Celebrating the Circus Stage of Wearable Technology

Cirque-It Wearable Tech Amanda Cosco for the Toronto Star
Fire and Glow Performer Bex spins hula hoops with every part of her body while they flash, blur, accelerate, and push specially placed sensors. Clothing by Masha Ruginets of Masha Apparel, technology by Ian Parker of Parker Designs.


While the world of wearable technology seems riddled with gadgets (think smartwatches and fitness trackers) an evening showcase emphasizing the ways fashion, technology and performance can come together offered more than cheap tricks.

Cirque-It, a wearable technology fashion circus, transformed a former warehouse in the Distillery District on Thursday into a pop-up entertainment show glistening with LEDs and cyber punk costumes.

Put on by entertainment collective Noble Sky, the one-night show featured garments that were the result of collaborations between makers and fashion designers. The wearability of these garments was stretched to the limit in a series of circus performances, including trapeze acts, pole dances and aerial shows.

“The way we’ve titled the event explains it all,” says Jennyfer Sanchez, co-producer of Cirque-It. “ ‘Cirque’ is the French word for ‘circus’ and IT means ‘integrated technology.’ We’ve put together a variety of performers with designers and makers who have created technology-infused costumes for a series of circus acts.”

One such performance involved a dancer, a fashion designer, a software startup and a hardware company. Wearing illuminated garments from designer Wendy Ng, artist Rhonda Lucy performed a native-inspired dance representing Raven the Trickster. Tucked inside her glove was a small battery pack connected wirelessly to software that allowed her to motion-control the music. The glove relied on a software from WaveDNA, a Toronto-based startup that builds audio tools, while the hardware was provided by BreqLabs, which specializes in gesture-controlled gloves.

Rhonda Lucy Cirque-It

The cross-pollination of different disciplines is integral to the advancement of wearable tech that’s both fashionable and functional: A maker or engineer may be skilled at producing electronics, but could know nothing about working with fabrics. At the same time, a designer may have studied fashion, but lacks the knowledge of how to integrate technology into her clothing.

Add circus performers to the mix, and you have not only models for your clothes, but also an intense stress-test for your wearable tech.

Another presentation featured a dancer, a pole, LEDs and a costume collaboration: Performer Liona Davies thrilled audiences with her acrobatic chrome pole act. Her costume, a joint effort by dance apparel company HeyHey & Co and Ian Parker of Parker Designs, was created from conductive fabric that interacted with the pole to create a living light show.

While fashion, technology and circus may seem like wildly different industries, bringing them together under one roof highlights the opportunities for overlap: Just as circus needs to stay relevant, wearable technology needs a playground to test and explore its own capabilities.

“Up until this point we’ve only been hearing about wearables that deliver,” says Tom Emrich, a wearable tech expert who played the role of ringmaster for the evening. “We’ve demanded that wearable tech count our steps or give us a better way to view our email, but an event like Cirque-It shows us how wearable technology can be expressive — or perhaps reminds us that art and technology have always been intertwined.”

Tom Emrich Cirque-IT
Cirque-It “ringmaster” Tom Emrich of We Are Wearables, one of the world’s largest wearable technology communities in the world.

Emrich says we’re in the “circus stage” of wearable technology: “We’re very early in with wearables, so the products we’ve seen thus far are showy, which at once hinders their mainstream adoption while at the same time makes them a perfect fit for the performing arts.”

Emrich cites LED clothing as an example of a wearable tech that’s debuting not on the streets but on the stage. He points to Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and The Black Eyed Peas as popular performers who’ve incorporated LEDs into their acts.

While much of the wearable tech we’re seeing today may be too flashy to be considered fashionable, it might be just what the circus needs to reinvent itself.

Hand-to-Hand Duo Paz and Molly of Equilibrium Circus balance on each other’s bodies while wearing garments infused with custom-made pressure sensors and LEDs. Arduino-compatible control boards with addressable LEDs enable the outfits to interact with one another and emphasize their duet. Clothing by Sera Ghadaki, technology by Kyle White.

“Circus is changing,” says Antonio Carito, co-producer of Cirque-It. “It’s not just trapeze artists, clowns and animals anymore. As it moves in a more modern direction, we feel technology will play an important role in offering interactive and entertaining experiences.”

Cirque-It: A Wearable Technology Fashion Circus was the kickoff event for Circus North, a weeklong circus-themed arts festival exploring the limits of art, performance, technology and circus. For more information, visit circusnorth.ca.

Amanda Cosco Toronto Star

This article originally appeared on the cover of the Life & Entertainment section of the Toronto Star.

Amanda Cosco
Amanda Cosco is a Fashion Futurist and the founder of Electric Runway

1 Comment

  • Elaine Chatwood

    Hi Amanda,
    I am the coordinator of the Fashion Design Technician Program at St. Clair College in Windsor, ON. Every year we have a field trip to Toronto with our 2nd year students. We like to combine this trip with volunteering at a fashion show/event. Previously, our students have volunteered at Toronto Fashion Week. Your Electric Runway Show is an amazing concept and we looking into including wearable tech in our program. If possible, could our 2nd year students volunteer at your next upcoming fashion show in December? We have 20 students and 3 instructors. All our students have experience working backstage at front of house for shows. We could volunteer for 3-4 hours on your show day.

    Please let me know and I will start to plan our 3 day trip. I just need to book a bus & hotel asap.

    Thanks and looking forward to working together,

    Elaine Chatwood- Coordinator
    St. Clair College
    Fashion Design Technician
    519 890 7684

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