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What If Your Stress Level Was Visible for Everyone to See?


Hussein Chalayan’s high-tech version of a mood ring, on display in Paris. Credit Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

PARIS — Hussein Chalayan is a fashion designer with an eye for innovation. In the last decade, he has unveiled outfits that changed shape thanks to microchips and animatronics, gowns embedded with more than 15,000 LEDs to recreate a pixelated screen, and overcoats that dissolved into dresses when showered with water on a runway.

“Only with technology can you create new things in fashion,” Mr. Chalayan, a 20-year industry veteran, has said of his showmanship flourishes and visual trickery. “Everything else has already been done.”

So it was of little surprise that at “Room Tone,” his spring 2017 show on the Friday morning of Paris Fashion Week, Mr. Chalayan raised the bar yet again.


Mr. Chalayan’s models wore smart glasses that gathered data about their stress levels. Credit Guillaume Roujas/Nowfashion

As part of a collaboration with Intel using its Curie module, a chip that can control and filter data, five models were sent down the catwalk wearing smart glasses and belts that measured their stress levels, processed the biofeedback, then generated visual projection

The glasses gathered biometric data from three sensors: one with EEG electrodes to monitor brainwave activity, another to capture and measure heart rate variability, and the last a microphone that picked up on breathing rates. Combined, they were able to process stress in the wearer.

That data was then sent to a belt via a Bluetooth LE connection, where it was displayed on the wall as the models walked, via tiny projectors embedded within the belts.

“When we spoke to Hussein, much of the conversation centered around what’s happening in our environment, the stress of everyday and how to proactively manage its impact on the body,” Sandra Lopez, vice president for the New Technology Group at Intel, said backstage before the show.

“We wanted to work with Hussein because we needed a designer who was unafraid to push our engineers to work on projects they would never have thought were possible,” she said. “And that was definitely him. Our whole goal with wearables is improving human lives.”

“Room Tone” was a meditation on the here and now of modern London existence and the possible loss of self in technology, as well as the difficulty in expressing the emotions that have come to define English culture.

As the models proceeded down the catwalk, a voice-over described various thoughts that have become commonplace for millions: “Fear of terrorism has become part of my daily life,” “I am trying to control the fear with my breathing,” “I find it difficult to express my emotions — my accessories are helping me measure how much I can reveal.”

Backstage after the show, Mr. Chalayan, who was born in Cyprus and raised in London, spoke of how he has long been interested in exploring the engagement between brain activity and imagery, noting how the patterns and prints on the wall, which shifted in shape and pixelation according to the stress of the model, were also present in the clothes.

“I’ve worked with wearable technology for many years, but this felt the closest yet to a real product that might find life for itself beyond a collection,” he said, fending off kisses from hordes of friends and admirers. “Their design was completely my own. I wanted the aesthetic of the glasses in particular to be very retro. They were very wraparound, very in your face, very like a sports car. They made a statement, but they still had a function. That was important to me.”

So, too, was a finale series of pillowlike tunics and pantsuits, tied with white ribbons and vast balloon sleeves, all of which had a built-in mechanism that inflated them. But, Mr. Chalayan insisted, it was much more than just hot air.

“The entire show was about breathing,” he said. “Everyone was taking breaths constantly — that breathing controlled the show — so it was a stylistic parallel I wanted to emphasize. Not that everything has to have a reason.

“People always ask me for reasons, and it gets rather tiring. Sometimes something is just the way it is simply because it’s good.”

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