3D Printing

3D printed dresses: Today’s fashion or the fashion of the future?

The world is changing. If you told me a couple of years ago someone wore a dress made by IBM Watson at the year’s biggest fashion event, I would check to see if the 1st of April came earlier. But this year I will be talking about a dress made by IBM Watson in collaboration with high-fashion label Marchesa for the Met Gala.

The Met Gala is officially a fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fashion department. But the Met Gala is better known for being the fashion industry’s biggest party. Ever since Anna Wintour (Vogue’s editor) took the position of chairwoman in 1999, the Met Gala has become the equivalent of the Oscars for the fashion industry. It is an invite only event, with invites going to bigwigs of the fashion industry only.

This year Karolina Kurkova chose to wear a dress made by IBM Watson and Marchesa. Marchesa needs no introduction. Marchesa launched in 2004 and since then has been a staple name when one talks about high-end womenswear. IBM Watson, however, is not a talked about name in the fashion industry. Well, we all know the famous IBM. Watson is a supercomputer developed by IBM that can go through large amounts of data and take out “insights”.

Before I tell you about the dress I need to mention that the theme of the Met Gala was “Fashion in an Age of Technology”. Karolina’s dress was covered in fabric flowers embedded with LED’s. The lights are not what made it stand out. The dress was a “Cognitive Dress”.


The dress had 150 LED lights which changed colour in reaction to the sentiments of Kurkova’s Twitter followers.

The dress was literally the example of wearable technology. What the dress did was turn emotions into colour in real time. IBM’s Watson was literally the brains behind the dress. If joy was the dominant emotion in the tweets that meant red lights, Coral was for passion, aqua for excitement, lavender to show-off curiosity and butter to reflect encouragement.

As an experiment, this dress was quite incredible but aesthetically it may not be something that would appeal to us. The lights after a while started to feel overbearing.

We can now print 3D clothes, but making them aesthetically pleasing is no small feat. Iris Van Herpen is one of the very few designers whose 3D dresses are appealing.

Slowly we will get to a time when everyone will be able to get a 3D dress printed, designed as per their wishes. However, for now, 3D dresses do not have the “fluidity” or “feel” of cloth.

Most 3D clothes still have a very plastic look and feel. For example, even if I get a letterman jacket (I love them) printed, the sleeves will not have that traditional “ruffle” or the creases on the back when I get up from a chair. These characteristics are very important as they are what make us fall in love with clothes. 3D printed clothes still have to go leaps and bounds before they can replace our traditional clothes.