Anouk Wipprecht’s vision of wearable tech is much more than a fitness-tracking smart watch. The designer is on a mission to find a place where robotics can become human.
Anouk Wipprecht spends her spare time help friends construct special effect pieces for big-name TV and film, but her real claim to fame is actually in the fashion industry. The fashion-designer-slash-robotics-engineer has been in the wearable tech game since before any of us even knew it was a thing. Though the rest of the industry is only starting to wrap its head around the notion of technology intertwined with fashion, to Anouk the integration is organic. Fashion design came first, and when she discovered her interest in robotics, she realized that there was a way she could bring life and human interaction to static garments.
And Anouk’s wearable tech works the other way around, and this is where her mission really gets interesting. She uses fashion to give life and emotion to technology—the field that has been deemed antisocial and detrimental to human existence since its beginning. Think about how many movies there have been centered around robots taking over. Even as early as 1927, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis envisioned a technology-based future that compromised humanity.
It’s not like Anouk is creating independently-thinking clothing, but the idea of technology as a medium to foster the human experience has never been at the top of the tech discussion. And today, there is such a debate around the concept of technology ruining our social behaviors, that we all spend too much time with our noses glued to smartphones or hunched over laptops.
Anouk doesn’t see technology this way. “That’s the cool thing about a robot,” she says. “You can see what it does, you see its emotions, but you don’t see its complexities of the software or the technologies behind it. It’s about whether or not the technology is gentle or it shows your emotions opposed to protecting you.”
Our personal devices protect us from the world: we look at phones to avoid social contact, scan the internet rather than ask questions, and use smart watches to track fitness for personal benefit. Anouk’s wearable tech shows emotions; it cultivates human connections.
Anouk crafts wearable couture tech, working with various companies and brands to find ways to bring smart technology into their products. She’s designed a Super Bowl costume for the Black Eyed Peas, made a dress with Volkswagen, and her resume goes on and on, including names from Google to Adidas.
She’s been collaborating with Swarovski on smart crystals, experimenting with what they can make the pieces do. Anouk has been toying with a jewelry piece that senses its wearer’s heartbeat and beams a light to show each pulse. “You can see how someone is emoting, which is a substantial point of understanding how someone is expressing themselves,” the designer explains.
“Technology came into our lives to help us but at this time, it seems like technology is becoming a significant component of stress,” Anouk says. “Most companies I work with are looking for more intuitive and less invasive ways that they can incorporate technology to help us, that can express something of use, and that can communicate something of us in a more playful way.”
“For me, it’s cool to work with these companies,” Anouk continues. “It’s important to see what my identity is as a designer and what their DNA is as a company, and where can that meld and how it can meld in an organic way. You can see [the final work] is my piece, but it’s translated as their identity as well.”
Words: Robyn Turk Head of Video: Tina Rosh