We’re excited to introduce the Virtual Fashion Archive, a new online space bringing archival fashion garments beyond the constraints of their physical form, and into the added digital dimensions of motion, interaction, and participation.
A New Dimension for Archival Fashion
There are countless rare and significant fashion garments housed in museums and private collections around the world. These important works are seldom on display, and when they are, they’re mostly restricted to being seen static and from behind glass.
The idea for the Virtual Fashion Archive began when we started to wonder — could 3D computer graphics and simulation be used to bring these garments back into the poetics of motion and give a broader audience access to appreciating their extraordinary design?
Over the past few months we’ve been busy researching, documenting garments and experimenting to see what’s currently possible. Now, upon the launch of the new platform we wanted to share some insight into our process and thoughts about this emerging frontier for archival fashion — one that’s not bound by physical form.
The Inaugural Collection
The initial series of virtualized garments has been curated together with The Museum at FIT and features four garments from pioneering designers including Issey Miyake, Thierry Mugler, and Claire McCardell. This selection has been chosen for its range of innovative construction techniques and variety of materials that provide a fascinating (and challenging) case study for virtualization.
Issey Miyake Pleats Please dress, 1997
A striking dress featuring a unique and tight pleating of the material, as well as a non-repeatable full body graphical print.
Thierry Mugler jacket, 1988
An electric and daring fuchsia jacket from Thierry Mugler’s Les Infernales collection from Fall/Winter 1988–1989, featuring exaggerated lines and construction that creates rigidity from a fluid fabric.
Issey Miyake suit; jacket, skirt, 1989
An ensemble comprised of an oversized jacket featuring a patchwork of multiple different striped wool patterns that is perfectly aligned and considered, and matching full-circle skirt given structure through innovative folding techniques.
Claire McCardell dress, c.1945
An Ombré cotton dress featuring woven stripes, a deep V-neck with tie collar, a bias cut bodice with multiple pleats at the side seams, and a full circle flared skirt cut on crossgrain.
The Virtualization Process
We have developed a process — including documenting, reconstructing the garments digitally, and simulating the fabric dynamics — that enables the garments to be seen in motion and engaged with in ways that haven’t been possible until now.
This virtualization process comprises of three key elements:
We spent a day at The Museum at FIT archives documenting the four garments, including physically measuring the garments, reverse engineering patterns, and photographing the materials in close detail to be used as both reference and later on as textures for the final virtual garments.
Using the garment creation software CLO, these reverse engineered patterns were reconstructed into digital doubles that closely mirror the original form, inside and out.
Fabric and materials are fundamental to all garments and it is important in their recreation to capture the materiality in high fidelity. We photographed the fabrics under a range of lighting conditions, from which, high resolution texture maps were generated to accurately depict the color, roughness, transparency, and surface details as well as how the fabrics would respond to various lighting and environments.
A major benefit of the virtualization approach over other techniques such as photogrammetry and 3D scanning is the result of clean 3D meshes that avoid artifacts and allow for an understanding of the underlying construction. With this understanding of construction and a knowledge of the type of fabrics used, we were able to simulate the garments physical dynamics and bring them into motion.
We simulated various movements that would highlight the unique features of each garments design. For example, having the Claire McCardell dress twirl and spin to make the full-circle skirt really come to life.
A Future of Impossibilities
With the initial launch of the Virtual Fashion Archive, we’re beginning to see an exciting new era of possibilities for archival fashion.
The life-like doubles available on the archive open up a wealth of possible applications not only for the garments to be seen the way they were intended — being worn and in motion — but also to examine and contextualize them in new spectacular ways.
Our interactive site begins to explore this potential allowing for the garments to be seen in motion, up close and from any angle, as well as seen right back in the real world using the augmented reality feature.
Beyond these early applications is the goal for virtualization to enrich physical exhibitions and shows through added digital layers of motion and visitor interaction. As additional technical capabilities emerge in the immersive media space, the archive is laying the groundwork for archival fashion to be engaged with in these personal and memorable new mediums.
With the project our ambition is to provide a wide audience from around the world access to discover and appreciate these amazing designs. By making the collection available online we’re allowing the garments to be seen and enjoyed regardless of where the physical piece may be located at any specific point in time.
A major consideration when delivering these simulation across the web is ultimately file size. Most of us are used to speedy downloads and often expect things to load instantly. To satisfy this, file sizes on the Virtual Fashion Archive have been reduced by simplifying the geometry of meshes and compressing textures, however this does mean that some of the quality and details has been compromised in the process.
With each generation of increasing computational and internet speeds our dream of photo realistic depiction combined with the immediacy of on-demand will continue to move closer to reality.
A Complete Picture
One of the challenges of creating an accurate digital double of archival garments is that we do not see the original patterns before it is sewn or constructed. In the documentation process we gathered as much information as possible through measurements, photographic references, sketches, and close examination. This process of data collection led to knowledge about the garments being transferred into the final virtual reconstruction and then in turn passed on to visitors of the platform.
For example, while we were studying the Issey Miyake skirt we realized it was in fact created using a single piece of fabric with a series of innovative folds, an ingeniously simple yet complex construction. This intimate insight is something that often remains invisible in the standard on-mannequin display we’re used to.
Another interesting possibility revealed in the process is ability of recreating a complete garment when the physical form is unavailable. The Museum at FIT has two variations of the Issey Miyake Pleats Please Yasumasa Morimura dress in their archives: a sleeveless dress with full-print front and back; and a long sleeve dress with a high collar and electric green back. Having access only to the sleeveless version of the dress, we challenged ourselves to see if we could extrapolate from the data available and recreate the long sleeved design.
Using our detailed documentation of the sleeveless dress, along with a few photographic references of the long sleeve design, we were able to virtualize the garment very closely to real-life accuracy and in the same high-level of detail as the other garments.
While there are limitations to this technique, the experiment demonstrates the exciting potential for envisioning important fashion garments that are inaccessible due to being too fragile to handle or garments that may have been lost entirely.
This Is Just The Beginning!
As we move into this future where virtualization takes archival fashion beyond its physical form, our ongoing mission is to continue to virtualize significant fashion garments while further enhancing the fidelity, accuracy, and interactive potential of the process.
The Virtual Fashion Archive exists to encourage engagement with these extraordinary works of fashion and the designers behind them. We hope it becomes a valuable resource for students, designers, researchers and lovers of fashion around the world to discover the beauty and innovation of these designs.
If you are interest to learn more about the project or discuss a special project, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.