more, or less aggressively. Defining a new role in robotics: mounted on the body, seeing with the same vision as the wearer. Her designs are case studies for her 'Fashion is about expression and  communication, and I want to make this electronic, and in-real-time interactive, to the state and behavior of the wearer' says Anouk. Time to ask this high priest of fashiontech some questions;

Why is wearable tech your choice of medium, how did you become interested in it?

I see fashion as an expression and communication: it expresses our identity and it communicates our mode or mood. Other than regular garments, fashion is here to mediate between us and the outside world. Through fashion we interface with the world around us. And I want to make that electronic and digital.

What do you see are the humanistic elements in wearable tech that can enhance our bodies and assist us to carry out complex tasks or if you look at performance, how can wearable tech enhance a characters and draamturgie of a performance or story telling?

I think as mentioned above: it's the 'interfacing' aspect. It's a medium. Fashion is a medium just like the display of our screen: it can emote something of us. Whether in words or in appearance. It's a second mouth, but a very visual one. Over time, fashion has been the display of our status, in the 18th century people really were all dolled up. But it was always a 'pretty' and 'happy' state for the elite. As we are more likely to only emote the good to the outer world. But now our garments are able to sense us, our moods and preferences, as it's connected through body sensors to our skin and organs. It starts to create a second dimension between the things that we feel and the health that we embed, and what we want to show to the outside world. I think this is interesting. We all love the idea of garments that display our moods and emotion: but when we are reliably able to do so (still – from a scientific point of view it's still to early to reliably data capture emotions) – but when we ARE reliably able to do so: your dress will not only display when you are happy. Also when you are sad, or mad, or maybe not that healthy or concentrated that day. With my work I try to curate that study. The stories of 'shy' garments (Smoke Dress – pulls out a layer of smoke as you can dive away) or 'moody' garments (Spider Dress – attacks an approacher when entering the personal space of the wearer). I am interested in creating an space in where pure data informs our surroundings. It's about that point of expression and communication that I like about fashion which I talked about above: but in real life, pure and honest. Instead of using fashion as an facade, it can and will change the way we interact with the people around us as we cannot hide behind the garments we wear, but we need to embrace what will be a real time display of our inner selves.

Are materials, such as e-textiles influencing your design decision making? What would you say is the most exciting advancement tech wise to realise your garments? soft circuits? 3d & 4d printing….. robotics?

I am a big fan of robotics. With them I can create behaviors that I ‘  not able to create with the use of light, sound, fragrance, or any other medium. Through exploring robotics, mechanics and movement on the body I really can get more complex data visualisations of programmed system behaviors our there: where the smoke dress could for example, push out a smoke screen that could become more, or less dense (so creating a one state system behavior though the density of smoke) with the Spider Dress I can emote gestures to another person: when you walk up to the dress it doesn't attack in one way: it chooses between '12 states of behavior' in where walking up fast and invasive might trigger the system to attack fast and aggresive too, when you approach the design slow and friendly, it pushed out the front legs and extends the back ones, just to 'warn' you. This way of looking at my mechanism and really give it an attitude, but also a 'choice' is really important for me. As it creates a certain amount of co-control between the approacher, the system, and the wearer.

What do your clothes add to the presentation and function of the human body?

They express and communicate the human in new ways with the world around them, and raise questions about what our world can be when we become even more supervised by technology.

Do you do wearable tech thinking (like design thinking), whats the difference between designing just fashion and garments that actuate and move? how is the design process different?

I design through the interaction that my system can bring: first I imagine what kind of interaction I want to provoke (for example 'system attacks when person comes close') then I consider from an emotional, psychological, or sensual way how I can provoke this – for example I look at defense systems in humans (a sport like 'fencing') or in the animal kingdom (a cat giving a claw when you come near) and combine these together. From that moment I apply a system (defense system) that I took from another dicipline (a human, or an animal) and place that on the body. And then I look at how that medium can mimick in a correct way: by giving that 'Psychological thrill' that looking at people or animals defending themselves give: they fight and protect as their life is depending on it: a determination. That determination, I try to involve into my design, so the design, not only when you interact with it – but also when you look at it – gives you this 'thrill'. And then you try things out. If the system behaves, and the design emotes what you want it to. A good design for me is the Spider Dress for example: when you look at it or interact with it: it gives you the same preserved almost monsterous but unique feel of an albino spider that is protective of the thing it's hosted on. A human in this case. It could, in the animal kingdom be a prey he protects. But if a little boy or my grandmother would walk up to this – they get both scared or mesmerized. But they both in design and interaction know one thing: don't come close! Since both the design as the interaction display this message.

Wearables now… Innovation for business and art for arts sake? what's your take on the state of wearables today, is the apple watch really a wearable, isn't fashionable technology so much more?

For me – the current state of wearables as activity trackers and body sensors, know that there is something happening – for example -your heartbeat goes up, or your stress level rises. But it does nothing to help you understand yourself. I try to think of this – and for example – from a robotic perspective: by placing an extra set of eyes on the body, I’m able to create an interface which not only knows that you stare at something, but also why. Having a grip on what gets your attention throughout the day without having to record it yourself, makes you aware of certain habits you face. As camera's and society are a problem, this can be tricky. But it's the provocative mindset that brings meaning to design. Current wearables are at the moment very 'interpersonal' coined at basically everyone – I like to see them getting much more personalised and bespoke.

How do you see the medium of fashion film expressing your wearables and adding to the poetic communication of the pieces? will it add a new dimension to them, a poetic story? do you see any downsides to film and fashionable technology, like too much science fiction?

It is the interaction that the medium or system creates itself. See wearables that know you and their surrounding, and being able to interact and communicate with their surrounding: in a one on one situation they create a 'story' between the wearer and the person you interact with. In the long run, I hope that we get more disconnected from our screens and instead, interact more with the real world by the things we wear. When i grew up technology was a token of freedom, not a token of stress. But when I open my current devices at the moment: I get more stressed than I would ever imagine technology would throw upon us. These questions we raise, and this 'new world' me and many other people around me like Lucy McRae, Nancy Tilbury, and also designers like Behnaz Farahi, Pauline van Dongen, Bart Hess and many others all try to visualise in their own way: we are searching for this 'other world' one where we symbiotically live with our interfaces, and instead of our interfaces 'owning' us, we collide with them. Naturally, and organically.

Can you tell me a bit about your latest collection for AUDI? How does a car brand and fashion tech collide?

My last collaboration with Audi was an 4- piece collection based on their newest baby: the Audi A4. I took elements in the car (both from design and interaction) and projected that onto the dresses: the dresses were utilising car lights and were sensoric through the use of parking sensors. We basically took their car and transformed it into the dress. One of the dresses had 60W of High Power LED's blasting out, on another one I used projection mapping with Berlin based agency MonoMango: in which we created some really immersive visuals. It was a quick project: within 1,5 month a 4 piece electronic and badass collection. Really fun to do. Currently I’m busy with a follow up collection which will be released at the end of this year.

What new approaches can bring the classic fashion industry and new technologies closer together?

I think raising more discussion on the topics of washability, energising and maintainance but also taking a closer look at the fashion cycle and how their manufacturing processes are currently different than the handling fashiontech pieces need. A lot of panels are being done between technologists in the fashiontech field and the technology field, even by CEO's. But it's time to invite the fashion houses to these talks too, to see their point of view.

Basically – "Fashion" is an ever-changing cycle: in where garments are 'in' and 'out' and get changed every half a year, every two months, every week and are 'hot' or 'not'. While the electronic garments that are currently being made, require updates and upgrades, almost like a robot: they start to 'live' with us like a leather jacket which you have for years and gets more identity as you grow with it. This is a problem and needs to be solved before fashion + fashiontech + technology can go hand in hand: These cycles need to become closer to each other: inform each other and adapt to one another. The fashion houses need to be involved and informed. But also educated in this.


Alexandra Murray-Leslie

Alex is an artistic researcher and co-founder of the art band Chicks on Speed. She is currently Professor, Trondheim Academy of Fine Art, Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Honorary Industry Fellow, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney.