Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Knowear: Human Billboards

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

KnoWear

Based in Brooklyn, New York KnoWear is the elusive namesake of Peter Allen and Carla Ross Allen. The couple met in 1998 while studying Three Dimensional Design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and established KnoWear shortly after the completion of their studies in 2000. The company now tackles fashion, product and concept design under the labels KnoWear (Fashion), AnyWear (Product Design) and SomeWear (Concept Design). “The premise behind the collaboration,” the couple explains, “is a multifaceted ideology born from concept and driven by manufacturing.”

The impact and opportunities technology presents us with today have inspired KnoWear to explore two main considerations: firstly, how nomadic technologies redefine notions of space and secondly, how the body and technology interact. If we are to believe that computing increasingly defines our communication options and that these tools will continue to decrease in size, then it is reasonable to assume that our clothing may need to take on a greater role as container and carrier of small but life-altering devices such as mobile telephones, health monitors or translation services that will ‘need’ to be with us at all times. While the increasing miniaturisation of technology may mean that the future will look decidedly different from today, some things are unlikely to change: clothing which adapts to these needs is a more likely scenario than the human race adapting to life without clothing.

The Allen’s SomeWear label has created a space in which purely conceptual research can be aired and tested. Situated in perhaps a more distant future than the main body of their work, SomeWear is based on “propositional thoughts inspired by cultural trends.” That said, there is little proposed which is not inspired by an observation of the current state of society today. “As implant and explant technology becomes more sophisticated,” the couple observe, “labels and bodies may become one.” The future looks to be a time when far more intrusive marking and branding of the body is acceptable. “Whereas in the year 2000 we put labels on our bodies through the act of clothing, by 2020 we will be implanting designed body parts that are not only genetically coded but will also bear the signs of brands of the couture and product house which created them.”

Human billboards, basically, is the eerie proposition they foresee. While the thought may make our skin tingle and our stomachs turn, it is true that the ubiquity of brand logos on our clothing and accessories does indeed suggest that at least some of us may not be immune to making a more permanent commitment to our favourite houses of fashion. Thus far KnoWear have produced such images as a disconcerting apple logo on a protruding pregnant tummy as well as the following possible advertising scenarios: for Chanel “a quilt pattern implant applied to the human torso”; for MasterCard “an implant replacement for magnetic strips allowing the credit card user to access their account through fingerprint id” [with the card imbedded on the user’s thumbnail]; and for Nike “an air bladder calf implant allowing the user to enhance their physical performance.”

At the centre of these propositions are clear tensions between the future value of the natural and the future value of the synthetic. KnoWear’s “Façade of the Synthetic” project in fact proposes that the outcome of our post-modern state may be that the body ceases to be treated as nature’s creation. If this is the case, then our bodies could become surfaces with no real value in their own right, but rather blank slates awaiting the arrival of the latest commercial fad. While these propositions may seem extreme today, the saturation of logos in our lives likely seemed too extreme to believe a hundred years ago. KnoWear may be placing themselves in a future beyond our own lives, but its predictions, at the very least, present us with a severe critique of the values an increasing part of the world already lives by today.

Future Materials (issue 3, 2006: 24)