The future is here -- at the Phoenix Art Museum, that is. "New Nomads," the latest exhibition in the Fashion Design Gallery, is not the usual collection of significant clothing from the past but rather a projection of what will be significant, an inspiring, cutting-edge display that illustrates how technology will become an integral part of fashion in the next 10 to 20 years.
Using research started by MIT, the Philips Corporation developed prototype garments that incorporate wireless technologies and highly advanced textiles into clothes that are functional, wearable and, perhaps most important, desirable. "That was their goal -- to put really good design into this," says Dennita Sewell, Curator of Fashion Design at the museum.
At first glance, the garments seem familiar, but they have the kind of astonishing built-in gizmos that once only seemed possible in an episode of The Jetsons. "These are a steppingstone for something that will be in our future," says Sewell. The designs reflect the considerations of an entire research team, made up of psychologists, fashion designers, textile scientists and consumer product designers, who targeted groups of people that Sewell says "would be most likely to benefit from and to adopt technology in clothing."
Those groups include business people, who already tote laptops, Palm Pilots and cell phones. They'd lighten their loads and become networking pros with garments like Close Encounters, a jacket with an embedded camera that combines face recognition technology with integrated audio feedback to create discreet reminders for the wearer about people they've met before.
No Kidding was designed just as much to relieve worrying parents as to entertain children wearing the puffy, cocoonlike jacket. Parents can check up on junior's whereabouts with the jacket's built-in camera and mobile phone features, while kids can play with a game designed right into the sleeve.
Garments made for city dwellers and extreme athletes, meanwhile, provide health and safety benefits, like Techno Surfer's GPS locator and automatic body temperature control. Curatorial assistant Elkanah Babcock describes it as "space-suit technology for the street."
Other functions of the prototypes are purely for fun and mobility. The best example is Surround Sound, a jacket with headphones in the hood, special pockets containing an MP3 player and a compartment for downloading extra song files, control buttons on the sleeve, and a big spectrum analyzer on the back of the jacket, which lights up to the beat of the music. "I don't see waiting 10 years for this," says Babcock. "I can see kids on Mill Avenue bebopping around to this in less than 10."
If "New Nomads" is any indication, fashion offers a lot to look forward to in the not-so-distant future.