Tech design icon Steve Jobs was known for his fastidious attention to detail. The late Apple CEO insisted on making even the circuit boards of the first Macintosh look beautiful. Perhaps beauty requires a certain level of geekiness, but surely even the nerdiest followers of computer hardware fashion would hesitate to call a circuit cute, right?

Not Francesca Rosella. The Creative Director of CuteCircuit doesn’t miss a beat when asked about the cuteness of the circuits that bring her designs to life. “Actually, the word ‘cute’ comes from ‘acute’, meaning precise, sharp, well made,” she explains. “It also means pretty. We want things to look good inside and out. If people were to disassemble one of our garments, then the tiny little circuits inside would actually look good. A customer did it and even posted a video on youtube… and didn’t have anything bad to say about it. They agreed that it looks cute, so it worked out!”

The Donning Of Digital

CuteCircuit is a fashion label that has been lighting up catwalks, red carpets and stages all over the world – quite literally – with dresses that are part couture princess gown, part interactive gadget. Well-known examples are Katy Perry’s groundbreaking LED-illuminated 2010 Met Ball gown and the Twitter Dress worn by Nicole Scherzinger.

However, the brand has more than one trick up its sleeve: CuteCircuit has also created custom-made leather jackets for U2’s 360° world tour, as well as several other garments that take wearable technologies to a new level. The award-winning Hug Shirt, for example, digitally transfers an embrace from one person to a loved one anywhere in the world, while the Kinetic Dress is, to put it in layman’s terms, like a mood ring on steroids.

To Rosella, new technology is a fascinating opportunity for the fashion business – and one that other brands are ignoring at their own peril. She originally came from a fashion background, but became frustrated with the conservative approach in the business. “The fashion industry is not very innovative – you keep doing what sells,” Rosella says of her early days in the industry.

Luckily, she followed her instincts, quit her job and joined a research institute for new technologies in Italy, where she met Ryan Getz, now the CEO of CuteCircuit. They both “really wanted a different future for fashion and […] to explore what digital interfaces could do for fashion. As creative people, we live in the 21st century. There are so many technologies at our disposal, but others aren’t using them. To us it seemed natural to use them and make fashion more expressive.”

Communication By Design

Creativity is clearly an important part of CuteCircuit’s designs, yet Rosella insists that the human element is the most important factor in each item of clothing. “Items that appeal to more than one of the senses are very important because that makes people feel more connected,” she explains. “We often think of technology as something that separates people, but our garments bring people together. Technology should be more personal, about human communication.”

That goal is one her young label shares with every tech firm currently invoking the Internet of Things and the Age of Wearables, among other heavily hyped buzzwords. Rosella is surprisingly slow to embrace the fanfare that’s nearing its peak with the imminent release of the Apple Watch, the most talked about piece of wearable technology since the ill-fated Google Glass.

In Rosella’s view, “not everything that is strapped to someone’s body is a wearable. We have a vision of the future where all gadgets will disappear and microtechnology will be integrated into our garments. To me, wearable technology is something we really wear on our bodies.”

Download Your Duds

Just as some of Rosella’s values seem at odds with the general tech discourse, others go against the fashion grain. She is loath to chase the ever-accelerating rotation of the seasons – and clearly, CuteCircuit doesn’t have to. “The development cycles with wearable technologies are longer, but this type of fashion is also more sustainable. If you want a new skirt, you just download a new animation, colour or print. That way our garments last longer and are more interesting than over-consumption.

“Innovation and sustainability should go hand in hand. We have a new version of [our] app, where you can design your own animation and upload it to your garment. People are empowered to control what their wardrobe looks like.”

In the end, it’s not necessarily the circuits that are cute, but what you do with them.


Article by Fiona Brutscher

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