Fashion, Technology, and Everything in Between

In reference to last week’s class, I was compelled by the discussion on digital work, technology, and machinery in relation to hand-made items. Then there is the idea of using technology as fashion, mixing the two together rather than seeing them as enemies, as seen in top image of this blog. This is a Disney collaboration with Richard Nicoli to create a fiber optic dress that is inspired by Tinkerbell (get full details here). Before I tackle anything, I immediately related to the idea of authenticity, again, because of a class I took at FIDM many years ago. I remember the library was filled with students on the computer creating digital flat patterns, and as a freshman I was confused. I was confused because I didn’t understand how digital flat pattern making can be as important as free hand drawing. I spent almost 45 hours a week, not allowed to trace, but to draw fashion figures by hand using only a ruler and a pencil. I did this in repetition so that I could draw faster and draw professionally. But, my very first drawing teacher, also a freelance fashion design sketcher, always said that one day all these hand skills wouldn’t matter because of technology.

It seem tragic, if you ask me, that a computer could replace the way a person can draw through talent and hard work. I don’t think technology is necessarily a bad thing in the fashion industry, either, but why does one have to isolate or eliminate the other? Can’t we have both? As we talked about in our class, some hand skills are impossible to replicate in digital form: that is why it is a skill. By definition, a skill is: competent excellence in performance; expertness; dexterity” (click here). And in another thought, computers did not fall from the sky, right? They are engineered by human beings so human beings can never be taken out of the equation of creation. And with hand craft,there is tradition in using tools in this process of labor. With machines, the game does change, but does not eliminate the human hand completely.

In”Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand” by Malcolm McCullough, he states:

People ‘craft’ everything from business memos to good stout beer. In digital production, craft refers to the condition where people apply standard technological means to unanticipated or indescribable ends. Works of computer animation, geometric modeling, and spatial databases get “crafted” when experts use limited software capacities resourcefully, imaginatively, and in compensation for inadequacies of prepackaged, hard-coded operations (311).

The hand may not be actually touching the item to be crafted, but by using digital production, they are creating the technology that will perform the crafting process. So, the act of crafting is never lost. And as McCullough puts so wisely: “To craft is to care” (311) which emulates the idea that the act of creating something from imagination to the tangible has to be done carefully, and almost emotionally in a way. The amount of time that comes from crafting says a lot about how much a person cares about what they are crafting.

Claire Danes in Zac Posen at the 2016 Met Gala (click here)
Claire Danes in the Zac Posen “Cinderella Dress” at the 2016 Met Gala (click here)


There is always going to be a balance between functionality and aesthetic, but I think that also is a part of the imaginative process that comes with digital crafting. But, where we must be careful in how we keep digital technology alive without losing what is important. Karl Marx’s “Capital” states:

The special skill of each individual insignificant factory operative vanishes as an infinitesimal quantity before the science, the gigantic physical forces, and the mass of labour that are embodied in the factory mechanism and, together with that mechanism, constitute the power of the ‘master’. This ‘master’, therefore, in whose brain the machinery and his monopoly of it are inseparably united, whatever he falls out with his ‘hands’… (76).

The machinery, and the industrial revolution in general, helped to advance fashion while also replacing hand-made work and the laborers need to carry those tasks out. Machinery creates a border in fashion between human and product, human and craft, etc. Mass production and machinery leaves the worker useless and in less interest to producing craft; there is too much freedom and time. There is a unique relationship, as talked about with Marx before, between the craftsman and the crafted product. So, if skills are not going anywhere, and technology is only going to advance, let our hands only help to combine the two binaries to keep making fashion alive and new. My question at the end of the day, and maybe I’m being greedy, is why can’t we have both?

My original post can be found here:

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