Home CommentaryStudent Life Once upon a time there was a magical gown

Once upon a time there was a magical gown

by Stephanie La Leggia April 3, 2012
Once upon a time there was a magical gown

Growing up, we never really put much thought in the influence of fairy tales on our adult selves. While some simply move on from bedtime stories, others continue to be inspired by these symbolic and creative tales.

“I really like this element of how in fairy tales, the costume is very transformative, and in some way, we can think of fashion of being that way too,” says Valerie Lamontagne. “We are sort of transformed by the garments that we wear.”

Lamontagne graduated from the visual arts program at Concordia University and is now teaching in the department of design and computation arts. Aside from pursuing her PhD, investigating “performativity, materiality and laboratory practices in artistic wearables,” Lamontagne is juggling a number of fashion lines of interactive garments.

Her most famous project is Peau d’Âne, a three-piece fashion collection that incorporates DIY technology. It’s named after and inspired by Charles Perrault’s French fairy tale also known as Donkeyskin. It tells the tale of a princess who makes a list of impossible demands her suitor must fulfill before the wedding. The kicker is, her suitor is her father.The princess asks for three dresses that embody the elusive essence and characteristics of the sky, the sun and the moon.

With the help of programmer Patrice Coulombe and fashion designer Lynn van Gastel, Lamontagne inherited the challenge of creating these “impossible” gowns, a project that took them over three years to complete.

“If you think of any fairy tale or super hero tale, the costume has the power in a way,” says Lamontagne. “The costume is the thing that makes Cinderella a princess, and the costume is the thing that makes Spider-Man become Spider-Man and not the man he was before.”

The blue inflated Sky dress is made with parachute fabric embedded with tiny fans wirelessly connected to a weather station, soaring and expanding with the change in wind speed. The Sun dress has 120 LED lights embedded in the fabric. Different patterns illuminate depending on the UV index, temperature and sun radiation data that is collected from an outdoors mobile weather station. The change in pattern would vary according to real time. Though the Moon dress doesn’t need data because of its predictable cycle, Lamontagne illustrates the intensity of the moon through thermochromic inks and resistive heating. When electricity runs through the threads of the dress, the ink heats up and changes the colours.
“I thought it would be really interesting to network dresses using computational data from these sort of meteorological entities,” says Lamontagne. “I made three very fairy tale-ish dresses related to real time and weather fluctuations.”

Though the Peau d’Âne series was impressive and showcased at the Seamless exhibition at the Boston Museum of Science, Lamontagne says it’s over and has already moved on to the next project.

She challenged herself with the task of creating wearable techs that are seductive and reproducible. She began developing a wearable line called Electromode that is made of pieces that you can purchase as a kit and easily assemble and customize yourself. Lamontagne uses fabrics such as cotton and silk, and prints the garments with the circuitry already embedded. So far, she has used LED lights and designed two dresses and a purse that she sells on etsy.com.

“A lot of the field of wearable techs is based on these off-craft projects which are not replicable,” says Lamontagne. “They stay a bit in the ghetto, either in an academic ghetto, an arts and crafts or a geeky ghetto, and they don’t really go out into the world.”
Aside from Electromode, Lamontagne is working on another mini collection for the TechnoSensual exhibition in Vienna. The event is part of the MQ Summer of Fashion and encourages designers to incorporate fashion and technology.

With the help of fashion designer Isabelle Campeau, and engineer Hesam Khoshneviss, Lamontagne is creating a five-piece series called Stripes and Dots. They’re exploring different elements of pattern making, concentrating on cubism, colours and transparent materials to produce lights effects.

“We’re making things I want to wear, it’s selfish” she says with a laugh. “We’re really trying to push the fashion and design element, and keeping the technology super simple, but it’s still an element that can seduce people.”

Lamontagne says the challenge is creating something aesthetically fashionable and easy to assemble; pieces that can be sewn in a few seams.

As though these two projects aren’t enough, Lamontagne just got funding to develop a new project called DIY Social Skin. She’s on to the next challenge in trying to create wearables that can influence and speak to each other and explore the social dynamic between garments and the individuals wearing them.

“If someone’s been in the sun a lot, or moved a lot, the different data sets can be in a position to share this information and communicate with other wearables,” says Lamontagne. “The wearables can then transform from each other according to the data that’s been collected from the wearers.”

While being a mother, teacher and student can be exhausting enough for any woman, Lamontagne has become a part of this amazing experimental wave in the fashion world.

“You have to begin to really materially engineer how this garment is going to accommodate these technologies, how it’s going to express in a way that it works well,” says Lamontagne. “The fun part is to really conceptualize how we can be transformed by this.”

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