Catwalk contraptions: High-tech couture of 2014 (pictures)

From shoes that get you where you need to go and dresses that know how you're feeling, see some of the more intriguing ways tech wove into the fabric of fashion in 2014.

Michelle Starr
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
1 of 16 Sensoree


Wearable technology company Sensoree envisions a future deeply engaged in "extimacy" -- externalised intimacy -- born of a desire to help individuals affected by Sensory Processing Disorder.

The Neurotiq headpiece -- a sort of cloud-like hood made of a knitted nylon mesh -- externalises the internal thought processes. Embedded in the headpiece is an Emotiv EEG headset, which monitors neural activity, and 14 3D-printed globules that glow with the light of colour-changing LEDs. These vary in both hue and location, according to the type of brain activity. Deep sleep, for example, shows as red, while alertness is yellow and green.

While it's an intriguing idea, it's not quite ready to take the world of fashion by storm -- the Neurotiq headpiece is a one-off, and won't be available for purchase.

2 of 16 Anouk Wipprecht


The Synapse dress is Dutch fashion-tech designer Anouk Wipprecht's first use of Intel's Edison -- and she's working that little chip hard. The 3D-printed bodice is embedded with sensors and paired with an EEG headset that monitors your body's natural reactions to the world around you -- and LED lights that glow accordingly.

It monitors neural activity and heart rate, supplying the dress with information about how you feel. Coupled with proximity sensors, it can process that information in concert with external stimuli. If the wearer's heart rate rises while someone approaches, for example, the dress can extrapolate that she is stressed by the approach, and flash the LEDs in a "step back" warning. Conversely, the headset can tell when she becomes intensely interested in something by reading brain activity, and a camera in the bodice will automatically take a picture of whatever it is she is looking at when her brain activity spikes.

3 of 16 Anouk Wipprecht

Faraday cage dress

If you want to control a million volts of electricity with your hands, you're going to need some pretty spectacular attire to see you through. This dress by Anouk Wipprecht is built to withstand simultaneous currents from two full-sized Tesla coils. Although it has some cosmetic elements, such as plasma balls on the shoulders, at its core, it's a wearable Faraday cage -- a mesh enclosure designed to divert electricity evenly around the mesh, protecting whatever is inside. In this case, that's Wipprecht herself, who wore the dress for a spectacular stage performance with Tesla coil band ArcAttack.

4 of 16 The Unseen

The Unseen Swarovski

We're not entirely sure how Lauren Bowker's The Unseen Swarovski headpiece works, since she makes no mention of the technologies usually associated with the visualisation of neural activity. Instead, it uses Bowker's colour-changing ink (which she calls "Magick") in concert with 4,000 Swarovski spinel stones, which she claims have a similar composition to human bone.

These stones then absorb the energy lost through the head over the course of the day, changing colour.

"We discovered the pattern formation in the colour of each stone evolves throughout the day; this fluctuates over areas of the brain in use. When worn, the headpiece becomes a reflection of the inner human thought," she wrote. Since we haven't actually seen video of it in action, and since the description is so vague, it may just be a concept rather than an actual wearable that functions as claimed -- but it's a pretty nifty idea, either way.

5 of 16 Shigo

3Doodler Dress

Imagine if you could just… draw your clothes. It sounds great, right? It turns out it's actually a pretty labour-intensive process, as discovered by Hong Kong-based fashion house Shigo. It created a dress almost entirely using the handheld 3D printing "pen" 3Doodler. Using two different colours of PLA filament, the team "drew" the lace dress onto a paper template. When it had set, the paper was removed, and buckles -- the only part of the dress not 3Doodled -- were added to the sides so it can be snapped on and off with ease. All told, the process, from design to finished dress, took three months. Maybe sewing is quicker...

6 of 16 Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

Omote projection-mapped makeup

Admit it: you would totally wear animated makeup.

Japanese producer and technical director Nobumichi Asai -- well versed in the vagaries of projection mapping -- has brought his considerable experience to bear in the field of cosmetics, creating a living makeup that is projection mapped onto the wearer's face. Taking inspiration from Noh masks, he scanned the model's face and created a 3D mesh that allowed him to sculpt the animated makeup. Motion-tracking dots on her face allow the makeup to follow as she moves her head.

We don't think it will catch on -- you'd need to have a projector powerful enough to manage the shifting animations, while not blinding the wearer, yet also discreet enough to be worn -- but it still looks really, really cool. Seriously, go watch the video.

7 of 16 Neri Oxman


If human travel beyond Earth ever becomes commonplace, we're going to need heavy protective gear -- at least to start with. Wanderers by Neri Oxman imagines a 3D-printed future where humans form symbiotic relationships with microorganisms to adapt to hostile, extraterrestrial environments. The collection contains four organically grown garments, inspired by the scholarship of medieval Arabs: Mushtari for converting sunlight to consumable sucrose on Jupiter; Zuhal for coping with the winds of Saturn; Al-Qamar for creating and storing oxygen on the moon; and Otaared for protection from falling objects on Mercury.

The 3D-printed collection is a sort of prototype; the next step for Oxman and her team is turning the garments into living wearables by integrating bacteria. You can read more here.

8 of 16 © 2014 Naomi Kizhner. Used with permission of Naomi Kizhner. All rights reserved

Energy Addicts

The problem of portable power provision is the next frontier for mobile tech: how can you get juice for your gadgets in a sustainable fashion without having to charge up an additional gadget? Jerusalem-based artist and designer Naomi Kizhner's art project Energy Addicts answered this question by examining our addiction to technology. Her series of speculative jewellery pieces are designed to harvest energy directly from the human body: kinectic energy from the flow of blood through our veins; from electrical pulses sent from the brain down the spine; from the many times we involuntarily blink our eyes over the course of the day.

"I have chosen for my devices to be invasive mainly because I wanted to shock people a bit," she told CNET. "The piercing of the body supports, I think, the idea of an addiction."

9 of 16 Stratasys

Garden of Eden 3D-printed collection

Back in January, Stratasys unveiled its first multi-material 3D printer. Shortly thereafter, South African artist, designer and engineer Michaella Janse van Vuuren released her Garden of Eden collection, based on a subverted version of the Eden myth in which woman is powerful and strong. The printer's multi-colour, multi-material capabilities made the collection possible, she said, opening up a whole new way of designing.

"This is the first time that I'm using a 3D-printing technology that truly allows me to make something so close to an end product. The ability to combine rigid and flexible materials in one piece is something that is so rare, and introducing colour into the process inspires us creatives to think in a whole new way."

10 of 16 Kathleen McDermott

Personal Space Dress

Artist Kathleen McDermott's Urban Armor series explores the relationship between wearable technology, public space and personal space. The Personal Space dress, as the name implies, is designed to create a sort of personal space bubble around the wearer in crowded places. It's fitted with an Arduino Uno and ultrasonic proximity sensors, as well as a gutted umbrella fitted with servos. When the dress senses someone coming too close, it opens like a slow umbrella, creating a mandatory perimeter around the wearer.

11 of 16 Nervous System

Kinematics Dress

Last year saw a small boom in the 3D-printed dress, slowing up for 2014, but the Museum of Modern Art commemorated the new medium by bringing what its creator terms a "4D-printed" dress -- the term "4D printing" is usually used slightly differently -- into its permanent collection.

The Kinematics dress by Nervous System integrates fluidity and motion. Although it's printed out of rigid pieces, these are interlocked and hinged in such a way to allow draping and movement, all printed in a single piece.

12 of 16 Xuedi Chen


What information about yourself are you exposing online? What if, for every piece of information you exposed, you were also exposing your physical body? This is the premise behind the 3D-printed x.pose bodice.

"In the physical realm we can deliberately control which portions our bodies are exposed to the world by covering it with clothing," creator Xuedi Chen wrote. "In the digital realm, we have much less control of what personal aspects we share with the services that connect us. In the digital realm we are naked and vulnerable."

The bodice uses electrochromic film in a 3D-printed frame of panels. This film turns from opaque to transparent when an electrical current runs through it. By connecting the bodice to an app that monitored how much information Chen shared online and transferred that information back to the bodice, it could manifest her online "nakedness" in the real world.

13 of 16 Lechal

Lechal smart shoes

Most of us these days simply use a smartphone and Google Maps to keep oriented in the world, but Lechal smart shoes and insoles want to take out the middleman -- by conveying directions through your feet. They connect with Google Maps on your phone via Bluetooth to get directions. Vibration pads in the shoes then signal those directions to the wearer. A vibrating right shoe means you need to turn right; and a vibrating left shoe means to turn left. They'll also vibrate when you start walking and they can't communicate with the phone -- indicating that you've left the phone behind.

Future applications include fitness monitoring too, but for the geographically challenged, their present state is plenty useful.

14 of 16 Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET


Pico projectors can't do the projection-mapped makeup thing, but they can be used as responsive makeup made out of light. The Neclumi collection concept by art and design collective PanGenerator pairs a wearable pico projector with a smartphone app for a variety of light "necklaces" that interact with the wearer's body. The phone's gyroscope, for example, is tapped for a necklace that rotates as wearers move their body, while the microphone is used for an animated necklace that responds when the wearer speaks.

You can check out all four of the necklaces in a video here.

15 of 16 Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger solar jackets

For a less invasive portable power solution than Naomi Kishner's Energy Addicts, Tommy Hilfiger this season launched a pair of jackets -- one for women, one for men -- with a solar array embedded on the back to allow charging mobile gadgets on the go. A battery pack is tucked discreetly into a pocket to store any solar energy collected, with a USB port so that you can charge almost any gadget, or charge the battery manually. When fully charged, the battery can hold enough energy to completely charge a 1,500 mAh gadget four times -- if you're willing to be caught dead wearing one.

16 of 16 Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

Spider Dress

Anouk Wipprecht's Spider Dress started with a prototype unveiled in January 2013, but it's been upgraded with several new features since then: a 3D-printed chassis with integrated bodice, resembling an alien insect exoskeleton; LED lights; and Intel's Edison chip, which in turn allowed the integration of body and proximity sensors.

The dress is designed to defend the wearer's personal space, based on internal and external information. A respiration sensor in the bodice monitors the wearer's stress level, while the proximity sensors keep tabs on whether anyone is getting too close. If stress and proximity are both sensed, the spider leg epaulettes flex in menacing, defensive motions, while the shiny black shells on the bodice -- inspired by spiders' eyes -- flash LED warnings.

A gentler approach, however, will generate a different response: the legs will beckon and the lights glow with welcome.

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