August 18, 2020
Yifan Pu: Designing a Digital Fashion Revolution
Yifan Pu is a multimedia designer exploring new pathways into the future of fashion. She finds virtual fashion a perfect tool to create and express herself, to craft a second identity free of physical limitations, mass production and consumption. Yifan joined the residency program as part of the DIGI-GXL collective, a network of womxn, trans, non-binary and intersex people working at the intersection of art, design, science, technology and social change.
Since completing her residency, Yifan has most recently gone on to participate in Helsinki Fashion Week. In 2019 the event banned leather from the catwalk, and this year it stayed true to form as a fashion innovator by becoming an entirely digital fashion week focusing on 3D fashion shows, interactive livestreams and cyber networks. As a 3D fashion designer in residence at Factory Berlin, Yifan was paired with Japanese clothing brand KoH T, to co-create a digital look. She also created the mermaid dress called “Triphibian”, named after a being that lives at sea, in land and in the air. The virtual fashion experiment combines fantasy and sci-fi, resulting in a look that mixes femininity with elements of activewear.
“With the constant need to adapt to new environments geographically as well as digitally, the Triphibian look keeps evolving throughout the journey. The slightly melancholic tone of the film comes from real-life experience of the loneliness of being migrants and/or nomads in this absurd and surreal time.”
The purely digital collections from Helsinki Fashion week are showcased on a utopian cyberspace platform called the Digital Village. At the heart of the Digital Village are values of transparency, social equality, and collective effort. On the platform customers are allowed to pre-order physical garments or claim a limited edition digital garment, which can be ‘dressed’ on the customer’s picture or used in virtual spaces. Basically, it’s an entirely digital space with the aim of changing how we look at fashion and mass consumption.
Another of Yifan’s stunning mermaid looks was featured in Kaltblut Magazine, Germany’s leading indie magazine for Art, Fashion and Music. The piece called “Virtual Couture 002” was developed during Yifan’s residency here at Factory Berlin. In the picture below the dress is worn by the Spanish model Miranda Marquez, who posed remotely at home for the shoot, making this a distinctly forward-thinking futuristic quarantine-friendly photoshoot.
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For this look Yifan was inspired by the question raised by The Fabricant, an industry leading digital fashion house based in Amsterdam. They asked whether people would actually acknowledge digital couture as real material, as real fashion. It requires the same amount of craftwork as real couture, but it’s digital – will people respect it as much as real couture? From haute couture to thought couture, Yifan wanted to explore how the term virtual couture could be defined, presented and acknowledged. In the early days of digital fashion, the designs were focused on the technical side instead of the artistic, so she wanted to create a design that could balance the two. The final result masterfully combines her artistic and technical craftsmanship.
“Apart from attention to detail and respect for (digital) materials, there's also this aesthetic of modesty, gentleness and elegance that I want to restore in today's trashy flashy digital art environment… This look is designed with the thoughts above in my mind. I find mermaids a good carrier to convey a non-human vibe. They have the potential to look either retro or futuristic, either natural or alien.”
When Yifan posted the Virtual Couture 002 look on Instagram, the look got reposted on the Instagram of Clo3D, the 3D fashion design software program she is using to create digital fashion. The Virtual Couture 002 look received positive feedback from the industry, with many noting its uniqueness and originality, having never seen fashion like this before. People love the direction fashion is going in. With more and more brands interested in digital fashion, the fashion industry is in full transformation. With shows going more virtual than ever as a result of COVID-19 and younger generations that are more aware of climate and environmental problems, the fashion industry is having to become more and more sustainable.
In the future Yifan hopes there will be more technology available to make customized fashion pieces, like 3D printing for customized fashion garments. Combine this technology with augmented reality fitting where the fashion supplier knows your measurements and style, and it becomes the norm to order and own bespoke pieces. There’s also the opportunity to use augmented reality fitting when trying on clothes online, to improve the experience of online shopping and overcoming one of eCommerce’s biggest hurdles by allowing users to try garments on. If you can try it on digitally, this could also eliminate the financial and carbon cost of returning items, therefore reducing our ecological footprint. Through this AR fitting there will also be a shift from mass production to a more personalised business model, removing the need for mass storage and mass-production.
As for Yifan’s future plans regarding her stunning fashion pieces, there’s more and more digital platforms willing to sell digital governance now – she is a frontrunner in a new market disrupting the fashion industry. Yifan wishes to work with several platforms to further promote her garments, so they can be worn by more people eventually.