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A MoMA-Worthy “4D Printed Dress” You Can Dance In

Nervous System, a Massachusetts-based generative design studio, has printed a plastic dress that functions and flows like real fabric.

In the fashion industry, 3D printing is largely still a novelty. Wearables produced with the technology are often created as art or specialty items, displayed on the glossy pages of magazines in futuristic editorials but rarely conceived of for a mass market. Designers are keen to explore the intersection of technology and fashion, but the question remains: When will it become practical?

Nervous System, a Massachusetts-based generative design studio, has created a “4D printed” dress that is both an artistic/scientific achievement and quite wearable to boot. Utilizing software called Kinematics, the studio’s system prints “complex, foldable forms composed of…tens of thousands of unique components that interlock to construct dynamic mechanical structures” based off of a 3D scan of a subject’s body. The unique components alone are rigid, but together they function and flow like real fabric, flexing and conforming to the body’s curves and movements.

“We refer to Kinematics as a 4D printing system because it generates compressed objects that unfold into their intended shape after printing,” Jessica Rosenkrantz, Nervous System’s creative director said to Dezeen, speaking to the dress’s ability to be printed on an apparatus much smaller than its whole. “The garments that we’ve designed can only expand to their full size after being removed from the printer and they do so automatically, no assembly is required.”

Rosenkrantz, along with Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, Nervous System’s chief science officer, say that the Kinematics dress was born out of their desire to produce a wearable garment from today’s technology, highlighting their interest in “this idea of ‘smart materials’ and self-assembly.”

Designs can be customized via smartphone and tablet apps for pattern, style, and flexibility, and in a particularly high-profile nod of approval to Nervous System’s novel approach to manufacturing, the Museum of Modern Art in New York has acquired the first 4D printed dress for their permanent collection, along with the software and a concept video.

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