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Christian Cowan Adobe

Christian Cowan Collaborates with Adobe on a Dazzling Digital Dress

Last month, during New York Fashion Week, Christian Cowan debuted his Fall/Winter 2024 collection.

Last month during New York Fashion Week, Christian Cowan closed his Fall/Winter 2024 show by unveiling the first-ever Adobe Project Primrose garment. Electronically reconfigurable, the wearable garment features laser-cut polymer dispersed liquid crystal “petals” that can transform in color. On the runway, we watched the piece come to life, seamlessly shifting between shades of gray and ivory, shimmering with Cowan’s iconic stars.

Technologically speaking, the dress is underlaid with flexible circuit boards and adorned in petals that can change colors at the move of a hip or flick of a button. Before our very eyes, we watched the garment transform from a good show-closer to a great study on the potential of tech’s ability to enhance our wardrobe. The dress is an exciting promise of new avenues in fashion, suggesting boundless possibilities for how static clothing can be transformed with technology into dynamic art pieces.

In honor of its debut, Whitewall spoke with Cowan and Gavin Miller, Head of Adobe Research, to hear more about creating a digital dress from Primrose Technology and what this means for the future of American fashion.

Christian Cowan Adobe

Photo: Daniele Oberrauch / Gorunway.com

Using Adobe Project Primrose for Fashion

WHITEWALL: Christian, during your NYFW show, you unveiled a garment created in collaboration with Adobe, powered by Primrose Technology. Why was this tech-forward innovation a garment you wanted to create for the show?

CHRISTIAN COWAN: As an artist, I love to explore and challenge myself. I think a great part of this is using all the tools at my disposal. When I saw the Project Primrose technology, I saw it no differently than I would a sewing needle or satin on the bolt. It’s another tool for creativity and selfishly, having the technical challenges to work with simply kept me entertained.

WW: How did you work with the Adobe team to make this come to life, featuring your iconic stars?

CC: The turnaround time was surprisingly fast, about a month. They flew over from San Jose and we all worked together, the Adobe team and my team, to create a true collaboration. It took over a decent portion of our office, and it was incredibly labor-intensive.

WW: With the Met Gala approaching, and its theme of American fashion at the forefront, what do you think a tech garment says about the potential of American fashion?

CC: What I love about fashion is it truly is a global affair, what I love about American fashion in particular is the support for young talent. It feels like every season at NYFW we see new exciting young brands showing.

Christian Cowan Adobe

Courtesy of Christian Cowan, Adobe, and Primrose Technology.

Christian Cowan Collaborates with Adobe

WW: Gavin, last year, Christine Dierk created Primrose and unveiled it at the Adobe MAX 2023 conference. What was the public’s initial reaction?

GAVIN MILLER: Primrose was created by Adobe and was first unveiled as a dress prototype at MAX. Check out The Story Behind Primrose. The public’s reaction at and since Adobe MAX 2023 has been overwhelmingly positive, with people around the world captivated by Primrose’s capabilities and transformative potential in the fashion industry. The digital dress garnered widespread attention and admiration, heralding a future of wearable, instantly changeable textiles.

WW: How did a collaboration with Cowan unfold just two months later?

GM: The Christian Cowan team was eager to work with Primrose technology, and we were equally keen to see Primrose used in a design by a world class designer at New York Fashion Week. The collaboration unfolded quickly, highlighting the execution skills and commitment of both parties to push the boundaries of fashion design with cutting-edge technology. This intense effort involved assembling a dedicated team to finalize the dress and petal designs, fabricate over a thousand petals, and assemble the first-ever complete garment of its kind for the runway. NYFW was the perfect place to showcase a truly dynamic canvas where the technology integrated seamlessly and naturally with the theme of the larger collection. Check out How Adobe’s Project Primrose and Christian Cowan created a runway showstopper for NY Fashion Week.

WW: For those that aren’t familiar with the software, how does it work?

GM: The Primrose technology itself is as much hardware as software. Primrose operates by using laser-cut polymer dispersed liquid crystal “petals” that electronically change between shades of silver and ivory multiple times per second. This is a new and unique application of the material that is primarily used in privacy glass/window applications. Adobe Illustrator is used to map out where the petals and controller boards need to go on the garment, and Adobe After Effects is used to create the animations that bring the petals to life. There is also custom software running on the controller that is incorporated into the dress itself.

Christian Cowan Adobe

Courtesy of Christian Cowan, Adobe, and Primrose Technology.

The Innovation Technology Behind the Dress

WW: Tell us a bit about the automated sensors that make the garment change.

GM: Each petal sits on top of a flexible printed circuit board that controls the appearance of the petal based on commands from the main controller. The controller accepts different types of sensor input from buttons, a compass, an accelerometer and a microphone that can be used to trigger or procedurally change the appearance of the garment based on touch, movement, and sound, including voice recognition.

WW: How long did it take to create this technology? What kind of research, innovation, experimentation, etc. went into creating Primrose?

GM: The initial inspiration for Primrose dates back to a concept video in 2013, from Adobe Research, when a sweater that could change its appearance with the weather was included in a video packed with bold ideas about AI and fashion design. The initial development of Primrose technology, led by Gavin Miller and TJ Rhodes, evolved from earlier prototyping experiments started in 2018. Christine Dierk’s expertise in wearables and textiles proved invaluable, as she joined the team in 2020 to help craft more incremental and complex prototypes. The team created a flat canvas and a handbag before embarking on the dress prototype. Ultimately, the creation of Primrose technology involved extensive research, innovation, and experimentation, culminating in its unveiling at Adobe MAX 2023.

WW: Primrose technology empowers designers to dream bigger and envision garments that evolve and interact with their environment. How do you envision this technology fitting into fashion’s bigger picture?

GM: Primrose technology empowers designers to dream bigger by offering new possibilities for dynamic and interactive garments. By allowing garments that evolve and interact with their environment in real-time, Primrose allows fashion that changes moment to moment. Imagine an outfit changing to be more visible as you cross the street, or reflecting your need to focus on a cup of coffee or your openness to meet new people in a social setting – all with the same garment. The wearers could purchase after-market content or design it themselves to express how they are feeling, or to have a fresh look. The challenge for the designer is to allow the garment to be a canvas for creativity while still capturing the designer’s vision for the structure and style of the final look. The dress with Adobe and Christian Cowan managed to combine his signature look with the rich possibilities of dynamic fabrics.

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THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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