Ab[Screenwear] founder Olya Petrova Jackson is driven to seam the disconnect between real and virtual—specifically in the realm of apparel and its broader identity. She marries traditional luxury outerwear materials, wool, cashmere and leather—or as she refers to it “the sensual, material world”—with an RGB-like, dichroic polyurethane—”the emergent, a-material intelligence of our virtual lives.” It’s an intuitive union for her. “We are Screen,” the designer explains, whose work debuts a transparency unusual in an outer layer, based upon the acknowledgment that “The first interface is our skin.”
The designer’s initial exposure to luxury clothing came while instructing global design houses on the handling and commodity aspects of exotic skins. Her own line of garments, constructed with that luxury DNA, borrows from specialized techniques for letting out “strange materials.” The brand’s most iconic pieces feature light-responsive holographic panels sourced from architectural glass finishes and treated in several stages before becoming pliable to garment construction. It’s a material through which touchscreens are operable.
Panels of polyurethane that flatter the body in adroit configuration are “placeholders” for content that she “cannot wait to see more integrated in the physical world.” As a Lab, Ab[Screenwear] is in the early stages of conversations with technology partners involved in the making of flexible screens. “Wearable technology” she says, is nascent: “basic, biometrics devices or very couture, strange shapes and connectivity.” This does not suit a designer who, having worked for both Ralph Lauren and Maiyet, is “uncompromising in the materiality.” Luxury requires a screen with the veracity of skin. To that end, custom orders specify factory finish or can be (at an additional cost) pebbled with “the beauty of age.” Both ship with microfiber gloves.
Ab[Screenwear] is coded in the language of a technology product with events staged to envision future “releases.” For the brand’s Fall ’16 launch, Olya Petrova Jackson collaborated with programmer Landon Thomas, using body-tracing software to create a wireless pairing between participants and the virtual garment. A non-linear narrative sequencing “moments of connection, intimacy an exploration of the textures of skin” emerges onscreen. Participants, watching their movement mirrored in the virtual world are led to the “progressive realization” that they might predict the algorithm piecing clips by filmmaker Nadia Bedzhanova, an illusion of control that she delights in shattering. “We think we own our content and our presence, but our devices have a subjectivity of their own,” she says.
This talented designer imagines the day that fashion forward will switch from “offline mode” and “basic New York black” to “content you project as soon as your mood swings or your moment.” With inspirations ranging from the beauty of raindrops on a phone screen to the role of conceptual art in interface design, Jackson illustrates the surge of mergers between the un/real, im/material, un/natural. Drawing inspiration from boundary-defying artists like Tauba Auerbach and Jon Rafman, the designer reframes the question of sustainability in fashion. If we move from viewing fashion as surface to a vehicle for storytelling then, she says, “one perfectly fitted outerwear piece with the potential to tell unlimited stories,” is the only object (and illusion) you will ever need.
The idea of one perfect jacket has some precedent. Her solution to this century’s struggle—the perceived tension between physical connection and virtual life—is not to turn off our phones but to “let go toward the virtual space, and let your virtual life be more tangible, tactile, seen,” she says. In Ab[Screenwear]’s vision, 21st century apparel is about “transparency, openness and connectivity.” She says that her fascination with materials, luxury and surfaces led her to where “language text and material experimentation collide.” Noting the power our apparel has always held, the designer says, “fashion is, like your phone, a device.”
Images courtesy of Spencer Kohn