The society that we live in can be both energizing and exhausting. Today, we suffer from something much greater than buyer’s remorse: the uncontrollable lust for what is to come with future products. We are no longer satisfied with the objects we buy because we experience an uncontrollable fear of missing out—that in the near future something shinier, sleeker and better will come around and we will be disappointed with the lesser version we just bought.
In an episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” Kanye West predicts that 3D printing will destroy the textile industry the way online streaming platforms have forever changed the music industry, ultimately taking away the power of the human hand and placing it in the hands of machines. While Kanye says he cannot deny the benefits of streaming—as seen through the rise of Chance the Rapper and music becoming more accessible through channels such as Spotify—an element of artistry has been left behind.
Similar changes are happening in fashion. Core values of this generation revolve around efficiency, ease, speed and high quality. Due to the rise of fast fashion, consumers no longer look for long-lasting garments, but instead for pieces that fit current trends, causing a divide between the craftsmanship of the luxury sector and the average consumer’s desires. Along with multiple other industries, the technology sector grows at a rapid rate each day, raising the question of whether brands can survive without embracing technology.
Recently, designers such as Irvis Van Herpen, Junya Watanabe and Becca McCharen of Chromat have fully embraced the integration of technology and fashion. These developments have created fascinating designs such as Chomart’s “Adrenaline” dress that moves to the same pace of the wearer’s heart beat thanks to sensors placed within the garment. Proenza Schouler also found a way to weave together the power and innovations of technology with the cornerstones of high fashion, showing the artistry of the design. In their Pre-Fall 2014 show, Proenza Schouler pioneered a new fabric called “flocked velvet,” which is made of a foam material that, as it expands, creates a pattern within the velvet that resembles lace.
Even though designs have begun to integrate fashion and technology in an organic and fascinating way, there is a sense of anxiety surrounding the jobs that will be lost due to machines and whether these machines will ultimately replace everyone in the fashion system except the designer. As I watched the 2014 documentary “Dior and I,” I was fascinated to explore the work of the “petites mains”—the men and women within the atelier who, through years of practice and apprenticeships, have become experts on techniques such as dealing with lace and intricate embroidery. Even when the never-ending wheel of creative directors changes, often leaving historic fashion houses without clear direction, these women and men are the true heart of the company, transcending trends, designers and economic downfalls and maintaining the integrity of the brand. Technology cannot do the same.
It is truly a romantic idea to believe that the petites mains of the leading fashion houses such as Dior and Chanel will prevent brands from replacing handwork with technology, especially due to cost-efficient technology and the diversity of ideas it allows for. To young designers, this ability to create new fabrics, patterns and silhouettes provides the platform to create an iconic look for the 21st century, just as Yves Saint Laurent did with the smoking suit.
The power of technology has answered many of the daunting questions regarding economic and environmental stability for designers. Shrilk, a fabric made from the proteins of shrimp shells and the proteins derived from silk, is thin, clear and flexible while being half the weight of aluminium. Qmilk, a thread made out of sour milk, is resistant to bacteria and fire. Designers now have the possibility of making timeless pieces with these materials, which are cheaper and eliminate waste.
While the full integration of technology into fashion has not hit mass market yet, innovations such as the Apple Watch and Snapchat spectacles have demonstrated to the fashion world that people are open and willing to integrate technology into their wardrobes. However, it must come across in an organic and useful manner. It will forever be important to pay tribute to the women and men who work tirelessly to create the pieces of fashion that are coveted and fawned over, but it would be extremely naive to believe that the world of fashion can stay the same as technology throughout the multiple facets of our daily lives take over.
Beyond creating a distinctive personal style, the fashion world cannot function without the work of the petites mains. Not only are the petites mains the ones who take the creative directors’ visions from drawings to true garments, but these men and women understand both the technical aspects of a brand and the history of the company. Even in this particularly tumultuous time in fashion, where the creative directors seem to only stay for two to three years—as seen with Alexander Wang at Balenciaga and Raf Simons at Dior—the petites mains are a consistent part of brand identity. They provide endless knowledge and advice to the new creative directors about what the brand is truly about. For these petites mains, their fashion houses are their homes and they believe in the art they create.
It is up to the consumer to continue to value the petites mains. It is up to designers to experiment with new technology, while realizing there are some things that technology cannot replace.