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Brief Published: 17 Sep 2014

LFW: Richard Nicoll Debuts LED Dress

Richard Nicoll's LED Tinkerbell dress at LFW 2014

This project is a stepping stone to designers genuinely using hi-tech materials within their collection as a matter of course.

Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the Fashion Innovation Agency

British designer Richard Nicoll opened his London Fashion Week catwalk show yesterday with a show-stopping dress infused with micro LED lights, proving that spring/summer 2015 is the season when wearable tech hits the fashion mark.

The designer collaborated with London-based fashion and technology company Studio XO, an innovator in the integration of seamless light-based technology in fabrics and clothing. The dress was made from fibre-optic fabric activated by high-intensity LEDs embedded within it.

The result threw an ethereal light across a darkened catwalk, mimicking what journalists and fashion insiders are now calling a ‘Tinker Bell glow’ thanks to its fairy inspiration (Disney sponsored the show). The dress is equally subtle and wearable in daylight, with a shimmering finish.  

Nicoll’s dress marks a tipping point for fashion and technology, where gadgetry, lights and audio platforms are now intelligent enough to be embedded in highly fashionable, wearable clothing without looking clunky, cumbersome or overtly ‘techy’.

“It was imperative for Richard that what went down the catwalk was ‘fashion’, not ‘tech’,” said Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency, which brought Nicoll and Studio XO together. “The gasps were audible as the dress appeared; it was a huge moment for fashion technology. We’d built something that was truly desirable.” 

Designers have previously struggled to make sense of this loud and ‘techy’ technology in their work. At the 2014 Decoded Fashion Summit in London, British designer Henry Holland and Greek designer Mary Katrantzou admitted that it didn’t make sense for them to implement gadgets such as LEDs and sensors into their designs until the technology becomes more intuitive and beautiful.

Speaking in debate with Liz Bacelar, founder of fashion and tech events company Decoded Fashion, Katrantzou said: “You have to do it with conviction, and really know what tech fabrics can give you. There is a big gap between designers, technology and the end result.” Nicoll’s Tinkerbell dress exemplifies how this gap is shortening dramatically.

Speaking at a fashion and tech talk hosted by the British Fashion Council during London Fashion Week, Nancy Tilbury, director of Studio XO, said: “The technology is starting to disappear, making it the ideal time for the fashion industry to get involved. The textile world is about to come alive because of these wonderful technologies.”

For further coverage of  key spring-summer 2015 fashion week wearable launches see Apple iWatch: Fashion’s Validation, Tech’s Fashionable Tipping Point

And for more on Studio XO and the future of wearable fashion, see our coverage of the Wearable Futures 2013 conference in London, and read up on Mortiz Waldemeyer, another creative wowing with technological witchcraft. For similar materials innovation, see Shifting Surfaces and Interact from the Spring/Summer 2016 Colour Spectrum