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Real Life & Second Life Fashion Might Be Nearer Each Other Than You Think

urban_hermes01NEW YORK, Jan 21, 2008 / FW/ — While the fashion world is busy with menswear and haute couture, Second Life designers are busy creating virtual clothing that can change color and texture on the fly.

And as Jeffrey Bardzell, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Human-Computer Interaction Design at Indiana University commented in his blog ‘Wearable Computing: Automation and Fashion in Second Life’, “There are a couple reasons why this development is worthy of comment. First, this paradigm does not match our real life mental models of clothes. If I want to change the color of my clothes, I have to change into other clothes.”

Yes, Dr. Bardzell is correct in saying that. But, in terms of accessories, Real Life and Second Life fashion are actually nearer each other in terms of ‘a fast change.’

At the MIT Media Lab, Professor Judith Donath together with her student Christine Liu developed URBANHERMES in 2006. Defined as a ‘communicative fashion framework that would ultimately consist of OLED-integrated clothing material that could display digital images and designs, updating whenever the user desired.’

The proof of concept is an augmented messenger bag that aims to incorporate the fluid, expressive signals of electronic fashion into the constrained, material-based environment of physical fashion.

urban_hermes02According to the urbanhermes website, “the bag is able to change its dynamic, temporal display at will by the wearer/owner. Accordingly, there is a depository of images, wherein users can get download these images anytime they want to. Other times, users of urbanhermes bags can actually ‘exchange’ or ‘copy’ images from each other.

When fully developed, urbanhermes can be applied to ‘smart fabrics’ that can change colors or design, according to the wearer’s whim, meaning, a jacket can be black today, but red tomorrow, or stripes today and floral print tomorrow.

Though the concept is sound and the technology is available, fashion houses have not incorporated this research for their collection. Fashion is about proportion, color and silhouette. A gown that looks great in red might not look good in teal. There is more to fashion design process than meets the eye. Yet on basic items like slacks or t-shirt, the concept of urbanhermes can work very well.

But, there is one mundane thing that both Second Life designers and urbanhermes had not thought of if their concepts will be applied on real life clothing – cleaning!

Obviously, Second Life avatars do not need the services of a dry cleaner; there is no bacteria that cause body odor in the virtual world. In the case of urbanhermes, how do you clean your clothes? Do you bring it to Best Buy, call the Geek Squad or go to the dry cleaners? In short, until humankind has invented a high-tech dry cleaner for ‘wearable computers’, urbanhermes will remain a messenger bag.

[MARGUERITE SEBASTIEN]