In The Air _Future Cosmetics

22nd October 2012

Recent developments in the areas of nanotechnology, synthetic biology and computing are driving forces for innovation in the cosmetics industry, blurring the edges between food, scent and the body. Innovation will come from new materials, which will have properties reaching far beyond beauty and physical enhancement. Cosmetics of the future will take inspiration from scientific developments, conceiving make-up and skincare differently to invent new forms of perfuming and skin rejuvenation. Emerging research will lead to new words for new products and applications, ranging from edible perfumes to epidermal electronics and conductive paints. While using advanced technologies and science, cosmetics will become more human, looking beyond the skin to create more personalized and natural body enhancement. Stylesight explores this exciting new world of cosmetics, where groundbreaking research is fueling innovation.

The emerging field of Nanotechnology could revolutionize cosmetics by radically subverting our notion of what is natural. NanoLift explores the possibility of a physical Photoshop. A grid of tiny magnetic nano particles injected into the skin could be used to physically adjust and change the human face. A nano tattoo, developed by Heather Clark of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeastern University, could be injected into the skin to provide an instant snapshot of the body's inner workings. Furthermore, current research could lead to potential nano-sized colorants, which could redefine future coloring techniques and even prevent greying of the hair. Grown from your own skin cells, Skin Paper by Vanessa Harden and Tommaso Lanza could be developed into a book to be used for testing cosmetics on potential nano skin.

Developments in digital technology and electronics are providing a new platform for innovation. Future makeup may not use powders and paints, but LEDs and electronic inks instead. Designer Lulin Ding has developed an LED Eyeshadow concept that puts small lights in the corner of the eye, painting the eyelid with color. Bare Skin by BARE Conductive is the first skin safe electrically conductive paint, certified as a cosmetic in the EU. The conductive ink is a unique material technology that delivers a new platform for non-toxic flexible electronics, which can be applied across the surface of the body. This development paves the way for moisturizers and makeup that utilize the body’s natural conductivity to create electronic cosmetics. The ‘epidermal electronics’ by John Rogers and co-workers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a temporary sticker tattoo, which can be placed on the skin and stay attached for over 24 hours. This wearable circuit that was initially designed to monitor heart and brain activity could also be applied in the area of future cosmetics.

Science and biology are inspiring a new approach to scent design, leading to new connections between odor, materials and the human body. Body architect Lucy McRae and Harvard Biologist, Sheref Mansy, have collaborated to create ‘Swallowable Parfum’: a digestible perfume as a scented capsule. Breaking new ground in the science of human instinct, the pill’s fragrance molecules are excreted through the skin’s surface during perspiration. Tiny gold-like droplets will appear on the skin, emitting a unique odor. ‘LAVANDÉ’ by Fay Gascoigne is a fashion collection for Swiss fragrance house Givaudan, exploring the therapeutic healing properties of lavender oil. Helium Scent by Emily Crane is also a project in conjunction with Givaudan, aiming to create a multi-sensory experience as a new form of transport for scent. The project 'Scentient Beings' by Jenny Tillotson has been in research for over a decade but points to the future of scent and perfumery and invents a new science of aroma delivery, focusing on smell and the impact it has on health and wellbeing.

Innovations in biotechnology and programming are offering a new perspective on the future of fashion and cosmetics using body modification.
Digital Skins Body Atmospheres by Nancy Tilbury is a film exploring the future of cosmetics as a biological experience, where nano-electronic-particles create 3D liquid formations, and swallowable technologies that pulse light through the skin. Her proposed cosmetic future also includes an electrodynamic moisturizer that creates an electronic surface on the skin and dynamic nail polish.

Augmented Reality(AR) is blurring the boundaries between the real and the computer-generated by enhancing what we see, feel, hear and smell. The intangible nature of data will enhance our senses by seamlessly integrating virtual worlds into real-world environments. Digital enhancements will allow humans to merge with the immaterial world of data, creating entirely new potential applications for the cosmetic industry. ModiFace, a leading provider of virtual makeover technologies, released a new iPhone application that is the world's first Augmented Reality (AR) virtual makeover tool. Designer Jenny Lee looks into this area with her project ‘Immateriality: The Future Human’, creating digital skins to augment the human body through facial, color and pattern modification.

Advances in prosthetic technology and biologically produced materials are developing entirely new possibilities for creating implants and new body forms. Researchers from the Elisseeff Lab, Johns Hopkins University have created a new Biomaterial that can be injected under the skin and may help surgeons rebuild the delicate soft structures of the human face leading to a potential future of dynamic augmentation. Silk-Silicon Electronics created by a group of research institutions, can be implanted to conform to the body's tissues, opening the door for enhanced implantable medical devices of various uses. The Fraunhofer Institute developed the first mass produced artificial skin, which is a step towards automated tissue engineering.

The marriage of cosmetics and pharmaceutical ingredients promises to change forever the way we look at makeup and cosmetics. A new generation 'cosmeceuticals' could induce physical changes in the body’s DNA as the swallowable perfume from Lucy McRae suggests. Applied to the inside of the human body instead of its surface, cosmetic tablets are affecting the biological function of the skin. The first anti-wrinkle pill by John Casey's team at the laboratories of Unilever in the U.K. is able to shrink wrinkles from inside the skin, activating genes that improve skin tone. Recent research into sea corals sunscreen pill could lead to a pill that prevents sunburn within five years. Natural sunscreen compounds could be synthesized in digestible tablet form to protect human skin and eyes from harmful UV rays.

As we move into a post-digital era where technology touches our very being, cosmetic products will begin to be developed by crossing with the emerging disciplines of wearable electronics, augmented reality (AR) and the biosciences. Cosmetic enhancements will infiltrate the body from within to create a new sensory experience while swallowable perfume and OLED (organic light emitting diode) and dynamic nail polishes will potentially become the norm. We wait the near-future appearance of magnetic nail polish from Nails Inc. as a glimpse of where fantasy and reality meet. Cutting-edge innovations will redefine the human body in exciting new ways, questioning the very definition of what is natural.

Published October 2011 © Reproduced with kind permission of

In The Air _DIT- Do it together

13th August 2012

Design is undergoing a revolution. What started as the Do It Yourself movement is being taken to the next level. In the age of Flickr, Blogger, YouTube and Twitter, user-generated content has led to a new online culture created by the masses. Taking inspiration from the way sharing and piracy revolutionized the music industry, the design industry is following suit. Creative Commons licenses, open-source software, 3D printers and social networks are embracing a new sense of community, in which ideas are shared and modified to construct almost anything. Crowdsourcing of blueprints and tools is opening a bottom-up approach to design, creating endless possibilities for entirely new custom designed and made products. Privately made, digitally distributed creations are embracing a new collaborative attitude towards authorship, encouraging innovation in unforeseen ways. We are entering into a new age defined by co-creation and openness in a world of ‘global public goods’. Companies that embrace ‘open’ design principles rather than ownership will benefit from the new opportunities for innovation as we move into a decade that will be underpinned by DIT - Do it Together.

Design and eCommerce platforms such as Thingiverse, Ponoko(Personal Factory™) and Shapeways are encouraging a community of new digital craftsmen who can upload, sell and share their design blueprints online. Users can create bespoke products manufactured locally on demand and customized for the individual, with less waste of material and a lower carbon footprint. With companies such as MakerBot or BotMill 3D printing technology is increasingly available to the masses, leading to a new industrial revolution in the digital age. Open-source software such as Google SketchUp is making 3D modeling easy and accessible, allowing anyone to create complex digital designs.

The open-source revolution is putting product design in the hands of consumers. A number of initiatives push physical making culture, creating a community production space. Berlin-based Open Design City (ODC) is a workshop in which citizens willing to share ideas and collaborate share a workspace, tools, and skills for building things and experiences. Open Design City encourages a “parallel process” of work to do away with egos and promote a sense of play. Entirely dedicated to open source and co-creation, the MakerLab was a series of open design workshops during the DMY Design Festival 2011 in Berlin. Serving as a public experimentation space for accessing new technologies and exchanging concepts, the Lab is the first large maker platform in Germany. Using cutting-edge technologies and materials, visitors could learn how to grow medicinal mushrooms, access and visualize open data or engage with open hardware.

Developed by EDUfashion, a two-year project for the development of a collaborative fashion platform, Openwear is a concept based on shared knowledge and open source resources, empowering collaborative creation. In Openwear’s online space, everyone is invited to create their own web space and personal profile. The resulting community is sharing tools, skills and services, building a collaborative open-source fashion brand, owned by the community itself. The community released its first fashion collection called “FORWARD to BASICS”, co-created by designers and crafters from different countries of Europe. USEABRAND is a fashion concept store by Moritz Beier and Anna Rihl, where novice designers can upload hand-drawn sketches to the store's website. The Useabrand community then votes the designs on and the winning piece is manufactured and sold in the store, with part of the profits going to the designer.

Taking design to the digital realm is opening up possibilities for innovative business models. During the Salone del Mobile in Milan in 2011, Droog presented furniture and accessories designed for download, including tables, cupboards, desks, side tables, shelves, couches and 3D printed electrical outlets, flowers and charms. Digital design tools that allow ordinary computer users to easily create blueprints for local production in various materials. A new online open-source platform, featuring products by various brands alongside Droog, will be launched later this year. KithKin - SomeRightsReserved is a marketplace selling digital blueprints to a range of different products and objects. The download shop offers a range of products from furniture to prints, from independent music and film to font designs. Some downloads, like music and films can be used straight away, others can to be downloaded and produced at a local manufacturer.
Open Design Now is a book launched at the DMY International Design Festival Berlin 2011. It is available for sale, but all content will be opened up for free under a Creative Commons license online during the coming months.

Conceived at the Institute without Boundaries, the OpenStructures (OS) is a research project on “open modularity” by Brussels designer Thomas Lomée. It explores a modular construction model where everybody designs for everybody on the basis of one shared geometrical grid. The ongoing experiment invites everybody to contribute compatible parts, components and structures to the collaborative construction system. These digital constructions are no longer invented and designed by one individual but rather take shape through the minds and skills of peer groups. The result is a flexible and scalable built environment made from dynamic puzzle structures that can be constructed, modified and reused by the community.

WikiHouse by Architecture 00 is an online, open-source construction kit that allows the building of a house in just 24 hours. Users can download a house plan via the website, modify the design with the 3-D modeling program Google SketchUp to fit their individual housing needs, and cut out the parts using a CNC milling machine. The first official WikiHouse will be built and presented at the Gwangju Design Biennale 2011 in South Korea. Open Source Ecology is a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters that are creating the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS), an open source, low-cost technological platform. 50 different DIY-fabricated industrial machines can be used to build a sustainable civilization with modern comforts. Architect Vincent van der Meulen has collaborated with the Dutch organization Enviu to launch the Open Source House Project. It is a platform where designers, architects and entrepreneurs can share and work together in an effort to create affordable and sustainable housing to urban, low-income areas around the world.
Consumaker, a collaborative design event by Swedish design collective Useless Rethinking, held during Clerkenwell Design Week in London this spring, showcased work by Stockholm based designer Pål Rodenius. His series of standardized, do-it-yourself construction components invited visitors to engage in the process of design. In the series ’Saw, Assemble', sheets of plywood are printed with outlines of furniture components that consumers can cut-out and assemble into fully functional furniture objects. Inspired by Bauhaus, German-based architect Le Van Bo developed the 24 Euro Chair made from one wooden board, which cost 24 Euro and can be built in 24 hours. The chair is inspired by modern classics and is part of a furniture project called "Hartz IV Möbel“ (german welfare). The construction plan is offered for free, Le Van Bo only asks for photographs of the finished furniture in return.

A revolution is coming. In the way products are designed. In the way they are made. Affecting all realms of design, our digital lives are leading to a new manufacturing and community revolution whereby the ideals of local and global will be turned on their head. Local disposable factories will be able to produce hi-tech goods on our doorstep, or in fact in our homes. What is exciting is how such a revolution will affect the way that we consume and make things, from garage-like workshops to street vendor stalls. What will the factory of the future look like? With the taking back of production ownership it opens up an entirely fascinating view on the future of making things in this new DIT community. Social networks connect a digital community and bring them together in real terms paving the way for new thinking for brands and consumers alike.

Published September 2011 © Reproduced with kind permission of

Monarch stool (left) and ipod cover (right) designed by Janne Kyttänen for Freedom Of Creation

Diamond chair by Nendo, as seen at

Kickboard for Olympic swimmer Daniel Fogg by Creative studio JAM (left) The permanent kickboard sculpture created by 3D scanning (right)

The iMake designed by Mark Frauenfelde(left)The Moleculaire 3D food printer by Nico Kläber(right)

UCODO Democratisation of personal objects

Freedom of Creation talent project(left) Brian Garret for Freedom of Creation FOC Talent project(right)

Jewelco interactive website concept

Jewelco interactive website concept

3D print textile Ipod bag by Freedom for Creation(left)Children's shoes made with rapid prototyping 3D printer by Adrian Bowyer, University of Bath(right)

Marloes ten Bhömer(left) Kerry Luft(right)

The new industrial revolution:3D printing

3rd March 2010

3D printing and rapid prototyping have received much attention in recent years. Now a new generation of companies are experimenting with how the technology can be applied in a commercial context.

Key themes

.The first steps toward mass-customisation are happening now, by offering co-design and co-creation. As these gather momentum, they will impact on how consumers view products and future retailing

.Products can be modified in real-time. Consumers can change the form, colour and material of a product in their own homes, purchase it when they are ready and have it delivered within weeks

.Designs and products can be adapted on every level as new information and needs emerge Using the internet to transfer data and design makes global business possible even for small companies

.Natural resources are further preserved by eliminating pre-manufactured components Consumers will take more control of product and will therefore be more attached to it

.It's not just about co-design. Think about how 3D printing challenges the physical conventions of design

New possibilities at retail

3D printing is a type of rapid manufacturing technology. It has the potential to enable consumers to print everything from food to domestic objects, textiles to shoes.
As customers demand a greater freedom of choice, designers and brands are faced with new challenges in their product offerings. Such technologies offer product modification in terms of colour, form and materials. This opens up an entirely new relationship of codesign between the customer and the designer/brand.
This technology is beginning to redefine the roles of the retailer and designer. Print or fab labs (short for fabrication laboratories) are set to become new retail outlets. There consumers can customise objects to their specification and will be able to visit websites to download new products to print themselves.
The technology is environmentally responsible, with no material waste. With no need to carry stock or ship parts, each product has a very low carbon footprint.

Connected thinking

3D printing currently manufactures products by building up layers of plastic, metal and nylon powder - it is already capable of printing moving parts.
The first generation of companies to make serious use of technology is emerging now. One such example is Fab Lab, a fabrication laboratory workspace that uses rapid prototyping machines. The concept, which originated in Amsterdam, was created in collaboration with the Media Laboratory at MIT.
Fab Labs now has 35 outposts, including a location planned in Manchester. Each Fab Lab shares core capabilities, so that people and projects can be shared across them. The project aims to develop programmable molecular assemblers that can make almost anything.

Connected globally the Fab Labs are open source that enable users within the network to brainstorm and learn from each other. They have seen Norwegian shepherds create mobile phones to track sheep, while a South African government and business-backed project is creating simple $10 internet-ready computers that connect to televisions.

Democratic design development

Another company reaching out to consumers directly is London-based Digital Forming/UCOD. Due for launch early 2010, the company aims to offer mass-customisation. It provides customers with ready- made designs that they can adapt and modify before being produced by 3D printing.
Another company already using 3D printing exploring the potential of co-design is Toronto-based interiors retailer Umbra. Housed within the brand's flagship store is a rapid prototyping machine. The technology enables customers to interact with Umbra's designers, working on new products and prototypes designed on 3D software and produced with printers.

The next step for co-design

Taking a different stance is Peter Hermans a recent graduate from the Technical University, Eindhoven. His graduation project - developed in collaboration with Freedom of Creation - suggests taking the idea of mass-customisation and co-design to the next level.
Instead of enabling the cusmtomer to edit an existing design, Hermans' developed the concept of jewellery company Jewelco, which offers customers the tools to interact with a professional jewellery designer and co-design a completely new and unique product.

Future Impact

Philip Delamore, director of the digital fashion studio at London College of Fashion, thinks such technologies will have a huge impact on the future of design and manufacturing.
Delamore believes that as student graduates are exposed to these technologies, they will reject off-the- shelf components and begin to pushthe design industry to invest. With the ability to pass designs around the world digitally as data, points of contact between design and manufacture will change dramatically.
Founder of Freedom of Creation Janne Kyttänen agrees: "At Freedom of Creation we believe in a future where data is the design product and where products are distributed in the same way images and music travel through the internet today."

Shoe designers Marloes ten Bhömer and Kerry Luft are two designers using these technologies to push the boundaries of design. Ten Bhömer's rotation-mould shoes showcase via a custom-designed mechanism shapes not possible to be reached though traditional processes. Luft has created impossible heels for her shoes from rapid-prototyped titanium.
The work of both designers shows how the potential of 3D printing reaches beyond customer inclusion to challenge and extend the possibilties of product design.
© WGSN 2010

Left Jet Scholte
Middle Frank Winnubst
Right Gerdiene van de Pol

Djim Berger

Eva Gevaert

Eva Gevaert

Frank Winnubst

Frank Winnubst

Anne Wagemake

Left Mieke Meijer
Right Lex Pott

Harm Rensink

Left David Derksen
[b[Right[/b] Re-kwi-siet - Bart Hess, Harm Rensink and Esther de Groot

Mandy Emmen

Wendy Legro

Christian Kocx

Alice Schwab

Guy Königstein

Digna Kosse

Design Academy Eindhoven

11th January 2010

WGSN's Materials team visited Eindhoven during Dutch Design Week; in this report we highlight work from the Academy's 2009 graduates and alumini, showcasing thoughtful and innovative work from BA and MA product design students. Students at the Design Academy have a very strong antenna and each year the graduation show gives us an insight into their view of the future, whether it be through material choices, product or emotional design. This year is no different, and picked up on by many of the students is the fact that the world is calling for old, almost forgotten processes and techniques to be re-evaluated and given a new lease of life. The best of the old and the new are being brought together, and students have embraced such thinking in their final projects, through memory, technique, material and/or technology. WGSN's Materials team highlights key themes emerging from the show, looking specifically at interesting and unusual material choices as well as innovative design thinking.

Ceramic surfaces Materials inspiration: Design Academy Eindhoven

By far the biggest material and surface message across Dutch design week, many students explored both the beauty and resilience of ceramics as a material or a surface covering. Pared-back and simple, the ceramics of choice offered up a purity of thought that was key to the show. Textile made fragile by Djim Berger plays with our perceptions of hard versus soft and delicate versus robust. Wool yarns are pulled through and coated in porcelain clay and fused together to create a thin blanket which is then fired in the oven. The heat burns the wool off leaving behind a delicate wool-like ceramic exterior. Suggesting the shelf itself becomes a precious object, Berger sees the shelf as the perfect place to display valued items while being a display piece itself. KP107F is the product number of a type of porcelain. Paring it back to its simplest form, designermaker Eva Gevaert explored the characteristics and possibilities that porcelain affords as a material. Driven by the material and the process rather than the final product, she went about experimenting with different thicknesses in order to create the perfect misfired bowl. Intrigued by what would go wrong during the casting and firing process, Gevaert used five moulds and experimented with laying filled moulds on their sides to create varying thicknesses within one form, or let the porcelain slip, weighting the vessel in one direction or another, simply trying to create new forms and visually stimulating material experiments within the constraints of the five moulds.

Weird materials
Embracing the ideal that process dictates form, designer Frank Winnubst has experimented with different materials to, as he says, 'surprise himself'. While experimenting, he discovered that by pouring resin into balloons he could create weird and wonderful shapes and forms, or "Manufractals", as he terms them. What is exciting about his work is the organic process by which it has come about and the resulting new material aesthetic. Also pushing the boundaries of material exploration is designer Anne Wagemaker with her project, 'Delicatessen'. A materials study inspired by still life paintings of food and tableware, Wagemaker has kneaded, dripped and manipulated epoxy clay, epoxy resin and polyester to create new forms that together become a series of objects that make up jewellery pieces or weird and wonderful still life studies.

Fitting entirely with the overall ethos of pared-back simplicity at the show, wood and copper were two materials of choice. Used in very simple ways, modern thinking and processes updated the simple beauty of such materials. Wood is given a playful and sophisticated twist at Dutch Invertuals by designer Mieke Meijer, with her 'Alter Ego' cabinet, a cabinet that has a split personality. A multi-faceted cabinet, it houses five other cabinets in one, while the 17th century arm chair design laser-etched onto its doors offers a glimpse to its other personalities. Working with MDF, Bart Hess partnered with graduate Harm Rensink to design a dressing-up wardrobe. Using household bleach and cutout dusters, they have created a faux-animal-print on MDF for the decorative inside of the cabinet doors. To counterbalance this they have patterned the front using a geometric design using hair peroxide. What is interesting about their work is the simplicity of the materials used: the interplay of mundane domestic items such as dusters and bleach and the theatrics of an ornate dressing cabinet. Fragments of Nature by Lex Pott explores the natural beauty of wood and plays with the formality and manmade perfection of industry and nature. Inspired by the wood-processing industry, whereby a tree is felled, stripped of its bark and branches and then cut into a geometric form, his table and bench showcase the finest that this industry can offer in perfect order, partnered with nature's finest. Perfectly cut and planed wood surfaces are paired with naturally formed tree branches that are left almost in their natural state. Being reproducible was an important requirement for Pott as the point is that he is celebrating the uniqueness and varying beauty of wood.

Letting the material tell a story, David Derksen's Copper cabinet is constructed from 0.1mm-thick copperfoil, giving it a structured yet fragile look, with the folds in the foil almost reminiscent of paper. Also showcased at the Re-kwi-siet exhibition - a collaborative project between Bart Hess, Harm Rensink and Esther de Groot - traditional theatre lights are updated and given an exquisite appeal in brushed copper. The lights offer an interactive element too, flashing more brightly in response to the camera flashes of visitors to the exhibition, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a professional photography studio. Memories Sustainability is no longer a luxury, but rather a prerequisite to almost all design decisions - not just in terms of material choice, but also in unearthing old traditions or bringing an emotional attachment backto products, encouraging the user to keep them for a lifetime. Entitled 'Portable Memory', the work of graduate Mandy Emmen is thought-provoking not only in terms of the materials used - wood, metal and resin - but the poignancy of her understanding of the relationship between the touch or smell of an object or material and its assosciation with our memories. Having been collecting objects all her life with a memory attached - pleasant or otherwise - Emmen was inspired to create three bangles into which you can put an object, a photograph or a letter. Each of the armbands are the same shape but vary in the choice of materials from which they are crafted.

Rapid prototyping
New technologies have an unmistakable effect on the work of designers and since the inception of rapid prototyping it has had a profound effect not only on the possibilities of designs, but also in luxuriating ABS and HPS polymers. One designer who has used the technology to create a beautiful object is Wendy Legro, with her Morning Glory light. The lamp, which consists of solar panels, nylon thread, LEDs and a rapid prototyped formation, brings light into the home at night. During the day the flowers are closed and let the sun in through the window, absorbing the solar energy. When the sun goes down the flowers bloom and give out light. Such a product makes the transition between the inside and outside very natural and is a delicate balance between nature and technology. In a similar vein, inspired by nature and light, Christian Kocx's Flower 001 lamp opens and closes like a flower in response to the sun. Warmed by the heat of the light, the lamp opens and closes in response to its usage. Its delicacy and appeal comes from the ABS it is printed from, which is almost reminiscent of ivory.

String art
Threads and string art-inspired designs were in abundance during Dutch Design Week, either as part of designs or to curate exhibition space. WGSN - Creative Intelligence 25/11/2009 11:39 Page 9 of 9 One designer who used the technique as an informative as well as decorative part of her design was Alice Schwab. Her wall hanging, Living Graphics, showcases all the social connections that we make every day. Pegs connected into the wall allow users to disentangle one connection or thread from the other and to create an order based on emotional links such as your personal relationships and how often you come into contact. Her work is a visual expression of social networks, both in our real and virtual worlds. Also using thread to map out relationships is Guy Königstein. Mapping his family tree and his subsequent relationship with members such as his siblings and his father, Königstein has given each member a coloured reel of thread that literally weaves out a pattern as they move home, come together again and entwine during family conflicts and reconciliations. Recognising that the word 'knot' in hebrew is the same as 'relationship', Königstein adds an emotional level to his threaded loops and knots. Taking a completely different approach is designer Digna Kosse, whose minimal dress is more of a statement on the consumption of fashion than anything else. Paring back the dress to its barest form, she has used threads to highlight how a dress can be at its most skeletal, yet remain feminine and recognisable.

WGSN comment
What is clear about the work showcased at the graduation show itself and the surrounding shows that make up Dutch Design Week is the connection between design and the user. The designers don't focus purely on design itself, but the understanding of the relationship between man and product - and this is what makes the work unique and so inspiring.

Contact Design Academy Eindhoven Tel: +31 (40) 239 3939 © WGSN 2009

Nature vs Nurture: the Case for Synthetic Luxury, Luxury Society

26th November 2009

In the not too distant future, advancements in contemporary cutting-edge materials like “supernaturals”, bio-mimetics and hybrids may alter the course of luxury altogether.

But it is current research and development that have the potential to turn our conventional notion of luxury materials on its head. While bio-mimetics (technology mimicking nature’s biological systems) and material innovation have always gone hand in hand, material scientists have moved beyond merely emulating the properties of nature’s superior materials. By manipulating nature to make it outperform itself, “supernaturals” are evolving and exceeding the original attributes of many materials found in nature. Take for instance products like Fabrican (an instant, non-woven fabric applied from a spray-gun) or an artificial self-healing rubber created by researchers at Paris’s ESPCI industrial physics programme.

The Gucci Group has recently joined the growing number of luxury firms that recognise the importance of nurturing such new materials from ideas to prototype to the product stage. The Italian group announced last month that it is underwriting a PhD scholarship and research programme at London’s Central Saint Martins College as part of the Textile Futures Research Group (TFRG). Researchers will explore the potential of new technology, cutting-edge design, science and materials innovation as they relate to the future of manufacturing — that is, projects like those initiated by Suzanne Lee, the renowned fashion futurologist, designer and textiles researcher.

Lee, who is part of the TFRG, believes the luxury industry needs to find new ways to avoid being copied by mass-market competitors and that several of the materials coming out of these research labs may hold the solution.

“Luxury brands need to push boundaries,” she says. “And not just through design but they also need to look to things that cannot be mass produced and are ultimately out of the mass price range. Bio-materials offer a huge opportunity in this arena.”

Lee’s own research in bio-materials, super-synthetics comprised of a living structure, is called “BioCouture”. It explores the use of bacterial-cellulose in a laboratory to create clothes and accessories that grow themselves from a liquid in a “growth bath” — making it theoretically possible for the fabric to keep on expanding even after it has been used in a garment. A short dress, for instance, could keep growing over time and morph into new shapes. All be it far from ready for the consumer, such innovation in materials does open up a new way of thinking about co-design between consumer and brand, which is the truest form of customisation and multi-functionality. There is, furthermore, the “luxury” that brands could potentially offer by selling an endless catalogue of growth “recipes” for their garments to extend and decorate.

Another example of how scientists and engineers are striving to apply bio-mimetic principles to push the boundaries of luxury can be seen in an eleven by four-foot piece of cloth that took four years to produce, recently placed on display in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Simon Peers, an art historian and textile expert together with designer Nicholas Godley, harvested one million golden orb spiders in Madagascar in order to weave a textile entirely of extracted spider’s silk. Besides its extremely rare lustrous and tactile properties, the silk is ultra-durable and super lightweight, a “luxury” that would be most desirable in high-end garments for which wear and tear can mean the loss of a significant investment.

“Spider silk is very elastic, and it has a tensile strength that is incredibly strong compared to steel or Kevlar,” said Peers in a recent interview with Wired Science.

Peers and Godley built a scaled-up replica of a silk extraction machine designed in the 1890s by French missionary Jacob Paul Camboué who studied the spiders. Enlisting the help of dozens of handlers, the spiders were “milked” and released back into the wild.

The commercial viability of such an experiment is of course close to nil at present. But with research all over the world now being undertaken to replicate the spider’s silk, scientists are closer to being able to mass-produce such a fibre. The resulting fabric would be unmatched in the luxury fashion and textile industries.

Looking beyond bio-materials, “supernaturals” and the potential afforded by them, a new generation of super-synthetic plastics and ABS polymers are also altering our sense of luxury in the areas of packaging and product design.

Most notable among them are high gravity plastics, which many materials science observers have dubbed “plastics that exude value.” Commonly used for casino chips, these HGPs in some ways seem to contradict the principal advantages of plastics; and yet, their ability to be moulded into complex shapes together with the additional weight they carry help convey a sense of quality. The weight comes from either mineral or metal fillers, which can also give the plastic a darker and richer colour. Such material innovations are starting to become relevant for premium packaging for perfume bottles, like in the lid of Sisley’s Eau du Soir, as well as for golf clubs like Ping.

With the rise of more synthetic-natural material hybrids, supernaturals and bio- mimetic materials, in the future, consumers will undoubtedly have new standards for luxury. Soon, they may be entirely unable to discern the difference, for example, between a fabric genetically modified to behave and look like mink fur grown in a laboratory, and the genuine thing. So many questions will soon arise, leading us to reassess our definition of the luxury, premium and mass-market categories based on components and material composition. Will the time devoted to creating these new materials become part of the luxury moniker? Or will it be investment in the “recipe”? If the properties of synthetic materials of the near future surpass those of the finite luxury materials of yesteryear, will rarity as a factor of luxury cease to exist?