Please, don’t feel bad or even somehow less dimensional if you have been living in only a small number of dimensions, but just so you know, it is already a 3-D world. Thus we are tantalizingly close to this scenario: on a Saturday morning, you are home shopping for something to wear this Sunday while driving your solar car to the country, and you send your perfect body scan out virtual shopping, which is another way of saying that your favorite designer can dress the scan so that you can then—hold on to your personal jet pack—use your 3-D printer to print out that ribbed turtle neck and ankle boots.
How close are we to that scenario becoming reality? Well, we have the tools, as this perfect 3-D scan and subsequent 3-D printing of the 3-D Karlie Kloss proves. But as to just when we will be able to use them, that depends. It’s true that our 3-D Karlie is just a little bit ahead of the virtual shopping curve, ahead of the whole world, in fact. But let’s look and see how far, and let’s start by examining Karlie and her scan.
Here’s how Karlie’s scan went. She showed up in a studio in (the actual) New York City where she was surrounded by a 20-foot circle of a battery of close to 100 cameras, all of the shutters simultaneously opening and closing. (Note that this process replaces a more time-consuming process wherein the subject had to sit still for several minutes—impractical because movie stars, in Raphael’s words, “can’t sit still.”) Next, software coordinates the one hundred or so Karlie photographs, arranging them and preparing them for their 3-D moment. Finally, that gigantic file is sent to the 3-D printer, to print (on Vogue.com’s behalf) the six-inch-tall Karlies that thereafter were sent around the world because—well, why not?
Everywhere, scans are happening. Remember when Levi’s did a 3-D test run in several of their stores, scanning customers to determine their precise jean fit? But most fashion companies are not prepared to receive a 3-D digital image that takes up more storage space than all the photos you took on your phone last year. “We’re not there yet,” says Raphael, “but we’re going to be.”
On the 3-D printing side, we are likewise close. Duann Scott, an industrial designer with Shapeways, the 3-D printing company which printed the 3-D Karlies, describes 3-D printing as a kind of coup by designers who took over a tool used for decades almost solely by architects and engineers printing prototypes. “Those engineers had access to it for 20 years and they did really boring stuff,” says Scott. “They did technical things. They did nothing creative.” (That seems a little tough; one person’s boring sandal, after all, is another person’s supercool Birkenstock.) Besides, when non-architects initially got ahold of them, they printed out not-so-creative things too, like lots of iPhone cases. “But then,” Scott continues, “the people who are on the intersection of geeky math and design or fashion started saying, How can we make beautiful things or functional things that use the same complexity?”
At the moment, however, the 3-D world is best experienced via accessories—perhaps you have seen Shapeways’ 3-D printed jewelry on sale at Neiman Marcus, wildly multidimensional pieces. Speaking of which, those diamond-encrusted wings worn by Lindsay Ellingson in last year’s Victoria’s Secret show were printed out by Shapeways.
We should note, some merchants are (understandably) hesitant about the idea of 3-D customers out trying on clothes in the virtual world. Not long ago, I happened to be talking to Sophia Amoruso, CEO of Nasty Gal, who is considered quite progressive-thinking in terms of the Internet and fashion, and she was not too enthusiastic about the idea of shopping by scan. “To me it feels really unnatural, inhuman,” she said. “It takes the fun out of shopping. I don’t want to drag and drop my outfit onto myself.” We should also note that at this point, the clothing that is 3-D printed will likely be (very) forward-looking. “To be honest,” says Shapeways’ Scott, “with the current materials available, the dresses are going to be very avant-garde.”
Which brings us to threeASFOUR, the never-not-innovative fashion collective who have been playing with 3-D for a while now on their runway. “We felt that 3-D printing was allowing us to create new weaves that are not possible with traditional weaving techniques or traditional knitting techniques,” says designer Gabriel Asfour. Give these designers technical lemons and watch them make a shape-shifting 3-D lemonade. “We wanted to create something that moves,” says Asfour, “that when you move, it moves with your body as well, so the best way to do this is with a weave, a new kind of weave—a future weave, I will say.”
“Now we are thinking about pieces that are still avant-garde,” says co-designer Adi Gil, “but that you could wear over a dress. Kind of an accessory meets garment, and more accessories, and that’s what we want to do.” And yes, it’s not quite ready. “It’s still in a way no wearable material—yet,” Adi continues, “but if this is the next step, it’s gonna get there.”
Below, a look at Karlie Kloss’s epic 3-D fashion adventure around the world.
In the last 80 days, a small army of miniature 3-D printed Karlie Kloss dolls have traveled the world over, clocking up enough air miles and sporting enough head-turning fashion to leave Phileas Fogg and his hot-air balloon in the dust. First sightings of the tiny sculptures were first reported in San Francisco two months back, where she was seen roaming the grounds of Golden Gate Park with Alex Wang’s coveted new utility bags. Then images of the stylish Mini-Mes started flooding in from famous landmarks across the globe (one Fausto Puglisi–clad doll attracted enough attention she had to be escorted off the premises at the Acropolis), and it wasn’t long before her chic footprints were being captured on the moon. To give you a sense of Karlie Kloss’s epic 3-D fashion adventure, we’ve done the math on her journey from all angles, charting everything from her air miles down to the tally of small doll parts that were broken along the way.