I’m a science writer who also writes about style, so I’ve come across my fair share of designers and artists who combine science or technology in various ways with fashion, whether it’s using high-tech materials or attaching some kind of gizmo to a garment. Often I’m disappointed by the overall result. Either the technology is somewhat useless or the resulting aesthetic isn’t so appealing. So when I encountered London-based Brooke Roberts‘ knitwear, which is modeled after brain scans and and other types of radiography, I was so excited. The pieces scream high fashion, without a hint of gimmicky-ness (gimmickiness?). I would love to wear any one of these pieces, and what an amazing conversation starter they would be!
Brooke is not just peripherally inspired by medical images. She’s a professional radiographer, a career that supports her fashion line as she builds it. And the garments are not just conceptually influenced by the CT scans and MRIs, they are actual recreations of them: she uses Photoshop and Eneas (textile design software) to program knitting machines, which construct her sweaters and dresses out of cotton, wool and lurex (each pixel represents a stitch!). The result is gorgeous fashion that just so happens to be made of brain images. Look out for her upcoming Spring/Summer 2013 line, a new line of interior accessories, as well as a top secret software program in the states! I asked Brooke to answer a few questions for Stylenik, and she generously obliged. Learn more about her fascinating approach to science-influenced fashion design and the type of women she thinks will love them in the Q&A below, and see more images of her designs!
Your knits are amazing. For your S/S 2012 collection, you got inspiration from ‘50s sci-fi and brain science imagery. Could you explain a bit about how those inspirations led to the pieces you created?
When I started researching for the collection I watched Forbidden Planet and delved into the Allen Institute for Brain Science’s online Brain Atlas. I discovered the Allen Institute after winning the Creatives in Residence Award at The Hospital Club (London’s private members club for the creative industries, founded by Paul G. Allen). Paul G. Allen also founded Vulcan Inc, which supported my SS12 collection and presentation, entitled Woman + Machine.
Using the Allen Brain Atlas I found some fascinating Nissl stain [a nerve-staining technique invented by Franz Nissi] images and MRI scans. I used those to programme the knitted fabrics for the collection. I use Photoshop and Eneas to create the digital programmes compatible with Stoll knitting machines (I work in specialist digital knitwear factories in Europe). The Nissl stain images were very convoluted and like line drawings, so they translated into wonderfully organic yet graphic artworks. I then knitted them in a mix of cotton, wool and lurex, which enhanced the technical appearance and feel of the final fabric. I’m used to programming from CT scans, so it was great to experiment with images from different modalities.
How did you make the transition from radiography to fashion design?
I continue to work as a radiographer to fund my label as it grows. After completing an applied science degree at Sydney University I worked for a couple of years as a radiographer before moving to London and enrolling at London College of Fashion then Central Saint Martins. I’ve been working in radiography and fashion simultaneously ever since. I think I’ll always approach fashion design from a technical and scientific standpoint. Digital knitting is highly technical and experimental, which is why it suits me so well and I find it so interesting and exciting.
Could you describe briefly the technology you use to transform scientific images into clothing?
I use CAD to develop the images aesthetically, then Eneas to assign a yarn selection to each pixel in the digital image (each pixel represents a stitch). I work on a variety of machines from very fine gauge (to create thin, light-weight knits) to large gauge (chunkier, heavier knits). I use a vast range of yarns and gravitate towards unconventional combinations, like camel hair mixed with 3M retro-reflective yarn, or bio-ceramic mixed with wool and elastic. I like to create unusual yarn mixes to compound the natural yet technical aspect of combining science and fashion.
What type of customer do you have in mind when you create your designs?
A woman who belongs to a seemingly unserved segment. I think about science, technology, medical and media professionals who will not only appreciate the beauty my designs, but will also connect with the story and information behind it. I am targeting a group of incredibly smart people—people who work in industries that advance by the hour, people who enjoy, if not expect, to learn something new every day. I am aware that for many people in this niche, fashion can be a bit too subjective, too lacking of structure, rhyme or reason. With my brand, I want them to make sense of it all. I want my customer to see their field combine with the enigmatic fashion world to create products that are cutting edge, innovative and serious conversation starters.
Who are your favourite fashion designers, past or present? Which ones inspire you the most?
Thierry Mugler— I often watch his ’80s and ’90s runway shows on YouTube. They were futuristic, theatrical and awash with supermodels.
Pierre Cardin—Ground-breaking clothing, interiors and furniture design.
Nicholas Ghesquiere (creative director for Baleciaga)—the combination of Parisian artisanal techniques and new technology materials, making a historic fashion house a futuristic trail-blazer.
Haider Ackermann—A dream combination of ethnic-inspired deconstructed silhouettes in luscious luxury and high-tech fabrics. I find his designs androgynous and sexy.
Do you have any role models of other designers who mixed science and fashion (or another type of art?)
Zaha Hadid. Her London aquatics centre is awe-inspiring. The diving boards look like spines, and the shape of the building itself is dolphin-like. I would love to do collaboration with her. Perhaps interiors. I am introducing cushions and throws into my SS13 collection, which is really exciting. I look forward to expanding the interiors product line over the coming seasons.
Any plans to bring your work to the states?
Yes! Definitely. The States is the market I am most focussed on right now. I aim to be stocked in the US from next season (SS13). I am also getting involved in an exciting software project there, but it’s all top secret at the moment.
What are you working on now, and what’s next for you?
I’m busy working on the SS13 collection while the AW12 collection is in production. It will be hitting Avenue32 in August. I am also doing a second collaboration with Choreographer Riccardo Buscarini for The Place Prize, September 2012. The piece is called ‘Athletes.’ Here is the concept video.