Style icon Dita Von Teese debuted a 3D-printed dress at the Ace Hotel on Monday, born out of a collaboration between designer Michael Schmidt and architect Francis Bitonti.
Schmidt, well-known for designing Lady Gaga's famous bubble dress, worked with Bitonti, a Brooklyn-based architect who renders designs with new technologies in unusual material — this time to make a 3D-printed dress from hardened powdered nylon that still allows for movement.
"We were an interesting team because I take things that are virtual and I figure out what to make them of," Bitonti said.
The dress was created virtually. Schmidt designed the entire dress on his iPad and communicated with Bitonti through Skype during the process of imagining 17 unique pieces and 3,000 joints that let the dress move with the body.
The next step was working with 3D-printing design studio Shapeways, to print each piece before it was lacquered black and adorned with a mere 13,000 black Swarovski crystals. "That's not much in my world, I'm used to having that many on my wrist," Dita Von Teese pointed out, elegantly extending her arm toward the designers.
The biggest challenge in creating the dress was working with materials that weren't malleable as they came out of the printer. "To do that you have to break it down into individual components so it can become something sensual," Schmidt said. "Taking this hard plastic material and making it flow and sexy and undulate around the body."
Francis added, "The curvature is always changing as she moves. As far as difficulty goes, if you could imagine creating a piece with 3,000 unique moving individual parts."
Each component is hollow, allowing the piece to be extremely lightweight for it's size at 11.5 pounds— normally, Dita wears garments that weigh approximately 80 pounds. "We definitely wanted an exaggerated shape. When people ask if it's comfortable I say, 'Well, I like exaggerated shapes so the corseting is nice and tight.' The only thing I was super aware of was my heel getting stuck in the hem, but that didn't happen."
Specially designed for her sensual form, the goal was to create classical beauty using a modern technique. Movement of the garment was conceptualized around the "Golden Ratio" theory by 13th-century theorist Fibonacci, whose formula for beauty is based on a spiral produced by a mathematic formula in nature.
"The dress was not meant to be a futuristic sci-fi vision or anything, it was made to be an extension of her persona rendered through these futuristic means," Schmidt said. "It's still in keeping with her old-world glamour."
The dress will go on tour and be displayed first at Swarovski and then in museums, but as Schmidt said, "no other woman but Dita will ever wear this dress." With that, Dita leaned back in her chair, drink in hand and said, "I'd like to see 'em try."