Limelight, a Student Designer’s First Wearable Technology Garment

Last weekend my parents and I visited my sister, Caroline, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to see her end of year fashion show. After years of seeing Caroline construct and model clothing, this was not only her first runway show I could attend, but also the debut of her first piece of wearable technology.

Caroline has been sewing for as long as anyone in our family can remember. During elementary school, our mom taught Caroline how to sew by making dresses together for Caroline’s American Girl Dolls. By the time Caroline entered middle school, she was teaching herself how to reconstruct vintage clothing and sewing patterns, and while in high school, Caroline completed summer programs in art and fashion at Cornell University and Marist College.

Caroline is currently finishing her junior year of college in Textile & Apparel Design. Last year, because hardly any of her pieces made the school fashion show (due to not being an upperclassman) Caroline hosted her own show instead, complete with more than 10 models and two live bands. For the past few semesters Caroline has been a contributor to College Fashionista (a blog focused on college street style), and, very recently Caroline returned from a 10 day trip to China sponsored by Kohl’s Department Stores.

It’s certainly exciting to have a designer in the family! And I couldn’t be prouder to share my exclusive interview with her about her light-up dress “Limelight”.

You usually do period costume pieces, so how does this dress fit into your aesthetic?

I myself wear a lot of feminine, historical-inspired outfits. I tell a new story every day with my clothing and play a different girl, if you will. I know who I am so my clothing doesn’t influence my behavior, but depending on my mood, what I am doing, and which side of me that I want to express for that day I pick out an outfit. My multi-dimensional self could dress like a flirty, 60’s mod gal one minute and then the next day show my more prim and proper side with a Victorian jacket and lace dress. Going into costumes someday is perfect for me because I can tell a story with the clothing that I make or style for others and have an audience enjoy it!

I was lucky enough to model this dress after the show!

What was your inspiration for the light-up dress?

I was inspired by the ever-creative and talented techno duo Daft Punk most of all, who have worn light up clothing as well as their famous helmets on stage. Seeing the light-up dress Katy Perry wore to the Met Gala last year made me realize that while this form of wearable technology is very modern, it can still be done in a more feminine way than a lot of people are doing it. I guess it’s the old-fashioned, romantic side of me coming through when I say that, though I’m all for being futuristic and inventive! While I was working on the dress I watched the Project Runway All Stars light-up challenge, just by chance, and was further inspired by it. Most of the designers on the show went harder and more edgy with their designs but I loved how soft and beautiful Austin Scarlett’s piece was. He ended up wining! I’d like to see more people do light-up clothing that is girly and pretty.

How hard was it to construct?

The hardest part of “Limelight” was figuring out a design that worked with the wire, which I solved by finding a sheer fabric with a vine design on it in white embroidery. I ran the wire along certain sections of the vine so it really became part of the fabric when you got up close, and from far away in the darkness you could just see the squiggly lines and not much else. It was meant to be an interesting juxtaposition depending where you were standing or what the lighting situation was. Constructing the dress was like any other garment, but it was more tedious than difficult to hand-sew on all of the 30+ feet of light-up wire with invisible thread.

When did you make it and how long did it take?

I designed the piece before my spring break in a night with a sketch and Illustrator flat because it was for an independent study on wearable technology. Over the course of three weeks after spring break I made several looks for our annual fashion show, but in total I’d say that my light-up dress, “Limelight”, took three full days to construct because it was completely patterned, lined, and had such tedious hand work at the end attaching the wire. This is about the typical time it takes me to make and pattern most garments.

What was the overall reaction?

I think a lot of people were surprised that it wasn’t a really modern and edgy piece, but in a good way. They were pleasantly surprised I’d say because it wasn’t what they expected when I told them about it. It was inspired by feminine 30’s silhouettes and the sheer white fabric that I found fit perfectly with my design idea. I had a few people tell me it looked vaguely like a wedding dress, but this was because it was a long white dress. They certainly changed their minds when the lights were off and my piece was lit up!

Would you consider making more pieces of wearable technology? What’s next?

I definitely want to construct at least one more piece of light-up clothing this summer, though it requires expensive materials!

I would like to made a really mod piece and shape the outline of a collar and other shirt-dress elements out of the light-up wire so that the piece pops. It would definitely be more modern than my last piece. I would also be interested in collaborating with an engineer to create clothing pieces that move and transform, or even show pictures and video.

Caroline will be spending the summer in Connecticut and working in the wardrobe department of the Westport Country Playhouse before moving to New York City in the fall to attend FIT for her senior year.

View more pictures from “Escape” over on the Pretty Innovative fan page and check out some of Caroline’s past work on her blog.

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