Inventing the World’s First Self-Contained Projection Dress

Model: Michele Wienecke | Hair: Jason Mellor | Makeup: Jade Brunes

Lumen Couture is a self-contained projector hat invented and built by Chris Corner and me for the 2015 MakeFashion gala.

I founded MakeFashion, a fashion tech startup in 2012 with Shannon and Maria Hoover. At the time, wearable technology was relatively new and was generating a lot of buzz as the “next big thing”. As a UX designer coming from a fine art background, I was skeptical of the current wearable tech landscape dominated by innovative but geeky inventions like the Google Glass. In 2013 I gave a presentation at MakeFashion event predicting that the Google Glass missed the mark by neglecting design and fashion, and would therefore fail in the consumer market. At the time that was a controversial statement, and even my teammates were nervous about me being publicly critical of the Glass.

MakeFashion at MakerFaire Shenzhen 2015 (Garment: Virtually Vogue by Catherine Hazin)

The driving philosophy of MakeFashion has been to lead with design, storytelling and human expression. The project has been primarily self-funded, and we’ve rejected sponsors or influences that would limit our ability to lead with design and creativity. As a result we have grown into a world leader in fashion technology, showcasing at over 60 international events and producing over 100 garments.

The first concept sketch for the projector hat. We realized we only needed one projector, although having a projection on the back would be a nice addition for a future version.

Chris Corner and I had been discussing a projection-mapped dress for a number of years, sketching numerous iterations on a garment that could function as a projection screen. At the 2013 Grammy awards designer Don O’Neill beat us to the punch with Carrie Underwood’s projector dress. While we had conceptualized a similar execution, the dress requires the wearer remaining relatively still in one place. We wanted to create a dress that gave the model full freedom of movement down the runway.

Other ideas for the dress included a moving projection rig that tracked the model (too expensive for our budget, and not easy to travel with) and a projector housed under the skirt shining outwards (we were worried about the heat generated by the projector, plus the projection made the skirt transparent and awkwardly revealing). The solution arrived when we were playing with a tiny Projecto that we had purchased on kickstarter, shining the images onto each other from above. We realized that with a small enough projector, we could position it close to the head and use a small mirror to reflect down onto the body.

Wearing a cake pan on my head for an early prototype experimentation. As you can see, the projection works on black as well as white garments.

In order to correctly line up with the mirror, we needed a secure way to hold the projector and mirror in place. We experimented with different materials, but struggled to find something that was both lightweight and sturdy. It was the grocery store where we found the perfect solution: a rectangular cake pan.

Several iterations and destroyed cake pans later (our local grocer thought we had taken up a new obsession with baking) we built a prototype that was small and lightweight enough to build a hat around. To manage the weight of the projector, we move the battery to the back of the head to counter the weight. We used an older iPhone stored within the hat as a video source.

Too many airplane trips and customs checks has resulted in a beat-up hat. Photo: Nick Wong | Model: Emily Hoek | Styling: Therese Lefebvre

The task of contructing the hat itself was completely new to us. I had some sewing experience, but no clue how to build a hat form around our projector tech. The construction was completely improvised using duct tape, wire, and cardboard covered in fabric. Our end result passed as a hat from a distance, but has a lot of room for improvement. I’m currently researching millinery (the art of hatmaking) to improve the next version.

Initial design concepts for the hat were inspired by ornate derby hats, and I had originally envisioned an equally dramatic dress for the runway. We chose to go in a simpler direction, focusing on showcasing the technology and capabilities of the invention.

Lumen Couture at MakeFashion Gala 4.0 in Calgary, AB | Model: Michele Wienecke | Hair: Jason Mellor | Makeup: Jade Brunes | Motion Graphics: Michael Mateyko (KOMBOH) | Photography: Zev Vitaly Abosh

In preparation for our debut at the 2016 MakeFashion gala, I contacted my art-school alumni Michael Mateyko about collaborating on motion graphics for the show. He produced a number of geometric visuals which I arranged to sync with David Bowie’s “Lazarus” as and audio/visual experience. We titled the hat “Lumen Couture”.

Video: Lumen Couture FashionTech

Since Lumen Couture’s debut, it’s gained significant media attention including a feature in Vice Media’s The Creator’s Project. We’re currently working on the next version, which will include image stabilization so that the model can freely rotate their head with the image remaining stable. Lumen Couture 2.0 is scheduled to debut at the next MakeFashion gala in Calgary, Canada on April 2017.