Anouk Wipprecht - Robotic Couture
Anouk Wipprecht is a Dutch fashion tech designer. She combines the latest in science and technology to make fashion an experience that transcends mere appearances. Sensors embedded in the design monitor the space around the wearer, and body-sensors check in on stress levels as comfort or anxiety.
Anouk partners with companies such as INTEL, Google, Microsoft, AUDI and Swarovski to research and develop how our future wardrobe could look, what it can mean, and how it can help as we embed more technology into what we wear.
Photo: Hep Svajda
Dubber Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF Podcast. If you’re anything like me and you’ve been giving thought recently to revamping your wardrobe and updating your style, perhaps all that jacket, hat, or dress really needs is more processing power. Proximity sensors, a smoke machine, and some robotic spider legs. Enter Anouk Wipprecht, Dutch fashion-tech designer. Anouk creates tech-enhanced designs, that bring together fashion and technology, that tend towards a kind of artificial intelligence where the wearer of the garment is the host system, and the designs move, breathe, and react to the environment around them. And sometimes, if you get too close, they attack.
She’s created incredible and often astonishing fashion-tech designs for campaigns by brands and media figures like Audi, Swarovski, Google, Microsoft, Cirque du Soleil, Disney, the Super Bowl, and Black Eyed Peas. But they’re not all just for looks or to make a statement. Sometimes her work changes our understanding of disability, of neurological conditions, of open-source product creation, and of our understanding of social and cultural space. And Anouk was key to MTF Berlin’s iconic headlining of figurehead Viktoria Modesta, and the springboard into the Body and Performance Labs of 2016. From her lockdown lab in her home in Florida, this is the brilliant Anouk Wipprecht. Enjoy.
Dubber Anouk Wipprecht, thanks so much for joining us for the MTF Podcast today.
Anouk Thank you, happy to be here.
Dubber You’ve been involved in a lot of Music Tech Fest projects and very connected, particularly through Viktoria Modesta, but it’s great to actually have you as part of the MTF conversation.
Anouk Yeah, correct. And thank you for doing this. A lot of people are interested in how things go working with digital and all of that stuff, so it’s nice to spark these discussions and conversations, I think.
Dubber Fantastic. So you’re essentially all about wearable technologies, but fashionable wearable technologies. Do you want to talk a little bit about what you do so people get a picture of that?
Anouk Yeah. So I’m a Dutch designer. I live in the United States in Florida at the moment and I create something called robotic couture, or you can call it fashion-tech. I’m a fashion-tech designer, and I create things on the body that have to do with electronics and robotics and all that kind of stuff. So a few of my famous dresses are the Spider Dress which has robotic limbs on the shoulders, and when you come into the personal space the dress is literally attacking, because it has these mechanical legs on the shoulders that are really getting there to haunt you. So it works with proximity sensors. So I do a lot with proximity sensors and the notion of personal space. If and when people come into your personal space, how can your dress react, or the garment that you’re wearing react? So also Smoke Dress, the sensoric Smoke Dress, which is based on sensors. The more people are in the direct surroundings of this dress, the more smoke it creates. So that’s another of my dresses. So I’ve many dresses. I have over 60 dresses at the moment and they all do something different.
Dubber Right, so they all have a function that happens. Is it all about proximity or are there other things that will trigger these sorts of things?
Anouk It’s not all about proximity. I also have dresses based on body sensors, so I’m working with body signals. You can think of EEG, so that’s electrical activity of the brain, so brain signals, so that’s more placed on the head. You can think of EMG which is muscle contraction, so the contraction that we have in our muscles when you spend them. Heart rate, volume, and variability, so the heart rate, what things you can detect from that. Lung volume, respiration, so you can find levels of stress, for example, is interesting, I think, to do things with. So I work a lot through that with certain emotions that we have, that might be anxiety or stress levels and all of that stuff, and I try to detect that and I try to do poetic things with that regarding to these designs and these garments that I make.
Anouk I think it’s interesting, the conversation on technology, and technology and electronics on the body. So the question is “If and when we put technology on the body, what does it do? And beyond just blinking and bleeping, what can it do for us? What kind of intelligence can it bring? Or what kind of stories can it narrate when things are connected to our bodies?”. And I think that’s just really interesting, and I tend to connect that to other things like fashion and architecture on the body and all of that stuff, and it’s my interest.
Dubber It seems like there’s a really playful approach to a lot of this stuff. Spider Dress and… The Cocktail Dress one, I think a lot of people really enjoy the idea of a dress that actually makes cocktails, and there’s a humour in that and a playfulness. But a lot of what you do has a really serious message, or at least you’re thinking about something seriously. Is that the idea, you’re trying to make an artistic statement by playing with people’s perceptions?
Anouk I think so, yeah. I think we as artists, or we as designers, or engineers, or architects, are there to create not only pretty things but also maybe statemental things. And part of that, what I do, has that fusion of the practical, the notion of the sensitivity, the notion of having technology maybe not necessarily be invasive, or be invasive. So it’s a lot of that as an artist, from the artist’s point of view, that you can play with that. And I think when it combines then it really does something. If I can make a design that really does something to create or enforce a statement, I think that is a lot what art, in specific, is about.
Dubber I’m curious how this started because you’ve got two parallel themes. One is about fashion and an interest in fashion and fashion design, and one is about robotics. Did those things start for you at the same time, at the same age, or did one come later? How did this come about?
Anouk Yeah. Well, I’m from Amsterdam, from The Netherlands, and one of the cool things there is you can start education fairly early, so I started when I was 14 years old with fashion couture tailoring. So fairly heavy, understanding couture, understanding how to construct things around a body, because construction is important for me, also, in my later life more architectural, more engineering style. I had no idea back in that time, I just wanted to create fashion. I think I got especially a lot, us growing up in Europe, we see things from, sometimes especially from, America, and TV and all of that stuff, all these clips, and I think what I started to realise is the connection between fashion and self-expression, and I find that really interesting. Growing up with people trying to express, and communicate, and creating statements in clips in early MTV times in the beginning of 2000, and before that, of course, in the 90s. And so I think I connected fashion from that point of view, very early on to that narrative of expression. So I started to get into fashion myself when I was 14 years old.
When I was about 16 years old, or 15, I was against the notion of only creating fashion as being analogue, and also my interest in robotics and electronics was rising. So that was the time that I started to combine it because I started to understand this analogue piece of garment that I was creating was cool, it looked cool, and I looked super badass, and I was doing a lot with funky patterns and all of that stuff, but that was it. It needed something. It needed a brain. It needed something, so I started to also… I was heavily involved with computers, and then I started to combine computers to the body. So in the beginning my dresses looked, from the front, they looked maybe really nice, but in the beginning of 2000 there was no small platform so you turned around and there was “Blam!”, this big computer on the back of the model. So it was a really funny time where technology was not as small yet, so that was a funny thing of building really big backpacks with computers in there.
And then in 2004/2005 Arduino came in from Italy, and in Sweden, in Malmö, David Cuartielles went to start to do workshops and they started to spread this platform. And I think Arduino was really interesting for me for that time, especially because of the form factor. It was something that I could use. A mini-computer that I could use that was way smaller than the computers, the towers, that I was building on the body at that time. So it basically seeped all together, so I think especially you always need to keep your eyes out for the things. You need to see what your interest is, and then once that gets combined then it’s just igniting. So that was for me the point that the computer and the fashion and the body all came together, and that’s just in whirlwinds of all kinds of things that were going on at that time. And just the excitement for computers and excitement for electronics for me, from the 90s on. So that created all the… That place that I’m in now.
Dubber Right. Let’s go back even earlier. Were you super outgoing and expressive as a child? Making costumes, dressing up, putting on performances, that sort of thing?
Anouk No, I was really, really shy. I was fairly timid. I think I was… I was very much a loner. So what I know is I was often observing a lot of things. I was more the quiet kind. I think later in life I learned to talk about things, I learned to be on a stage and all of that stuff and do my thing, but that was not for me. I was a very nerdy child. I was a lot busy with animals, with nature.
I grew up in Beemster which is in The Netherlands. It’s a small place with 9,000 people, and Beemster is the first reclaimed land. So a part of The Netherlands was water before, and we created land in order to live on it, and Beemster was that first experiment of water engineers trying to create land in what we call the polder. So there is a lot of mechanic structures in where I’m from, and I think that’s partially what my fascination for robotics in the later life came from because without these machines and the water engineers we would not have survived. So that’s my special place there in The Netherlands, and it’s a really small, little town near to Amsterdam, where later on I went to study, but I think being there, being in nature with the cows and the sheep and all of that stuff, yeah, I loved it. I think we have a perception in Europe about animals and all of that stuff and how we have symbiotic relationship with it.
And that’s where I came from. I was not super expressive, and I think that trick or that notion of “Hey, that’s interesting that this other group of people are there, are really out there to express.”. And even with my designs, I will always be the one behind the screen, not really the one super out there. So for me, it’s really the research and the investigation and creating these little dialogues and narratives with the things that I do.
Dubber And the things that you make are not just mechanical and functional, they’re incredibly glamorous as well. Is that about who you are or what you want to put out into the world?
Anouk I think I have a certain style and I think I work with that. If you have the Spider Dress, it’s there to attack, right? The function is to attack if somebody invades the personal space. I think from the design and architectural point of view the design needs to be really out there, so you see a really sharp V-line. A lot is happening in the shoulders. In the 80s, for example, the women had the power shoulders, and that’s a sign of power in fashion and it has stayed like that for a long time. So I play a lot with that notion in the Spider Dress. Then if you see my Smoke Dress, it’s a little bit more elegant and more organic, pear-shaped design, so it’s much more friendly. So basically I use the notion of architecture and design and working on that to help translate these designs. So the Smoke Dress is much more friendly when you walk up to it, but the interaction is also much more friendly.
And I think that is, if you go back to the thing that I come from, from interaction design, what we were looking at. How can you perceive in a multitude of ways? From the sensoric part, from the facial part, from the…? All these things of how we perceive other things. How can you all make it work? Because if the Smoke Dress would have been more alpha, an alpha design like the Spider Dress, it would have not worked the exact same way. So I think design is there often as, of course, the visual aspect and creating that notion. So some of the designs are more shy, some of the designs are more out there, so they all have their own different kind of personality, almost.
Dubber When I’ve seen you talk about the Spider Dress, you talk about space, and you talk about four different kinds of space. Do you want to tell me a little bit about how you think about that? Because I think that seems to be a really useful key to understanding things like proximity in clothing.
Anouk Yeah, so we all have these spaces around us. It’s the intimate space, the personal space, the social, and the public space, and these spaces are around us in different measures. And that can be emotional, that can be culturally, that can be personally. These spaces differ a little bit, but we all have them around us in different measurements. And this theory of proxemics comes from Edward T. Hall, that in the 60s he created his book called The Hidden Dimension, and in the book he’s describing the notion of proxemics theory because he was a gentleman that was travelling around the world and he started to see that different people had different spaces towards each other. The way they talked and the way they socialised and all of that stuff, and he found that interesting. And I think that goes a little bit to my notion of me being a child observing other people and how things work and how people explain themselves, so I feel really attracted to that theory. And the funny thing that how he was measuring that. It was the 60s, there was no digital means. There were no badass sensors. He used a stick and he was measuring the people using the stick, how far they were from each other while socialising, and I found that just so interesting.
And a lot of what we have and what we talk about regarding to fashion is about this notion of these spaces around us. I started to connect that, I think, in 2006/2007, and I started to recreate that notion of his proxemics theory. And he measuring this with a stick, and me taking this data, because the proximity sensors came into place back then and Arduino and all of that stuff, so I was like “Hey, that’s interesting. I can go back to this proxemics theory and I can actually use proximity sensors in order to take these measurements, but take these measurements digitally.”. So from his analogue way of measuring these people, I could do that digitally.
So I’m using proximity sensors, I’m using ultrasonic range finders, and I’m also currently, in a new project, using thermal sensors as well to not only measure the people, where they are in the space, also how fast they walk towards me I can measure. I can also measure how many people there are in a space, so almost give them a face in a non-invasive way. I can also do this using cameras, but I sometimes don’t want to use cameras because it’s a little bit more invasive, and I like to look creatively around that notion sometimes. But this notion of the proxemics theory is, I think, really important for us to understand spaces from an architectural point of view. An architect building a building or creating a space to me working with fashion on the body and trying to create interactions based on these spaces.
Dubber You’re talking about different ways of sensing what’s coming, who’s going past, how close people are coming. It seems a little bit like this idea of collision detection in driverless vehicles. And given the situation we’re in at the moment where people are wanting to track social distancing and how far away people are from each other, is this something that you think could be more than just a fashion statement piece, but a mass-produced piece of clothing that people could have that would detect where people are around them, and so on?
Anouk Yeah, definitely. I think this whole thing became super, super relevant, of course, in our times of social distancing. It’s an interesting way. Me, myself, I can’t… I’m in Florida here, and the people here don’t really take it super serious so there’s not so much social distancing going on here since a long time, and I caught myself a little bit annoyed with that. People getting too close in a park, we were just inline skating, or biking, or walking there, so I created a new project called Proximity Dress. So it’s basically a dress for myself that I created with mechanics in the hips and they expand when people come into my personal space. So really the notion of the Spider Dress, and really setting this notion of a personal boundary again. And I think it’s… Even for people like “Woah, what’s going on there?”, it’s like “Yeah, you’re too close.”. It can also be even an opener for people that might be a little bit more shy about it, like “Hey, you’re too close.”, even with people…
And the funny other thing that happened was that my friends all know me, and when they meet me they stand on that “Oh, is this six feet away from you?”, I’m like “Yeah, yeah. It’s okay. You don’t have to do it too strict.”, but they would be ten feet away. So that’s another funny personal thing that happened, so, yeah, I proved my point, and it helps me also conserve that notion of personal space.
Anouk Because I think social distancing, I think that the main reason, or the main problem, with it is that we sometimes forget. It’s not always on purpose that we might not do it. We all know how much around six feet is. In the beginning, maybe some people didn’t know, but there’s enough media about it that we know now one and a half meters. But sometimes you just forget, or sometimes you’re like “Oh, let me look at that.”, or you’re signing a thing, or whatever, and you’ve come closer. So for me especially, again, super interesting to think of that notion of these measures and all of that stuff.
Dubber Is anybody doing anything with masks from a tech perspective, that you know of?
Anouk There’s a lot of the whole open-source community and everybody, basically, that was owning a private 3D printer. A lot of people have 3D printers, and sometimes for fun and all of that stuff, but a lot of people have them, and now it was a reason to be like “Okay, I have this thing. I can make stuff. Let’s do it.”. And this whole generation of all these makers, and thinkers, and engineers, and all of that stuff stepped in and started to create masks and face shields and all of that stuff in a time that the hospitals were running out. And that just gave me so much joy and so much love for this whole notion of “Hey, we can help here.”. That engineering minds really came out, whether that was somebody that is a cook or that is a teacher or whoever you were, you could help here. You could help by sitting inside. There’s not necessarily a war, or we don’t have to go out to war. There were a few things that we could do. Stay inside, or have this notion of social measures, and also help out where things were getting scarce, and I think there was a really nice movement what came with regards to all these people utilising their printers in order to help out the hospitals and all of that stuff. That gave me a lot of… Heart warmth? I don’t know how you say that, but yeah.
Dubber I get exactly what you mean.
Dubber Tell me a little bit about Agent Unicorn. I get why it’s called unicorn because it looks like a horn from a unicorn on the head. Why agent?
Anouk Agent Unicorn, yeah. Sometimes we talk about technology as agency and it having agency over you, you having agency over the device in the end. I like to think of the symbiotic notion of both sharing that agency. So the project is called Agent Unicorn, and it’s a project based on EEG which is brain signals. The project is created for European Commission and Ars Electronica. Other than me working with a dress on a model, I wanted to work with a more practical device, so in this case I picked kids with ADHD. So kids that are a little bit more excited for the world than other people might be. We tend to call it a problem, which I think gets solved by medication at the moment, a lot, by parents giving kids with ADHD medication. And I think that numbs them down a lot, and I think also when you give a young child medication it does a lot with their personality. So I was a little bit against that, and I wanted to create instead a device that would be able to measure their brain signals and to help them out.
So there’s a little camera inside the unicorn horn, so the unicorn horn is not only there to be cute but also to be practical, and whenever their attention level rises, goes up so they are in a high focus state, the camera goes on and it’s recording whatever happens around them. And what I wanted to show back to them is that… Kids with ADHD tend to get just a little bit more excited for the world than their counterparts that might not have it. All kids should be there to be themselves, in a way. So for me, this is to have kids work with this data, and data from their head themselves. So basically the horn is, whenever their state of focus goes up it’s recording whatever happens around them, so it is for me to go back to them and to show them whatever information the camera took and show them. And the kids are really interested in data, especially coming from themselves. They like to see the little waves and all of that stuff.
So it became a really interesting semi-research, semi- very practical project that had this link to the medical world and that solved this riddle of “Okay, maybe instead of having synthetic medication, having another device that might be able to help. Or what can we think of instead of using medication? What kind of BCI, so brain-computer interfaces or other kind of devices, can we create that might be a more healthier option because it works with technology in a certain way and might be able to solve some of these riddles, or awareness, or…?”. I think about things with mindfulness and all of that stuff. So that project is really, first of all, created as basically a little bit of a statement against the medicine industry, and also to create a little bit of a solution of a fun and excited and technological kind.
Dubber You mentioned mindfulness, and measuring stress is another key use of something like EEG, not just switching a switch on so that a camera will record. Can you do a feedback thing where somebody’s stress can be reduced by wearing… I don’t know, whether it’s a unicorn horn or a hat or a set of shoulder pads or whatever it might be, but is that the idea?
Anouk Yeah. Well, there’s two things that go into that because the notion of measuring stress… When we hear that we’re stressed we get more stressed about the fact that we’re hearing that we’re stressed, right?
Dubber Sure, yeah.
Anouk So it’s a psychological thing as well, so that’s always a funny thing that I always play around with because at one hand there can be this red button that goes off when you’re stressed, but, hey, is that helping? No. So what is there? One interesting thing is the sense of touch, and we were recently listening to another podcast, actually, about the sense of touch and loneliness in times of COVID-19, especially to do with elderly people, and I think that that notion is really interesting. So what can you do instead of maybe visually overwhelming with this red button like “Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, you’re stressed.”? How can you create things with tactility, with physical feedback, with little piezo buzzer things on your muscle areas and all of that stuff? So there’s also a lot of more calming technologies that you can use in that effect which I think is super interesting to explore.
Agent Unicorn is less about stress reducing, but more about making the kids aware that everything and everything around them has an effect on them. So the more they see that this camera flicks on and flicks off and all of that stuff, the more they understand “Okay, this is how my brain works.”, so it is basically a BCI to make them understand how their own brain works and functions. And the interesting thing is if you know how it works and how it functions you also can do things against that, and that goes into the notion of mindfulness and keeping yourself quiet by other means. So that’s a little bit the point. That investigates that.
Dubber Because it does seem like most of the tech that I carry around with me or that I use on a day to day basis seems designed to contribute to stress rather than relieve it. Was that just a bad design choice? Why are our technologies mostly stressful?
Anouk Yeah. I always say that technology came into our lives to help us, but does it really? So often technology is here to overwhelm us instead, and that’s interesting, but some of these devices we have been “Okay, great, that’s a device, but is it listening to our bodies? No.”. So that is the next generation of device that I would want. If my telephone knows that I’m stressed… Please don’t block my agenda points or meetings because that would be like “Oh, hmm, my whole schedule…”.
Dubber That would be even more stressful.
Anouk I know, yeah. But what are the ways that we can have our devices listen to us? And I think the listening to us is important here, working with technology and working with technology on the body, and once they do that you can create more of this ping pong effect between the device and yourself. And also creating this more level of intimacy, in a way, as well. So I think that can be, or that would be, a really interesting thing. Of course, there’s a lot from the practical side. I always say as a developer I love to work with data, but with data also comes privacy, so how much of that do you want to give away in order to create this symbiosis with technology, right? And how much of that has a different agency of other people controlling that or doing evil stuff with that?
So this is why I personally really like the maker movement and the do it yourself movement, and especially people making devices for themselves, which I also do, because I make it myself, I program it myself, it’s my data, it’s my circle of data, and I create it to maybe help myself or maybe to help somebody else. Also giving that agency over. So I really love the do it yourself and open-source movement because we are able to create devices for ourselves, up to a certain point, that work with our own data. So this is why I’m a really big supporter of both open-source and the whole do it yourself movement.
Dubber How does that work for a fashion designer? Because I know that fashion is very much depending on ownership of the intellectual property of the designs. Is there a point at which the programming that you do is part of the open-source community but the fashion design part of it is proprietary? Or is there some overlap of those things?
Anouk I have some. Where I can I’ve tried to put my projects on www.hackster.io or www.instructables.com. I need to do it more. It’s sometimes lack of time, and that’s the other problem. But now, especially with COVID-19, I think I should do that some more. But a lot, what I can, I try to open-source. What I always say, sometimes you have things, whatever you’re doing, and you have it just stuck on your computer. Why would you not just place it somewhere? If you might not do something with it you might make somebody else happy with it, and I think that’s the cool thing about the open-source movement. So maybe it’s not necessarily the thing that I work on for one of my companies or the brands that I’m involved with because that has their IP on it, but what is there that you can let go in the world that might have an idea of their own that might be able to help other people or inspire other people in doing so? And I think that’s what I love about the open-source movement.
When it comes to other things, regarding to IP and all of that stuff, it’s a very old world. The big companies are built in a certain way, and sometimes it’s really hard to go into that culture of open-source because some companies can be more greedy about that, about that notion of “This is ours, that’s yours.”. And that’s good because that is how they make their money and that’s fine, but how can we all have that little thing? I might develop a ring, I create a ring, and I don’t use it, I don’t wear it, and it’s not my colour, why don’t I put it online for somebody else on Thingiverse or something to use? And that becomes a wedding ring for a really special moment for somebody. And that’s the notion of we all have stuff that might be very useful to somebody else. And also I think, sometimes, working with companies, that might be a nice thing for companies to do as well. What do you have in your little shoebox what you don’t use? And I think that realisation comes more and more that the companies want to be part of that movement because the movement becomes stronger and stronger, and in the end bigger companies also want to be a part of that. The open-source movement, the do it yourself movement, the maker movement, but also Music Tech Fest.
What you guys are doing is amazing stuff, and it’s all experimental until a certain notion, but it’s also a movement, and a big movement, and a movement that a lot of people support, are super excited about. I hear so many people always talking about Music Tech Fest. It changed their lives and it made them work with collaborations with music in ways that they would never do before or in any other kind… Or they saw this amazing artist that they never have access to, only looking at them in concerts, and now in this very experimental environment, or even collaborating with them. And I think that is all what these sorts of movements, if I can call it that way, are doing. They’re setting a trend, and then at one point that evolves. Other people become part of that tornado. And that’s happening with companies as well, and, I think, especially getting it back to the open-source movement and all of that stuff, companies do need to open up a little bit more to that kind. It’s almost like a good-doing… Like a Robin Hood story or something like that. Don’t always go for the money, also go for the community.
Dubber Sure, yeah. The Robin Hood thing is a really nice analogy for it because you are working with some really incredible brands and large names but taking these ideas… Not stealing them and giving them to the poor, but open them out so that other people can use them I think is a really lovely idea. Shall we talk a little bit about some of the companies and brands that you’ve worked with? There’s a huge list here. Intel, Samsung, Phillips, Google, Adidas, Swarovski, Cirque du Soleil, Disney. Is there a theme to this? Do people just randomly approach you out of the blue? Do you have an agent? How does it work?
Anouk No, I don’t have an agent. No. It’s funny that you ask. I always have a project and then I get another email like “Hey, Anouk. We love your work. We are either having a piece of technology that needs…”, so sometimes it’s beta testing of technology, sometimes it’s making, “Do you feel inspired to make something out of this?”, or “Hey, we are doing this show. We want you to be part of it.”. I think the main thing is I do this for 20 years out in the public. If you google fashion-tech or future-tech you see a lot of my dresses pop up, and if they pop up ten times a brand is like “Okay, who is this person?” and they give me a call. So I think I just have a lot of… From crazy ideas out there going around, especially in the beginning of 2000 through the use of internet and all of that stuff.
And the other thing is, I think, when I do productions I do them pretty fast and very… Very fast and very deep, so I would be able to create productions, and it’s mainly me and maybe a friend of mine or a collaborator. It’s not a big team. I don’t have a super big team around me. But if I feel inspired it’s just like “Okay, this is how it would work. This is how it needs to look like.”, and all of these factors, I think, is important to create something both rapidly for them but also effectively and nice so that all of us are proud of it. So it’s always “Okay, project starts. Go in fast and go in deep.” because otherwise you end up with something that is blah, and blah you don’t want to have. Not for your own portfolio, not for the client. So I think I have a very practical mindset and a very engineering mindset, but also an artistic mindset, so there’s a lot of mindsets that go about that. I think, being Dutch, I’m very practical, so definitely some of that character comes in there as well, and that is a reliable factor for a company to work with me because they know that, whatever crazy idea comes out, Anouk gets it done where it will work out in some kind of crazy way. So part is having a big portfolio. I’m showing a lot of different things, of course, because I have a lot of different projects. I have a lot of different interests. There is a fairly consistent line of working with the body, working with technology and all of that stuff.
And then the second thing is being able to do these productions on certain time scales because there’s never an interesting project that comes in and they say “Oh, you have two years for this.”. I’m still waiting. I’ve been waiting for 20 years now, and I would love to do that. Maybe not, because I’m not used to it. It’s never that two year project, like “Anouk, you get this amount of money and you have two years to do it.”. It’s always like “Okay, you have this amount of money and you have two weeks. Go. Go work on it.”. But I love it because I love the adrenaline, and I love to do that because if a project takes too long it might be out of trend. It might not be having that innovation factor in there. The reason to do things quickly is you can take that moment of time, you can take that energy, that inspiration, and all put it together as if it’s a really bursting bubble that you can throw out. So that’s a thing that I like, and I definitely…
A lot of people always ask me “How do you do that? How do you always get those friends?”. I do not have an agency, but I think the main thing is people know how to find you if you show this work is a passion of you, it’s your heart and soul that’s being put in that, and people see that when they look at certain projects from certain artists. You see that there’s energy, there’s inspiration, there’s pain, there’s… Whatever is in there, you can see that and you can feel that, and I think that is what the people want. They want to have a project that looks visually enticing. They want to have something that is smart, that has this level of innovation or whatever their focus point is. And a lot of that is visual, explains itself visual, of course, and the science are very visual.
Dubber And once you’ve got Audi and Google and those sorts of names on your portfolio already, other names will follow. They’ll see that as a reassuring thing.
Anouk Yeah, but the other thing is if you’ve worked together with too many brands there might be competitors. So a lot of times people come up to me and you need to look that there’s no competitive nature in there, of course, because I don’t want to be brand ambassador of this thing but then next week…
Dubber Somebody else entirely, yeah.
Anouk Yeah. So the contracts get more complicated with regards to that, so there’s always a give and take. Sometimes I do things that are out there, the projects that come out, some things are more research-related, so it’s always a different kind of request. It’s always a different kind of project.
Dubber And some of those projects have been music projects. Do you want to tell us a little bit about those?
Anouk Yeah. Well, there’s music projects that I created for artists and then there’s music projects that the technology’s really involved in that and placed the hero. I did Super Bowl in 2012 which was a bigger thing because I was still in The Netherlands, I was in Europe, and it was my first time in America, actually, in L.A. that I flew into, so my world opened. I was like “Woah, what is going on here?”, and especially, I think that was 2012, a lot of things were going on in L.A., so I loved it. So that’s the reason that I’m still now a lot in America because I just love the vibe and this notion of “Anything can be possible.”. You can create such creative things, such weird things, and all of that stuff. So 2012 I got invited to do the Super Bowl. They asked me in the beginning to do them all of the band members, but I said at that time I specialised in women’s clothing, so what about if I take Fergie and we search for the boys somebody else. So in the end my friend Jose Fernandez from Ironhead Studio, he created the Daft Punk helmet and all of that stuff, he did will.i.am and I took…
Dubber So we’re talking about Black Eyed Peas, specifically, here.
Anouk Yeah, correct.
Anouk So he did the costume of will.i.am and I took Fergie, so I created it. There was a light up dress that we didn’t use in the end, which was a little bit sad, and a shield with high power LEDs with Swarovski crystals to cool down the high power LEDs, and she was wearing boots with optic fibres, so everything was light up in this really new, techy way because optic fibre fabrics were fairly new there. So that was a really cool project. She had the batteries under her shoulder packs and the design was very movable. So that was really unreal to see them rehearse with it and all of that stuff, so that was really funny. I liked it. It was a great project. I think it looked cool, but the technology didn’t do too much except for lighting up and reacting to them singing.
So later in life through you guys, through Michela, I got in contact with Viktoria Modesta. Also through Sammy with Open Bionics, and some other people tried to get me and Viktoria in contact with each other, so it was really funny. A lot of people tried to push us together. Viktoria is a bionic pop artist. She’s this really great example model of an artist that uses the notion of herself and her body image. She’s missing her leg, she has an amputee leg, so she’s using prosthetic legs and she’s doing a lot on the notion of disability to make it a cool factor. She’s just a super badass artist. She creates music, she creates performances, she’s an art director of her own kind, so she’s really this example model of new people just stepping in being badass.
So in London we did a photoshoot with Viktoria with some other collaborators. I did a photo with her with a leg based on the Smoke Dress, that the smoke came out of her leg, and I created with her a few legs. So the first one was, where Michela was as well, a smoke leg. We had for her on stage a spike leg that was lighting up based on EL sheet, so it was like the whole spike was lighting up a leg with a moving part inside. So we started to use this void space inside her leg. I was really inspired by that to cut out all the in-between and instead of having, basically, where her bone goes, we took out all of the space to create space for effects. So one of the projects that we also did was Sonifica, and that was the one that I want to name out regarding to a music collaboration, I think, that we were busy with, that we were trying to get an accelerometer in the leg. And also she had a design based on tusks with a friend of mine Eric Goldemberg from MONAD Studio here in Miami, and what we did was for Art Basel creating… She was creating a performance with it. The notion of playing these tusks but also moving her leg in order to create music. For me, that notion, other than The Black Eyed Peas, just… Making music in a design that is technologically enhanced, this was really embodying the notion of a music instrument. So that, from the conceptual part, is really enticing to me. That she could really wear this musical instrument.
So in a later project that came out last year she was working with Rolls-Royce and she asked me to join, and with a friend of mine, collaborator, who has really big Tesla coils. They’re called ArcAttack, Joe DiPrima and John DiPrima. And what we wanted to do was instead of having these big Tesla coils in a space and then lightning something we wanted to create a mini Tesla coil and put it in her shoe and then translate that back to her leg, and in void space of her leg having this effect go on. The effect’s called a Jacob’s ladder, and it’s created by when you have an area… It was a mini Tesla coil with a spark gap tracing it back up to the void space in the leg and releasing the energy there, so it was arcing up and down. So that was a really cool project that definitely needed a shit load of custom engineering. The shoes were with Rem from United Nude, so for them that was crazy because they needed to make these heels with all these electronics in there. So it was just a really fun project.
And Viktoria art directed the whole commercial, and it became a really pretty thing altogether, using all of these factors together, and then her leg being this hero thing with these arcs going through it. So there’s a lot of leg projects regarding to using that void space. Me and Viktoria are trying to figure out this way of using these electronics with different effects in a really small, tight space in her leg. So that’s different for me because normally I have the body and outwards, and now I have the leg and inwards, so that was definitely really interesting for me from an engineering point of view. There’s a lot of limitations that you have to think of then, but I think sometimes that also makes it interesting.
Dubber I have to say, Viktoria Modesta is certainly one of the only people on the planet that I’ve ever met who would be keen to have a Tesla coil in their shoe.
Anouk I know, yeah. You guys also, I know that… I was not there. I would have loved to be there with the Music Tech Fest when you had Viktoria over and you did all these crazy experiments together. I was following it through some of the people that were on site at that point. But definitely, it’s such a joy to work with people like that.
Dubber Yeah. Well, you were absolutely missed. The last thing that I’m interested in here is the idea of smart fabric. Is that something that we’re seeing as being the next step in all this? Is that the conclusion of this story?
Anouk Definitely. Thinking of different ways regarding to technology, less invasive ways. Opening up that space to both experiment but also privacy protection. I think regarding to smart materials there are still a lot of things that are holding up that notion. Four, in specific. The first one would be energising. How do we energise our garments and fashion-tech designs and couture for robotic couture pieces and all of that stuff? We use power banks. I used to use LiPo batteries a lot, but I use power banks now much more because they’re much easier. Especially with travelling, if it’s an art project. It’s easier to travel with that instead of LiPo batteries. People are like “What the fuck?”. It’s like you’re trying to import bombs. They’re never that happy with that. Talking about fun projects, getting them over the border. Another whole thing with Music Tech Fest crew, probably.
One thing is energising, so the batteries that are made now are made for devices, so when is the time that companies and production comes and steps in to create these batteries for on the body, right? For in garments. Because we are ready, bring it on, but we need partners for that. So that is, I think, one of the things, is the batteries are now created for devices, not necessarily for on the body. On the body you want to have round form factors. In PCB, so printed circuit boards, in casings, or whatever it is, you want round shapes because the body’s round and organic. So small batteries, flat batteries, working with solar, all of that stuff, I think it’s interesting. It’s not there yet from a consumer point, it’s fairly boxy still. So what can you do with that? Or even using your own body, kinetic energy. So I think there’s a lot that needs to be researched in that.
The other topic would be washability. As we know is technology and electronics do not like the washing machine or water. It is the one biggest enemy except for losing power, so I think a lot of people are trying to reconnect to that idea of how to wash electronics. I think a lot of washing machine companies are stepping in to create, actually, washing machine ideas for electronic fabrics. I think that’s really interesting, what’s happening at the moment. Some of the machines… They are very much in the lab, in that stage. Not out there, definitely not, but I know that there is a lot of companies doing that which I think is really interesting.
So this is the way that the industry is and has been for the last, I think, five years, they really understood “Okay, wearables is a thing.”. It’s established. Like “How can we help this group of people that are doing that and this other group of people that want to wear this?”, right? So the energy, the energising, the washing, and then the other thing would be the maintenance of things because I always try to say “If I sell you, or I give you, or I rent you a Spider Dress at this point and you want to wear this to a gala, or to your dinner, or to a valentines dinner, or whatever you want to wear it to tonight, and the dress breaks…”. The dress can break because of a multitude of things, because something short-circuited, you pulled a wire, there’s a multitude of things that the thing can break, the device can break. Our MacBook can break, you put water over it. So this dress is not working and, Andrew, you want to wear it tonight, right? So…
Dubber Yeah. Let’s go with that idea, shall we?
Anouk Yeah, we go with that idea. We project the thing to the… It would suit you well.
Dubber Thank you. I’d try and carry it off for you.
Anouk Yeah. So this dress is not working at that point, so what is going to happen? So in the best case you are a tinkerer, you are a maker, so you fix it yourself, right? So that’s, again, why I love the do it yourself movement because we make things, we break things, we fix it. That’s the idea there. But most of the people might not be engineering, most of the people cannot program, or whatever that can be. There’s a big portion of people that might be interested in technology but do not know how to work with it. So what happens then? Do you send the dress back? In that case you cannot wear it tonight. Or is there a place in the city that you can bring it for repairs, right? So with new devices coming that can be a BCI, brain-computer interfaces, that can be a robotic dress, that can be… Whatever it can be, things can break. And now, at this point, there is an opportunity. A lamp is breaking, you go to The Home Depot or to a store and you get a new replacement lamp. So what is that case? Or what is there to have a backup, for example?
I think the notion of maintaining is also, of course, creating a really stable product that leaves no room for error, but a lot of things have to do with stretching on the body and our movement, so things can be pulled. Whether you have a MacBook being cased in a really rigid case, or our telephones, or a Nintendo Switch, a piece placed on the body you want to have the factor of it being soft and it being flexible and conforming to our body, but that also comes with a price of things needing to be that flexibility as well. So there’s a lot of things regarding to new connectors that are being made. First is solutions when things do break, and that people are working on as well. So I think from all of this, smart textiles, I think they definitely have the future.
I love it from also the awareness view because we have a lot of cheap shirts now in our closet, and our closets are huge, and most of our garments we don’t even wear. There’s these special garments. Especially when we’re now more to ourselves, we start to notice we have these special garments. So why are those special garments not the smart ones, or that know us a little bit, or that know our feelings or emotions of the day? And I think that is where smart fabrics and smart garments and fashion-tech and all really comes in, that you can create this one piece that really knows you versus these hundred other pieces that don’t know you that you just have hanging around. Because you’re just one body, yet we have 200 pieces of clothing.
I think that that’s an interesting thing which also goes a little bit against the fashion industry because, of course, the fashion industry tell us that I cannot wear this shirt every day. First of all, it would be smelly. Second of all, there’s no fashion to that because fashion needs to rotate because it needs to be in and out, and that needs to be in and out every half year, or every month, or every week, or every day, there needs to be something fashion. That’s the very old fashion system which made us buy so much clothing because I cannot have every Zoom conversation with the same shirt on, or in this case, in our days. So that’s an interesting notion in where fashion-tech says “No, this is the dress that I’m going to wear because I really like it and it really knows me, because the more I wear this garment, the more it starts to know me.”. So that’s sometimes an interesting conversation between the technology industry and the fashion industry in where fashion wants you to change this shirt very fast and a lot of times, where the technology fashion have more the notion of being one piece that has this intellect of being this second skin to you.
Dubber I think, probably, it’s best if I stay away from wearable fashion-technology until we have washable fashion-technology, otherwise I’ll spill something or wipe against something, but…
Anouk The outside, yeah, the outside. No, but definitely I’m talking about the negative aspects of it. It has a lot of positive aspects, there’s just also a lot of… A few things that we need to think of and a few things that we need to solve still. But that’s not a negative thing, that’s a fun thing. That’s a fun thing for us all to explore.
Dubber I do like the idea of clothing that gets to know you. That feels like a way forward. Not something that’s about frightening people away, or about setting off alarms, or playing music through speakers on the shoulders, but just that it’s more customised. That’s an interesting… A smaller, quieter approach to fashion-technology. Maybe that’s the next step.
Dubber Fantastic. Anouk, thanks so much for your time, really enjoyed it.
Anouk Yeah, sure. Big fan, big supporter, big everything. You guys are awesome.
Dubber Thank you, I really appreciate that.
Anouk Cool. Bye-bye.
Dubber Brilliant, thanks Anouk. We’ll talk soon.
Dubber That’s fashion-tech designer, developer, Anouk Wipprecht, and that’s the MTF Podcast. You can find Anouk’s incredible designs online, watch her TED Talk, and check out her projects all from her website which we’re going to link to in the show notes.
I’m Andrew Dubber, you can find me @dubber on Twitter, and Music Tech Fest is @MusicTechFest on absolutely everything. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, you name it. The MTF Podcast is out every Friday, so hit the subscribe button wherever you like to listen to podcasts. And don’t forget to share, like, rate, and review because it really helps other people to find this.
The show was edited by Jake Dubber, with music by Guest House and airtone, and Rani Dar, aka Run Dreamer, made the MTF audio logo which you’ll hear in a second. You have a great week, stay safe, and we’ll talk soon. Cheers.