Arts

The future of fashion has arrived — in sportswear

Not long ago, shiny clothing with built-in gadgets that track your vital signs sounded like something for the military to work on. At Smarter. Faster. Tougher., an off-site exhibition mounted by Toronto's Design Exchange museum, there's plenty of evidence that cutting-edge technology already rules one part of mainstream civilian life: sportswear.
Exhibition view of Smarter. Faster. Tougher. including examples by Maharishi, Shark Attack Migration Systems, and Speedo (Design Exchange)

Not long ago, shiny clothing with built-in gadgets that track your vital signs sounded like something for the military to work on, or maybe part of a plot hatched by sentient robots from a dystopian sci-fi future. At Smarter. Faster. Tougher, an off-site exhibition mounted by Toronto's Design Exchange museum, there's plenty of evidence that cutting-edge technology already rules one part of mainstream civilian life: sportswear.

The show is populated by a small army of mannequins wearing the latest in sports gear, and it only takes a few minutes of tracing the seams of surfwear or checking out the biometric sensors installed into jackets or tank tops to see the almost unnervingly close relationship between sports and innovation. That vision of the future you had when you were a kid, where everybody wore skin-tight, oddly-constructed bodysuits in a highly unusual colour palette? Well, that future has arrived.

As futuristic as these tools might seem, it's easy to imagine them becoming readily available in a very short time.

Smarter. Faster. Tougher. curator Marie O'Mahony is an appropriate person to have assembled the exhibition — a professor of Digital Futures at the Ontario College of Art and Design, she's seen such gadgetry many times before. But O'Mahony admits even she was surprised by some of the new materials casually sliding into the world of sportswear (one of the most eclectic is a Kevlar-merino wool mix intended to protect the body and prevent skin abrasions). For the exhibition, O'Mahony has divided current trends in forward-thinking wearables into categories including fashion-oriented items; clothes that take their cue from world cultures; and garments inspired by natural forms on the planet.

RCA + Imperial College London. Nanook Push & Carve, design by Edward Hill, Koraldo Kajanaku, Seungyeon Ryu and Chunhao Weng (Design Exchange)

The section of the show addressing physical challenges is particularly fascinating. It features proposals by British design students from the Imperial College and the Royal College of Art in London that imagine various devices to aid specific disabilities. Spine, one of the results, is a pliable spine support for people with back problems. It softly cradles the wearer's back while they play sports, but in the event of a severe impact or fall, it instantly turns rigid and protective, protecting and immobilising the person's back. Another invention is an ice skate that sends signals to the nerves of a person paralyzed on one side, allowing them the control of a fully mobile and independent skater. As futuristic as these tools might seem, within the larger context of this exhibition, it's easy to imagine them becoming readily available in a very short time.

The viewer can borrow a tablet to guide them through the exhibition, providing extra information and even games that bring the show to life and add a bit of levity. And there are amusing moments in the exhibition itself, reminding us that sports aren't all deadly serious. California designer Loudmouth's signature aggressive argyle pattern, seen splashed across a blazer and pants, dares anybody not to notice the golfer wearing it, while Shark Attack Migration System's striped wetsuit tricks unwitting sharks into believing humans are their pilot-fish colleagues, dissuading them from attacking.

Loudmouth. Argyle print Jackets, knickerbockers + polo shirts. (Design Exchange)
Shark Attack Migration Systems. Elude and Diverter wetsuits. (Design Exchange)

And there are enough offerings here from mainstream brands like H&M, Canada Goose or Adidas to drive home the democracy of sportswear — rather than staying in a glass case in a museum, the innovation on display at the Design Exchange will, if you want it, likely make its way onto you.

Smarter. Faster. Tougher.: An Exhibition on Sports, Fashion and Tech, commissioned by Panamania, presented by CIBC, is at 39 Parliament Street in The Distillery District, in Toronto, until Oct. 12. Mon-Wed: 11am–7pm; Thu & Fri: 11am-8pm; Sat: 10am-6pm; Sun: 11am-6pm. Free to Aug. 15 from https://www.universe.com/smarterfastertougherwww.dx.org

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