Technology Takes the Red Carpet at the 2016 Met Gala


It has been called the Superbowl of Fashion, and for good reason. The Met Gala, that black-tie affair that takes place the first Monday in May, is more than just glitz and glamour. First, it’s the annual fundraiser for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, notably the only department of the museum that has to fund itself. Second, the gala kicks off the Costume Institute’s spring season, and rings in a new exhibit that will be on display for the paying public.

With the theme of this year’s gala and exhibit being “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” it’s only appropriate that wearable technology would make an appearance on the red carpet.

On Monday, attendees took the theme of tech quite literally, with celebrities like Claire Danes showing up in illuminated apparel by Zac Posen. By day, the Cinderella-style ball gown appeared perfectly elegant, but in the dim light the dress revealed its enchanted qualities, made possible by fiber optic woven organza.

#Regram from @zacposen: Claire Danes at the Met Gala #clairedanes #zacposen #metgala

A photo posted by Electric_Runway (@electric_runway) on

Others drew inspiration from robots and cyborgs, with slicked-back hair, circuit board details, and silver and metallic accents.

Perhaps the most headline-grabbing gown was worn by model Karolina Kurkova, and for good reason. Not only was the dress stunning, it also perfectly embodied this year’s theme, as it was crafted with a combination of traditional craftsmanship by British design studio Marchesa and cognitive computing from IBM’s Watson (see title image).

The dress was embroidered with 150 LED-connected flowers, each of which emanated different colours based on sentiments gathered from Twitter. IBM’s Watson would read tweets with the hashtags #MetGala and #CognitiveDress in real-time and translate these data sets into one of five colours displayed on the dress. Each colour corresponded to different emotions. For example, tweets containing sentiments of joy were displayed as bright rose, while tweets with sentiments of excitement were aqua. This ability to read, analyze, and display content on the body was made possible by Watson’s Tone Analyzer API.

This isn’t the first time tech giants have successfully infiltrated the fashion scene: for the past few seasons, companies Google, Intel, and even Fitbit have become regular names on the New York Fashion Week circuit, with collaborations that push the limits of what’s possible on the runway (think Chromat’s Adrenaline Dress powered by Intel, and Zac Posen’s LED dress sponsored by Google).

Chromat Adrenaline Dress powered by Intel
Chromat Adrenaline Dress powered by Intel. Image via Chromat.
Chromat Adrenaline Dress powered by Intel-2
An up-close look at Chromat’s Adrenaline Dress powered by Intel. Image via Chromat.
Zac Posen’s Made with Code LED Dress for Google at NYFW SS16

What’s more, Kurkova’s IBM dress isn’t the first time audiences have been invited to participate in the red carpet experience. During a swanky launch in the UK in 2012, fans of recording artist Nicole Scherzinger had the chance to dictate the content displayed on her body via their smartphones. Scherzinger wore the world’s first couture Twitter dress, a black, floor-length evening gown designed by CuteCircuit. The dress was made of french chiffon and the brand’s signature magic fabric, which contains micro-LEDs. Using thehashtag #tweetthedress, fans could literally see their words displayed on the celebrity’s dress during the live-stream.

CuteCircuit Twitter Dress
CuteCircuit’s Twitter Dress worn by Nicole Scherzinger

Right now, a similar version of the CuteCiruit Dress is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Like the original, the MFA Boston dress invites attendees to tweet to the dress using the exhibit’s hashtag, or to choose animations of art to display on the dress using an iPad, creating a dialogue between the great masterpieces of the past and the possibilities for the future (Read more about this exhibit in my article for Wareable here).

While we may not be ready to walk around in LED clothing, both the IBM dress and the CuteCircuit dress are metaphors for the disruption the fashion industry is currently experiencing due to digital technology. The Met Gala solidified technology’s presence on the red carpet, and at once hinted how digital is posed to disrupt while also reminded us of the long and inextricable relationship between textiles and technology.

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

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