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The Man Behind Dita Von Teese's Swarovski Crystal Gown Turns to 3D-Printed Fashion

Sofia Perez | August 18, 2014 | Story Fashion

3D printing might still be dominated by boy's stuff: guns, drones, functional tools, but architect-turned-designer Francis Bitonti's wager is that it can be used to create high fashion clothing too. (Bitonti's first big endeavor into 3D printed garmets was a gown created for Dita Von Teese that had over 3,000 joints and 12,000 Swarvoski crystals.) Bitonti brought his workshop to Autodesk's Pier 9 office last week to show off what the technology could do. We went there in search of answers: High fashion or a high tech gimmick?

Bitonti says he uses 3D printing to create soft goods with fluid movements. “I first worked on laser cut computer generated textiles for designer Katie Gallagher, in 2010. The textiles were generated in 3D and unrolled digitally and translated into fabric. That was what made me think a whole garment was possible.”

Following the Autodesk presentation, Francis Bitonti led the attendees upstairs to the 3D printing lab, where chunks of material were laid upon a desk. The stuff was printed layer by layer atop a clear waxy resin that then was chipped away to reveal the knit-like pattern that will be stitched together to create an entire dress. The material presented to the attendees appears to be light-years away from a wearable dress. Quite literally—it looks alien. Layers of white and dark blue synthetic and plastic-like material sits in small mounds on the desk. There is truly something beautiful about the blue/white almost glow to the material, but it is hard to fathom how it could ever become clothing.

Bitonti begins designing the dress on the computer, crafting a model of what it will finally look like in three dimensions. He starts with a tube—resembling a Chinese finger trap—that can be stretched and tweaked to match the human form it will cover. Bitonti then digitally “unrolls” the dress to see the flat form. That sheet is printed in pieces from the 3D printer. “One of the most difficult parts is having to visualize the complexity of the dress when all I can really see while I’m designing it is the silhouette,” Bitonti said.

In some ways, it's not totally dissimilar to the work of Stanford's Fields Medal winner, Miryam Mirzakhani. Bitonti takes similar understandings of spehrical studies and geometry when approaching 3D print design. The stress on mathematics as well as the similarity to architecture make 3D printing all the more fascinating to Bitonti, but he admits that 3D printing has been heavily driven by the film industry. Many of the programs he uses to create objects and clothing are the same that they use to create blue people in Hollywood blockbusters.

When we were there, the final dress wasn't yet made. Bitoni wasn't sure when it would be. So, it's hard to judge. After all—we haven't yet seen the final product. Maybe the technology isn't quite ready for runway primetime just yet, but as Bitonti points out it can be an efficient way for entrepeneurs to create something. Rather than spending immense time and costs to create sample from the actual material, 3D printing allows designers to create a quick prototype. If nothing else, you can make a pretty cool statue.

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