Julia Körner’s works have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, working for one of the largest haute couture fashion houses in Paris, setting up her own label JK and designing costumes for the blockbuster “Black Panther”.
LEAD: You are an architect, product and fashion designer. How do these different ones fit? Disciplines together and what role does 3D printing play?
Julia Körner: Already in my studies I worked with the internationally known product designer Ross Lovegrove. The aim was to integrate digital production methods and processes into the product design. Product designers and I recognized this potential early on. That’s how I came into fashion. In 2011, the first fashion designers approached me and asked: How could we put 3D printing into fashion?
The Dutch designer Iris van Herpen brought her first clothes from the 3D printer to the catwalk in 2010 and with the architect Daniel Widrig collaborated. What can architects do, what designers can not do?
Körner: Most designs that are fully 3D printed come from architects. This is preceded by a basic knowledge of three-dimensional imagination and the computer skills that you need to implement. The fashion designers learn very little about 3D printing and digital design processes. It lacks the knowledge of how to design on the computer and how to create a three-dimensional file.
You have already worked with the Austrian designer Marina Hoermanseder as well as one of the biggest fashion houses in Paris, in 2015 a completely 3D-printed collection has brought out. How can you imagine cooperation?
Körner: It’s not that the designer has the idea and you then implement it 1: 1. The computer does not generate this alone, because one is also artistically active. At Marina Hoermanseder, we both had an idea that we wanted to implement. It was about traditional smocking technique, so embroidery patterns and how to digitize them. In practice, we are simply two designers working together. The 3D design is then sent to a special company that prints it out.
How widespread is 3D printing today in vogue?
Körner: Still it is something very special. Many of my works have been shown at major exhibitions or at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. These are more art objects in haute couture and less in wearable fashion. The question that many are currently asking is: how can 3D printing also be developed for ready-to-wear? Under my own label JK Design, in 2015 I launched my first collection “Sporophyte” and last year the “Iceland” collection. Some elements are only 3D printed and others are combined with normal fabrics like leather or silk. This has created designs that are much more portable: handbags, necklaces, vests, jackets and skirts.
How do you actually clean your 3D garments?
Grains: If the garment is 3D printed, it is easy to wash by simply holding it under running water. If it is combined with other materials such as leather or silk, it should go to the dry-clean process in the cleaning. So I have not put any of my clothes into the washing machine yet (laughs).
Which method do you use the most?
Körner: I work a lot with SLS, Selective Laser Sinthering. This is a powder 3D printing process in which a 3D file is sent to a printer, which then, in a powder box with a laser, fuses the powder together layer by layer. In the end, the form is dug up as in an archaeological process, leaving behind this three-dimensional object. This is then reworked, dyed, stands alone or can be combined with other materials. The base material is always plastic, which means polymer-based materials that are fused together. There are also biodegradable materials that I use with my own printer, which is not that high end. This also allows me to work with PLA, ie recyclable plastic. That’s where the sustainability aspect comes from.
What is the special added value of 3D printed clothing for you?
Körner: You can thereby generate an aesthetic that is unique and that can not be achieved with any other technique. This was the case, for example, with my dress “Venus”, which I designed in 2016. My inspiration was deep-sea sponges in the oceans. They build their structures in such a way that they grow in the direction of the light and use only as much material as they need. This generates openings and patterns that are influenced by external influences. I scanned this structure 3D and then tried to recreate. The dress looks like the sponge structure has grown over the body.
The dress also contains elements of a degradable PLA, which can change the color in temperature differences. As the person becomes extremely happy, the body becomes hotter, changing color, and the dress communicates to the outside world as that person feels, without telling them directly.
The blockbuster “Black Panther”, for whom they have designed the costume of Queen Ramonda with costume designer Ruth E. Carter, has contributed to her fame. In what way Is 3D printing suitable for such elaborate film productions?
Körner: The possibilities that come with the design process are enormous. With the 3D design it is possible to realize and visualize things that are much more in line with the spirit of the productions. For example, “Black Panther” plays in Wakanda, a kingdom in Africa that has gone incredibly far in terms of technology. Of course, it made sense to create the Queen’s costume with such modern manufacturing methods.
What are the big advantages of 3D printing in fashion?
Körner: Once you have created a 3D file, you can print it out many times and thus generate mass customization. The files can then be adapted to other persons via a 3D scan. The sizes of dresses that we have been around for almost 100 years are always only approximate. In addition, sweatshops in which workers are exploited or in which they have to handle toxic materials would become obsolete in developing countries. The need for overhauling in the fashion industry is above all the way clothes are made.
Given the high number of returns, local production would also be a plus.
Körner: Exactly. The 3D file can be sent to any location via digital means and printed there. Of course, not everyone will have their own high-end printer at home in the future – we’re still a long way from that. But there could be stores where these printers are. I also want to list the recyclability. The clothes can be melted down and processed into new 3D printed dresses. It is also possible to turn recycled plastic bottles into filaments that can be used for printing and there is research into the use of algae. As a complete paradigm shift is possible. And apart from the design possibilities, I find that actually the most exciting.
Where do you still see development potential?
Körner: How to design larger machines that can print with flexible material, how to lower prices and make them accessible to the user? So far only very few materials are suitable for designing 3D fashion. Much more could happen in that direction. In New York there is research into the production of artificial leather and the question arises how to make sustainable materials. Even if some materials are already biodegradable today, the manufacturing process is not sustainable. Especially if you think in terms of mass production, that will be even more important.