Maker of condom-inspired athletic wear and denim jackets that give hugs, Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen tells Azure why she’s imbuing fashion with interactive and response technologies.
Pauline van Dongen stands at an interesting crossroad, one that stitches together textiles, technology and the human body. At first glance, her fashions are cutting-edge and ultra-modern, but it’s what they can do that really sets them apart.
Embedded with technology, her wearables have the smarts to embrace, support and nudge us to stand up a little straighter. With technology finding its way into almost every facet of our daily lives, it’s not surprising it would eventually turn up in our clothing. And thanks to the talents of van Dongen, smart clothes are also great looking.
Van Dongen became interested in exploring the how technology could fit into fashion in 2009 while experimenting with 3-D printing. “I saw the potential for it to bring new value and meaning to our daily interaction with the things we wear,” she says.
While it might not be something one really considers, we are in near constant contact with fabrics, we are touched by them every day, almost all day long. Van Dongen figured that bringing technology into these ever-present textiles was a way to develop new interactions and responses.
Participation with her clothing is more than merely physical. Along with her fascination with the human body, van Dongen sees a strong relationship between body awareness and physical experiences, and mental well-being, and so her tech-infused clothing also aims to create an emotional response, one that stimulates and raises engagement with one’s personal and social environment.
“My current PhD research is grounded in post-phenomenology, a strand of Philosophy of Technology that attends to the subjective person’s experience in our practical dealings with technologies, and its materiality in particular,” she says. “This theoretical framework allows me to examine wearable technology from a sensorial, embodied and social point of view instead of from the prevailing perspective of ‘function and ‘use,’ which I believe is too narrow.”
It’s an ambitious stance to take, but one that van Dongen is more than equipped to take. She has successfully blended together science and fashion in a way that is both beneficial and beautiful. “With my designs, I hope to show how clothing invites us into a relationship, which allows us to experiences the world in unprecedented ways,” she says. Put simply, she makes clothes you want to wear, and those clothes will thank you for it.
Here, five of our favourite Pauline van Dongen designs.
Through subtle physical sensations, this denim jacket stimulates a sense of presence in the moment by mimicking a soft stroke on the upper back. Designed with ItalDenim, it will also respond to touch and give the wearer a gentle embrace.
A joint venture with The Netherlands Wadden Sea Society and Blue LOOP Originals, van Dongen’s waterproof, powder blue parka is made from up-cycled denim yarns and recycled polyester. A power-bank stitched in the jacket’s lining can charge a wearer’s phone or camera while they walk.
More than a knitted cardigan to keep you cozy, this sweater helps seniors to participate in regular exercise and stretching through integrated “stretch sensors” made from a conductive yarn. These yarns observe upper body movements in order to gather feedback that is shared with a physiotherapist via an accompanying app. In cooperation with Technical University Eindhoven, Martijn ten Böhmer and Textile Museum Tilburg.
Working with Philips Research, van Dongen integrated the company’s textile LED ribbons to create this jacket, which emits a glow to illuminate its wearer’s body, bringing a higher level of safety to nighttime running.
Hardware embedded into this undershirt (a collaboration with Elitac) syncs to smartphones via an app that stores data regarding the wearer’s body posture. When the person begins to slouch or adopt an unhealthy posture, it will vibrate gently to help correct upper body positioning.