BY JENNY YANG WITH CLARISSE BESSARD, JASMINE GAMACHE, TOMMY LECOMTE, AND ALEXANDRE SIMARD
“I believe that digital fashion is interesting but it’s also necessary to be real and grounded in reality”
By engaging in a conversation on the impact of interacting with screens in the context of pandemic, Tommy Lecomte, Clarisse Bessard, Alexandre Simard and Jasmine Gamache, fashion design students and graduates, wonder and reflect with the author, Jenny Yang, on virtual advancement and artificial intelligence making its way into the fashion industry.
HAS YOUR SCREEN TIME INCREASED DURING THE PANDEMIC?
Tommy Lecomte: I definitely think that my screen-time has gone up with the new state of affairs. I find that working from home has definitely changed my relationship to my computer as a tool for making. The line that distinguishes work from leisure has become increasingly blurred for me as a lot of casual interactions that would normally take place in studios have been reduced to very brief moments in video calls.
Clarisse Bessard: There were positive and negative aspects. We were more selfreliant and we gave more of ourselves in terms of the creative process. During the pandemic, I no longer ventured outside. And it was clear that we no longer had access to the social sphere or `la vie des gens'. We were closed in on ourselves. The virtual component is able to convey emotions, however, these emotions are murkier when transmitted digitally. In terms of supply chain shortages during the pandemic, it was not necessarily easy. It was certainly a challenge in terms of only using materials or fabrics I had access to, strengthening my artistic process.
Alexandre Simard: For sure. There’s nothing to do and I’m mostly inside all the time on my screen. Most of my work is done on-screen anyways but before, what’s on my screen becomes real. Now, what’s on the screen stays on the screen. Everybody is on the screen, talking to people who are on their screens. My world has definitely become smaller. I’m alone in a room for months on end. It feels small, it is small, my outreach is smaller.
Jasmine Gamache: Definitely. With remote working and continuous confinement, screens became the main attraction. I work in e-commerce, marketing, and website development for a designer. More and more we see showrooms being digitized, and the innovations for fashion designers as well as digital artists are becoming endless. The clothing, the models, have all been digitized. With these virtual tools, it may be a great way to provide further sustainable resources to the industry. Instead of long term and large production creating waste, you display digitally and plan exactly what’s being ordered. No leftovers.
CAN YOU HAVE FASHION WITHOUT CLOTHES? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FASHION AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES?
CB: I believe that digital fashion is interesting but it’s also necessary to be real and grounded in reality. It is not necessary to go to the extreme. Digital fashion allows another version of the clothing to exist. However, the human aspect is most important in terms of fashion. For instance, in my personal collection, the focus is not only on the clothing; there are certain messages that are communicated across the clothing. I think fashion without clothes is possible, although it definitely relies a lot on how we classify fashion. On a fundamental level, garments serve the purpose of fulfilling the need for protection and adornment. I feel as though by merging fashion with these new technologies we are seeking to satisfy the latter for the most part. In recent years, especially with the globalization of trends and subcultures that was brought about by social media, fashion has been more so a means to communicate identity and belief. Without the need for physical protection in cyberspace, fashion takes on this cultural role, which opens up the possibility for a new kind of fashion, one which only exists virtually. With fashion being increasingly consumed through screens, the representation of it becomes malleable. We no longer interact with the object but rather with the version that was curated to be read a specific way for the audience.
The marriage of technology and fashion makes a lot of sense in many ways, since technological development has been so closely tied with clothing and its production in the past. The rise of ‘wearables’, being smart watches, and electronic components embedded in garments themselves is an especially interesting development to me. I think it plays into the science-fiction narratives that have been established for a long time, but it also speaks to how the relationship between man and machine is evolving. Such products interface our physical bodies with the encoded reality in computers. It establishes a sort of proximity and intimacy with our devices. To me at least, it feels like the computer no longer acts as an impartial appliance in our daily activities but rather as an actor in the mediation of our interactions with the rest of the world. of my inspiration as a fashion designer comes from my queer identity and culture. The party scene, especially, influenced me to repurpose clothing and open my eyes to all the possibilities a piece of fabric or a simple garment can bring to me. I play with deconstruction, deformation, and upcycling to create interesting looks. I tried to bring this energy into as many school projects as I could.
AS: I game a lot. I play a lot of World of Worldcraft, I play Path of Exile, I play mostly MMOs (massively multiplayer online games). Microtransactions are getting crazy in those games; selling skins is how they make money. It’s not only in Animal Crossing. League of Legends did a collab with Louis Vuitton. It’s interesting to see games collab with big high fashion houses. I feel like it’s a market that’s maybe not taken seriously enough.
JG: Selling experiences instead of selling a service will become more important.
The virtual personalised experience is going to grow into a version of the tangible we used to know. We are used to being able to touch clothes or touch furniture to understand it and cancel any doubts. Right now, you need almost an equally satisfying experience online so that you can purchase something without truly seeing it. Whether it be digital clothing simulation, e-styling sessions, personalized texts from the brand ambassador, and etc., the ways to provide that human touch-feeling experience are multiplying continuously.
IS DIGITAL CRAFTSMANSHIP POSSIBLE?
TL: Digital craftsmanship absolutely exists in my opinion. In the traditional sense of the term, craftsmanship is about technical skill, but most of all, it is about the compulsion to do a job well for its own sake. When it comes to new media work, that impulse is manifested in how a maker considers the role of the medium critically, and how it affects the meaning of the work. “Good” digital work characterizes itself with an acute awareness of its own existence and limitations. A lot of times, it feels like these mediums are being forced to transcode reality, and emulate traditional crafts, which is often seen as a direct threat to conventional practices. In my opinion, digital work should act as a companion to those methods, rather than a direct replacement for them. A lot of artists have been doing absolutely wonderful work, where the digital components exist in symbiosis with the organic parts of the process.
HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE CREATION OF VIRTUAL SPACES AND ONLINE COMMUNITIES IMPACTED YOUR WORK?
JG: I think that I have always taken social media too seriously. We’re constantly seeing people, brands and influencers from all over the world and we seek the imitation of their lifestyle or a way to create something as relatable. To look like we’re from somewhere else, to live their followed life at that moment in particular, to be a part of the conversation. In order to adapt to this past year's changes, we now need to create a shared virtual space or a community to feel like we are aligned with the normality that surrounds us. It has become an influence that is a struggle for everyone to keep up with.
CB: When it comes to fashion, the human aspect is the most important. When it comes to virtual spaces, as brands and showrooms digitalize, the work process is increasingly transparent and collaborators are now more accessible than ever. For instance, it is easier to have virtual meetings with stakeholders in my home country France and collaborate together on a project. However, in terms of showrooms, being able to touch the material is important. The human aspect in fashion is more visible in terms of “slow fashion”. It’s clear that the pandemic has pushed fashion students to be more reflective and inward-looking. In other words, “nous sommes enfermés sur nous même.”
AS: The same thing applies to fashion. Now they’re streaming fashion. People are getting invited to online fashion shows. It’s probably not optimized right. Usually when you’re there in person, you get some social interaction out of it. When you’re watching the stream, you’re not getting that social interaction, you’re just sitting there. It’s very monotone. There needs to be a way to adjust it so that there are more social interactions involved. The social interactions in online fashion events aren’t good enough for people to stay attached to and to like what’s going on. You’re just looking at a flat screen and there’s no interaction. It’s very two-dimensional where it’s just flat. The people and the event “as-is” is what makes you feel better about being there. You get dressed pretty so that other people can see you.
TL: Online communities have had a really monumental impact on my development as an artist. Being someone who has been doing a lot of work with electronics and programming, I have gained so much knowledge from dedicated makers who put their heart and souls into sharing their process and teaching their craft. With communities like hackerspaces, fablabs and even just online groups, there is so much access to resources that it makes the research process feel a lot more accessible.
Beyond education and supportive maker communities, social media and the imperative to show work online for school since the pandemic started has also completely shifted how I approach my practice. I am so much more conscious of how I document work, and especially how it can become a component of the work itself. I became a lot more interested in audio and video as an addition to my existing textile practice, and how those can shape the narrative around the work. Thematically, I also became much involved in the relationship between physical and virtual space, and how information is added or subtracted through the translation process