Is that 'fashion tech'? Not really. Clara Daguin is actually more concerned with wearable supra clothing –the line is refined while technology is graciously incorporated into clothing, and not the other way around–. Wearable, elegant and poetic, the French high-designer imagines pieces that, one day, would be in harmony with the nature of every human being. That's the future of fashion.
Clara Daguin was one of the finalists of the very esteemed Festival International d'Hyères, in 2016, and she was the only designer exploring the fusion of both fashion and technology. If humankind has always been mastering new materials, it seems that fear is never far away, even though these artifices are actually essential to the way humanity is living. Yet, in a world dominated by technology, Clara Daguin finds it essential to keep a certain manual savoir-faire alive by anchoring the tradition of easy and elegant cuts into our postmodernity. She is composing real garments with ‘connected’ fabrics: and everything is hand-made! Clara Daguin aims to raise the ability of clothing to fit who we are: a marvel of technology.
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What I found remarkable is the way you integrate technology into simply styled and elegant pieces of clothing, but in a shy way. Is this precisely something you're looking to do?
In my mind I always shift between creating something super crazy and the idea of having something wearable. I get the feeling that clothes that are currently categorized as “fashion-tech“, which really integrate technology, are more related to speculative design. I'm very interested in this too: it is a very important aspect of fashion –as design is usually more utilitarian–. I mean, speculative projects are fascinating in their thought process, like sci-fi; they help anticipating the future without saying what are we going to end up wearing. But yeah, I find it cool to have simply-cut pieces (crazy, yes, but also beautiful and wearable).
Your approach is indeed quite far from those designers fascinated by technology like Iris Van Herpen. Your clothes are perfectly wearable.
I try to make pieces that can be worn today but that reflect on tomorrow. What interests me the most is the relationship with the body (I work with heart-rate sensors, for instance). If you take the body away, the garment becomes meaningless, in a sense. When it comes to cuts and shapes, I work with very light and crisp fabrics, something easy to wear. I guess my approach is more about the clothes than sculpture. The technology, electronic at least, lies in the details, in the embroidered circuits or in the way a piece is assembled.
Do you try to express something through your clothing?
Definitely! They're garments, but they also expressions of an observation. In this case, about the ambiguous relationship we've always had with technology (which today is more relevant than ever). I find it fitting to use garments to explore this question because they're basically our first technology, and the one we keep closest to the body as well.
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Is there any book, any film, any artwork that shows you that clothing isn't only about fabric?
This idea to integrate electronics came from a workshop I took part in during my first year at the Art Décoratifs, in collaboration with the MIT. We hacked chairs.
Hacking chairs?!
Yeah, we were given wooden IKEA chairs and the aim was to create a new interaction with them, more complex than just sitting. Through the use of electronic and interactive components, we succeeded in having chairs that refused to let you sit on them unless they were positioned in a certain way, to give you an example. I used to study web and graphic design, and this workshop made me realize I could integrate the interactive aspects of the web into a 3D object.
There's something intriguing in the fact that people are afraid of technological progress. What do you think are the reasons behind that fear? And why in fashion? After all, most of the fabrics people actually wear are not natural (nylon, acrylic, etc.), and they are the result of technical progress.
I think that, aesthetically speaking, fashion-tech is quite peculiar and some fashion industry insiders see it as theatrical, as something that has nothing to do with fashion. It's a little bit ridiculous for them, you know.
You've mentioned nylon, or elastane, for that matter. They revolutionized garments, just like micro-encapsulation or antibacterial treatments. These technologies remain invisible to the eye –for instance, an antiperspirant t-shirt– and people are not afraid of them. Yet this t-shirt may be toxic, we don't know. Integrating electronics is even more complex because it relates to monitoring. And it's true, this is super important: if we start integrating sensors into connected clothing, it means someone is retrieving your data. This raises several questions: who and what for does someone have it; and does this data belong to you or to ‘them’? These things are really important to think about when moving forward.
How do you develop your components? It seems like a surgical act to insert them into the fabric.
In most of my pieces there is an electronic circuit, so you have to be strategic about how and where are you going to place the wire or conductive thread to connect it to the microchip. This dictates the design; if the wire is visible, for instance, it creates a drawing, so everything is built around it. And this is what I like: when the electronics are integrated into the fabric, when they take part in creating the pattern and structure of the garment. There is a sort of a game between what I choose to show and what remains invisible.
You belong to some kind of forerunners when it comes to exploring fashion in this way. Is it easy to work in fashion as you do?
It's not easy. I'm a young designer and let's say, for instance, that I want to produce my collection. You have to think about the sourcing and production (as all designers do), but I'm selling a piece with a circuit board inside. So I have to think of solutions and services in case of technical issues, and this adds a whole new dimension to an already difficult process. There are a lot of parameters, but it's an interesting challenge.
How do you start creating your garment? Does your imagination lead you towards the fabric experimentation?
My starting point is often a vague idea, a concept. This reflection takes a while to ripen and translate into clothing. When it does, I look for visuals that translate the idea into images and I start looking for and creating my fabrics. I like collaborating with artisans and, recently, Aurelia Leblanc wove special ribbons based on my drawing for a piece. You asked me earlier about a book that inspired me: at the moment, I'm reading a really interesting book called L'Homme Nu, by Marc Dugain. It explores the negative aspects of technology and the fact that by giving up our data so thoughtlessly we've become transparent (even naked) to the 4 or 5 big American corporations, which now own all our data. (!)
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I see… More than being able to light-up clothing, would you prefer linking technology to the body through fashion? I mean, for instance, a dress that can cure some skin problems, or a suit able to control glycaemia for a diabetic.
It's funny you say that because I am diabetic! It would be awesome, but I am not going down this path yet. I would love to develop scientific partnerships though, with laboratories, researchers etc. I will do this someday, for sure.
What would the ideal connected-piece you dream to create be?
(laughs) I don't know. Maybe something that induces a meditative state! 
Finally, would you share with us what you're working on for your next collection? What are you trying to make technology say for this one
The next collection is called Aura. The previous one, Body Electric, was focused on the body; so I want this one to be more abstract, more like a reflection on energy. The inspiration is a mix of different material flows: highways, train tracks, and more esoteric and immaterial things like chakras. Part of the collection will be displayed at the Festival International d'Hyères in the formers showroom the last weekend of April.
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