Oklahoma Contemporary’s Coded_Couture merges art, fashion and technology

Couture, by definition, is fashion designed as a custom fit for an individual wearer. The French haute couture concept can be traced back to the 17th century, and the term is not something Parisian elite toss around without discretion. In France, couture is strictly defined and regulated by an administrative body that determines which fashion houses can and cannot flaunt the lofty label based on the fulfillment of certain criteria.

The custom fit in couture fashion is in reference to the wearer’s distinct and precise body measurements. Yet in the internet and social-media age, when one’s identity and persona is as much a digital construct as it is a physical manifestation, some might ask if there are other metrics or methods that could be used to further increase customizability.

The future of couture fashion is explored in the Coded_Couture exhibition, which begins its six-week run Thursday with an opening reception at Oklahoma Contemporary, 3000 General Pershing Blvd.

Interactive fun

Coded_Couture displays a wide range of futuristic prototypes and sketches, many of which utilize some kind of coding or technology that rethinks personalized wear. The exhibit was first organized by two independent curators — Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox — for New York’s Pratt Institute. Coded_Couture made its debut at New York Fashion Week in 2016 and has since toured across the country. Oklahoma City is the last stop on that tour.

Jennifer Scanlan, curatorial and exhibitions director at Oklahoma Contemporary, knows the exhibit’s original curators and went to see the show in Manhattan before making arrangements for its local stop.

“[The exhibit] was really cool, and it offered all these opportunities for kids and adults to interact with it,” Scanlan said, “which I thought would be perfect for what we do at Oklahoma Contemporary, where we’re really interested in actively engaging our audience.”

Coded_Couture does not feature clothing that resembles anything one could go out and buy today. Instead, it showcases concepts for what the fashion’s future might hold.

Several innovative dresses by Chinese designer Ying Gao are on display and are made with new fabric technology that glows to track the viewer’s gaze across its surface and reacts to other outside stimuli.

An iMiniSkirt designed by British fashion brand CuteCircuit displays live Twitter messages. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the piece by tweeting messages at it or using a nearby tablet to influence the garment’s color.

The show also features a hands-on children’s section sponsored by Google with an emphasis on encouraging children, especially young girls, to take an interest in coding and consider it as a future career.

Scanlan said a fashion show featuring futuristic designs from Oklahoma designers is planned for August 5. Coded_Couture will be on display at Oklahoma Contemporary through August 10.

The items in the exhibit are on the fantastical and artsy end of the spectrum, but smart, tech-based fabrics are already being put to practical use. Scanlan said some athletic teams use smart fabrics in their training gear to regulate heartbeat and train more efficiently.

“There are other fabrics that are designed to emit light,” she said, “so if you’re designing a room, you can use a textile to emit light instead of using a light bulb.”

Some Coded_Couture designers imagined a future in which fashion does not exist at all. Social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets are used today as an outward projection of who the user is as a person.

“One designer has imagined that everyone is going to go around in a uniform,” Scanlan said, “but you will be able to use augmented reality systems on your phone to look at someone’s fashion created through a person’s personal social media posts.”

In today’s world, a couture digital fit can be as important or appropriate as a physical one. A social media account is as much of an outfit as one’s favorite shirt or pair of pants. They both create a desired image.

Art code

Coding as a practice is sometimes associated with fashion-oblivious programmers or enterprising Silicon Valley types. Scanlan hopes that Coded_Couture shows coding exists as yet another method in which fine art and high fashion can be made not just in the future, but in the present.

“Coding is an art form in and of itself,” she said. “It’s a way of creating art — it’s a tool — but it’s also using your creativity and expression.”

Scanlan said within the contemporary art world, coding is widely recognized as a medium to create art and is regularly implemented.

“Right here in Oklahoma, we have a number of schools like [the University of Central Oklahoma] that are really focusing on new media and technology within the art departments,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are already very excited about using coding and technology as an art form.”

Coded_Couture exists as a cross-section of fashion, art and technology — three distinct realms that might not appear related, at least at surface level. Scanlan said part of Oklahoma Contemporary’s mission is to make people aware of places where art can converge with other areas and form something worthwhile.

“Technology is so much a part of our culture, I think people are comfortable with it at this point,” she said. “I don’t think it will be an enormous stress for them. I just think it will be exciting to see what technology can do in a more creative way that they haven’t thought of before.”

Visit oklahomacontemporary.org.

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