February 22nd, 2013
11:55 AM ET

Forging a new future in fashion with technology

Editor’s note: Diana Eng is a fashion designer and self-described geek who blends fashion and technology in surprising ways. Watch Diana’s full profile this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on CNN’s “The Next List.”

By Diana Eng, Special to CNN

New York Fashion Week has just wrapped up. It's an event that reminds me twice a year of the moment I knew I was meant to be a fashion designer (as opposed to a computer programmer or electrical engineer).

The first time I attended Mercedes Benz Fashion Week was for the Project Runway, season two show at Bryant Park. I sat in the front row and felt like royalty as a bunch of reporters came up to ask me questions; “Do you know how lucky you are to be sitting in the front row?” “Is this the best day of your life?” “Who do you think will win?” “Tell me a secret about the show without violating your contract.”

I was still trying to get over the fact that I was actually at a fashion week show. Debra Messing walked by and said “Hi Diana” and I was like, “OMG, Debra Messing, you know my name!”

And then two men came out and removed the plastic covering the runway, the lights started to dim and there was finally a hush. It was like unwrapping a present. The show was about to start and I was filled with excitement, pride and anticipation. At that moment there were so many possibilities, anything could come down the runway. I thought, “I am so excited to be a fashion designer!”

Not everyone can relate the rush of fashion week, but we all have a personal relationship with the things we wear. They are our second skin. When someone sees us for the first time, our style conveys the first impressions about our personality.

Clothing can also say a lot about the world around us. In the 19th century, women would have conveyed their personal style with hoop skirts and bustles made possible by new advances in steel making. We’ve made many technological advancements since the Bessemer process. In the 21st century, what will your fashion say about you?

I like my fashion designs to make people stop and think twice. And I think that, like the hoop skirts of the 19th century, today’s technology can lead to new looks.

Using a laser cutter I am able to distress t-shirts in lace patterns, adding a delicate touch to an otherwise rugged style. I create scarves with snowflakes that appear and grow in cold weather. I play with electronics - LEDs, electroluminescent wire, microcontrollers - to make clothing that reacts to sound and motion. I work with technicians to program fully fashioned (3D) knitting machines to automatically knit lace created by the Fibonacci number sequence.

I’m excited to see what possibilities the next generation of designers will come up with. I’ve had the privilege of teaching the Click@MoMA: Wearable Technology class for high school students through Eyebeam. My class toured the Museum of Modern Art to view paintings by Picasso and Mondrian, and we discussed how shapes could augment the human body. Then the students built inflatable clothing to augment their bodies. We viewed Monet’s Water Lilies to see how Impressionist artists used color and texture to express different seasons and moods. The students created videos to project images on to dresses so that the dresses could portray different moods. Today’s teens have never lived without the Internet or cell phones. As technology becomes a bigger part of our world, tomorrow’s designers will need a greater understanding of science to create relevant designs.

It doesn’t matter how many fashion shows I attend, I still feel the same thrill when they peel back the plastic to start the show. Fashion has infinite possibilities and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

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Filed under: Fashion • Innovation • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Video