I am competing in the MIT Media Lab's Descience Fashion Design Competition. Descience is a project in which the world of scientific discovery offers inspiration for the innovative minds of fashion designers. Descience creates collaborations between designers and scientists and brings scientific research to the runway, providing a platform for the creative collaboration between scientists and designers. The competition culminates with a runway fashion show in Cambridge at the MIT Media Lab on September 29th 2014.
For this competition, I was paired with Amanda James, a PhD student in environmental sciences at the University of California. Amanda researches plant species that are successfully competing and destroying native ecosystems in Southern California. Plants introduced in the early 18th century by Spanish explorers have slowly replaced the native coastal sage shrub land with plants that choke and kill the lovely native flowering plants. The invasive species are fast growing and fast dying, leaving a sea of dead plant material.
The artistic collaboration between Amanda and me began with a series of coast to coast Skype conversations. Right from the start, we were of the same mind - designing a garment that transformed from the golden yellow flowers that decorated the California landscape in the past, to the killing grey invasive species that are now seen across the California landscape.
I started with drawings that envisioned my model walking down the runway in a flowered gown with a towering headdress of spikey vines and beautiful yellow flowers. The garment's bodice and skirt would be festooned in yellow and orange flowers and a train of flowering vines. At the end of the runway, the model transforms the garment by lifting the overskirt to her shoulders to cover and choke the flowering plants. By covering the native plants, the model animates the effects of the invasive species. Both perspectives on the landscape effected by the invasive species are beautifully depicted in the gown.
The many components of the garment created an engineering challenge. Barbara created a scaled version of the dress to work out the structural problems. She hand dyed the silk for the dress using a modified Shibori technique known as Arashi. All the flowers and vines were individually created by felting merino wool. The flowers were dyed twice, once for the dark colors and the second time for the lighter shades. In total the project took 2 people 3 weeks of work using 15 pounds of merino wool, six yards of silk, 4 spools of thread, 5 machine needles, one lamp shade, 10 yards of wire, 2 days of dyeing and 3 days of photographing.
Currently the designs of all 50 contestants are in a "People's Choice" competition on the Decience website. Fifteen of the designers will be chosen to participate in the runway show. You can vote for Barbara Poole's design by sending a text to 313131 and typing the word "gown" in your message box. You will get a return message immediately with a link to the Descience voting page, where you can vote for Barbara and Amanda's garment.