This 3D-printed dress is made of 1,600 interlocking petals

If you needed more proof that fashion and technology are on a head-on collision course with each other, look no further than the new Petal Kinematics dress from design studio Nervous System. The dress is 3D printed in a complete piece, and almost every element of its design from length to fit can be customized for the wearer.

To make this futuristic garment, Nervous System starts with a three-dimensional body scan of the person who will wear the dress. The customer can then select the desired hemline and silhouette for the finished dress. Adjusting the density of the triangle pattern of nylon petals makes the dress more or less fitted. The dress is 3D printed using selective laser sintering — a process that, in this case, involves melting thin layers of nylon powder into the desired shape using a high-power laser, then removing all the excess powder to reveal the finished product.

3D printing a completed, ready-to-wear dress posed a challenge for designers Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, the minds behind Nervous System. They created Kinematic software that converts the shape of the finished dress into a foldable form that can be sent directly to a 3D printer and churned out in one complete piece. That way, the studio eliminates the labor involved with assembling complex garments and at the same time pushes the boundaries of 3D printing in the fashion industry.

But printing 1,600 petal overlays connected by more than 2,600 hinges that can only move on one side of the fabric grid isn’t exactly an easy process. The resulting “fabric” can’t be folded, so in order to print the dress in only two parts (a skirt and top fastened together with discreet snaps), Nervous System had to roll the petal overlays like a carpet. “Our project has always been more about examining how 3-D printing or other digital manufacturing technologies could really shake up the way we make clothes,” said Rosenkrantz.

These Petal Kinematics dresses cost about $3,000 to print, but Nervous System is working on making a more efficient system that could bring the cost down, in order to produce “normal everyday clothes” instead of couture dresses. The first Petal Kinematics dress is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from now until July 10, since the creation was originally commissioned for the museum’s #techstyle exhibition.

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