rapid prototyping fashion threeasfours


Rapid Prototyping & 3D Printing Down The Runway in NYC



Ethereal, geometric, futuristic- these are some of the adjectives heard at the Jewish Museum, New York City. When fashion design guild threeASFOUR decided to debut their 3D printed dresses there in 2013, stunning models showcased some of the most intricately designed 3D clothes down the runway. Everything looked amazing from planning to execution of the show, however, some real problems existed. An architect and collaborator of the project, Bradley Rothenberg for instance, said that the models who wore these dresses were really uncomfortable. These dresses, made through rapid prototyping, did not allow the wearer to sit down. If they did, the dress would simply shatter into pieces.


After encountering these eye-opening problems, threeASFOUR decided to slow down a little and make their dresses more wearable. With design partners Adi Gil and Angela Donhauser, Gabi Asfour never really meant to create clothes that would fail in so many ways. Rather, the trio dreamt of taking fashion to superhuman heights. Pressure-resistant, waterproof, fireproof, bulletproof- you name it; their clothes should be able to do it all. They sincerely believed that these futuristic designs created with rapid prototyping would sell like hot cake.


Clothes made through rapid prototyping, however, still seem to be at a disadvantage. The reason behind this is the fact that traditional weaving and craftsmanship has been perfected throughout the ages to make breathable and durable clothing. Comparatively, 3D printing is more of an upstart in the world of wearable clothes. Even so, threeASFOUR and other rapid prototyping companies are trying to redefine how 3D printing should be used in manufacturing clothes.


According to Rothenberg, the structure and the weave can be controlled to create the exact qualities that the designers want with 3D fashion. Even though the possibilities are immense, they are still, well, possibilities. Therefore, people like Gabi Asfour are exciting personalities in the world of fashion as they push the limits and show the world what is, and will be possible.


Blending Style with Rapid Prototyping

The avant-garde methods used by Gabi Asfour are very much visible in his work. Since 2009, the designer has taken an interest in 3D printing, trying to maneuver the internal makeup of textile materials. Essentially and traditionally, fabric is two dimensional. In a weave, the strands are aligned in crisscross, vertical or horizontal positions. Employing his education in architecture and mechanical engineering, this University of Maryland graduate aspires to create what he and his partners call ‘three-dimensional, interlocking weaves’. With the help of Gil and Donhauser, Asfour wants to achieve this with laser cutting technology.


Tweaking the third dimension of fabric was the only way to do so and hence their interest in rapid prototyping and 3D printing. According to Asfour, a four-way stretch has been the most advanced form of fabric thus far. Normal fabric that stretches along the X and Y axes could be manipulated in this way. Using 3D printing, the material has been made to stretch in the Z axis too, as theorized by Asfour. He maintains that allowing a fabric to stretch in all three planes would allow more breathable fabrics with fewer wrinkles and ease of movement.


The Challenge

In such a turning point, Asfour collaborated with 3D printing firm Materialize as well as Rothenberg. The latter is the designer of a pair of 3D printed wings used in the 2013 Victoria’s Secret fashion show runway.

When the team got to work, the main challenge they faced was the rigidity of the 3D printing inks. These materials happen to be far stiffer than regular fabric. The team would change the internal geometry of these materials over and over to make them flexible. However, the materials tend to shatter as more and more layers were deposited on them through 3D printers.



Even though the first iterations were disastrous, the material did show improvement. With this improved material, threeASFOUR created fashion masterpieces such as Pangolin. It was created jointly with 3D printing giant Stratasys as well as Travis Fitch, an architect. Pangolin was part of threeASFOUR’s Fall 2016 collection called Biomimicry. Ten printers were employed to print the dress out, and the process of printing alone took 500 hours. It was then painstakingly assembled to perfection. This futuristic, femme fatale armor of a dress was worn by Bjork at her Australia tour last year. In order to create the scales on Pangolin, an algorithm was devised by the designers that mimicked cell division, producing the intricate interlocking weave of the dress.


The Biomimicry collection features another outfit called Harmonograph- inspired by the geometric build of a sound wave. The material of the dress is a stretchable and contracting rubber mesh, similar to a foam mattress. When the wearer sits, the latticed bustle compresses and regains its shape when the wearer stands up again.


Even though these 3D printed garments allow the wearer to sit, these clothes still have a long way to go. Rothenberg says that the dress materials look like ‘fake leather’ and it does ‘stick to you’ uncomfortably. In future, we hope that there are dresses that feel like next to nothing on the skin, which would very well be made using 3D printing technology.


A year ago, some dresses by threeASFOUR were exhibited at ‘fashion’s biggest night out’- the Met Gala. Along with this event in May, an exhibition by Costume Institute called Manus x Machina featured prominent celebrities clad in silver 3D printed outfits. One of them was Zayn Malik, who walked the runway with robot arms. This event was a celebration of threeASFOUR’s ethereal, out of the world designs.



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