More often than not, these two disciplines and the artists that practice them go hand in hand
When the founders of Kate Spade decided in 2015 that they wanted to once again make a go of the accessories business, they decided that their new label, called Frances Valentine, would consist primarily of shoes instead of handbags (which was the thing they originally became famous for in the early 1990s).
The handbag market is crowded enough, they said, so rather than offer dozens of pocketbooks, they whipped up just a few easy-to-carry totes and a broad range of footwear, including everything from casual sneakers to sky-high stilettos.
No matter what category they’re chasing, designers Andy Spade and Kate Valentine — who changed her surname in order to create a delineation between the real person and the still-active brand — will always favor clean lines mixed with artful graphic flourishes. That’s why the collection’s pièce de résistance is a chunky geodesic heel that makes an appearance in the designer’s spring collection under a strappy sandal and, in the fall, a sharp Chelsea boot. The heel was inspired by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, whose futuristic domes can be found everywhere from Russell Township, Ohio, to Montreal, Québec.
It’s a novel interpretation, but hardly an unexpected one. “Fashion is architecture,” Coco Chanel once said. “It is a matter of proportions.”
BODY OR BUILDING Indeed, fashion and accessories designers have long applied the principles of architecture to their chosen medium. There are endless examples of the two intermingling. What they have in common is functionality. Unlike art, which often has no end use other than contemplation, architecture and fashion both serve a purpose. The precision required to erect a building or some other sort of edifice is an inspiration for designers, who must often bring structure to a material that lacks form.
It’s no surprise that several of fashion history’s greatest practiced or at least studied architecture before learning to drape a dress. Tom Ford was an undergrad at Parsons Paris (a branch campus of New York’s esteemed The New School) when his eye began to stray from the monumental toward the sartorial. Legendary Italian designer Gianni Versace studied architectural drafting while moonlighting as a buyer for his mother’s clothing store in southern Italy. Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre, who earned a degree in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic Institute, began his fashion career designing accessories, a process that is often more in line with that of his intended profession — perhaps because it requires the eye of an industrial designer.
Dubbed “the architect of fashion,” Ferre went on to lead the House of Dior from 1989 to 1996. His most notable contribution to fashion, however, is his white shirt iterations. (A garment that requires plenty of engineering to get right.)
Becca McCharen, the Brooklynbased designer behind Chromat, has used the foundations of her architecture degree from the University of Virginia to build an unorthodox fashion label. “Architecture school taught me how to approach a design project,” she said. “It is my full reference on how to design.”
Without any formal fashion training, McCharen treats each garment as if it’s a building. “I think of the body as a building site,” she continued. “Just as you’d be looking at materials and the map of a site before you start plans, we’re looking at context, too. Joints and the movement of the joints all around the place we’re designing for.”
The designer, best known for the cage-like structures she molds to the body, also uses her electrical engineering know-how to wire garments so that they are illuminated in an enticing, not hokey, way.
A MUTUAL ADMIRATION It might be the minimalists, many of whom are not trained architects, who take the practice’s theories most wholeheartedly.
Cuban-born American designer Narciso Rodriguez wanted to be an architect before he became a fashion designer, and the exacting lines of his clothing reflect that. “Architecture is always one of the foundations for me,” he once told The New York Times. The New York-based designer’s favorite buildings include resident treasures such as the Seagram, Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
The Turkish-born, London-based designer Hussein Chalayan has been known to draw more directly from the well of home design, crafting a skirt out of a coffee table and creating a dress that functions as a chair. Or there is Los Angeles-based designer (and former architect) Airi Isoda, whose company is called wrk-shp. She has taken to dipping clutches in latex house paint and coats in concrete.
Isoda, who studied architecture at the University of Southern California, has said the exhibit Skin & Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion & Architecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was a lightbulb moment. “It was the first time I saw fashion in a new light — conceptual and architecture for the body,” Isoda told the website Archinect. “Viewing an elaborately draped dress with folds similar to a façade of a building I studied in school … it was just an eye-opening experience because I saw intellectual fashion, past its somewhat superficial and superfluous nature.”
Isoda went on to study fashion design; wrk-shp is a culmination of her multiple disciplines. The company designs clothing and accessories, lighting, objects and buildings in Los Angeles and beyond. In fact, the buildings of Japanese architect Toyo Ito inspired Isoda’s latest apparel collection. In particular, his “lily pad” columns have informed her silhouettes and pocket details.
It’s important to note that the relationship between fashion and architecture is one of mutual admiration. “Starchitects” are often commissioned to design clothing and accessories. For instance, architect Zaha Hadid was almost as well known for her honeycomb-lattice jewelry as she was for erecting the Guangzhou Opera House. Before her death in 2016, she had also collaborated with the shoe label United Nude, as has Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
But many of the most important fashion and architecture collaborations have nothing to do with actual clothes. Consider the ongoing partnership between Koolhaas and Prada. He has designed several retail stores for the Italian brand and also collaborates with its leader, Miuccia Prada, on collection visuals. The relationship between these two — underscored in the skate-park-like Prada store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, which still impresses 15 years after it opened — has served as an example for many. Like Prada’s clothes, Koolhaas’ concepts remain interesting years, and even decades, after they are conceived.
Making things that last, not just structurally but also intellectually, is the greatest challenge for both architects and fashion designers. Perhaps the fact that clothing and buildings are both rooted in need first and desire second best explains why these two worlds cannot be uncoupled from one another.
Every year staff members from The Henry Ford present Maker Faire Detroit makers, who's projects embodies the innovative spirit of the event, the coveted Editor's Choice blue ribbons. We're excited to share this year's winners. Take a look at the list and get to know more about these outstanding makers.
We are happy to announce the launch of our second themed release on Google Arts & Culture! GCI’s “American Democracy” release launched July 13, 2016.
The American Democracy collection allows anyone with an Internet connection to explore over 60 exhibits and 2500+ artifacts from 44 institutions including the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Monticello, and the National Archives. The Henry Ford’s presence includes just over 200 artifacts from our collections covering our country’s history from the early 19th century through the 2012 presidential campaign, and consisting of campaign buttons, ballots, lanterns, bumper stickers, and prints, as well as many quirkier items, like campaign-themed bubble gum, cigarettes, top hats, capes, and razors. We are also featuring three online exhibits as part of the collection: Electing Lincoln, on the presidential campaigns of Abraham Lincoln; Bright Past, Fragile Future, on the conservation of our fragile paper political lanterns; and Bottles, Bobbleheads, and Bubblegum, highlighting some of the most interesting and unique presidential campaign items we hold.
Earlier this year, The Henry Ford launched a brand-new, award-winning institutional website. Part of this project—but a big part!—is a completely reimagined Digital Collections. The Henry Ford has been scaling up its collections digitization efforts since 2010, and you’ll find tens of thousands of artifacts available online (some of the most recent additions here), with many new and enhanced features on the new site. Though we hope the new Digital Collections experience is intuitive and easy to use, we wanted to highlight some of the features for those who might not yet have had a chance to dig in and explore.
One of the best things about our Digital Collections is that they are now fully integrated with the rest of our website. This means that any search you try on our website will return results from our educational resources, our Digital Collections, and the rest of the site, in convenient tabbed format.
Digital Collections artifact results from a site search on thehenryford.org.
If you’re specifically interested in our artifacts, you can easily perform collections-specific searches from the homepage of our Digital Collections. By entering a word or phrase in the single box, you will search three kinds of records—individual artifacts, archival collections, and expert sets, with each group of results returning in its own tab. For artifacts, you can limit your search results by date, the type of artifact (objects, photos, documents, videos/film, or audio), the location of the artifact (Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, the Benson Ford Research Center, or not on exhibit), the special multimedia types available for that artifact (360-degree views, audio, or video), and whether there are high-resolution images available for automated download for a service fee. Search results can be sorted by relevance, title, or date.
Search results from a search from the homepage of our Digital Collections. If you need to get even more detailed, you can, with one of my favorite new features on the Digital Collections site, Advanced Search. While the Digital Collections homepage search features a single box and returns results based on relevance, the more sophisticated advanced search lets you combine any of 20 different parameters, such as collection title, color, material, or creator name. Want to find orange automobiles? Or velvet dresses? Or photographs from the Fair Lane Papers collection? With Advanced Search, you can! An online help guide explains the many different fields and provides sample values for each to assist you in constructing your search.
Once you’ve found an artifact you want to check out, you’ll notice that the look of each artifact record has changed. You will now see more information about each object, and it is easier and faster to flip through the images of each object—or zoom in to see fine details. Some objects may include 360-degree views, audio, and/or video. Each record features a “contact us about this artifact” button, through which you can e-mail our collections experts in the Benson Ford Research Center to ask questions or provide additional information or corrections to our data.
The look of an artifact record in our new Digital Collections.
Many Digital Collections records now display related artifacts, so while viewing something like the record for a historic photo of the Autogiro, you’ll be able to easily jump to the Autogiro itself. “Related content,” such as a story or video we’ve created including that object or other objects from our collection, will also appear where appropriate (see the record for our Apple 1 for examples). Artifacts may be shared via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, or as “artifact cards,” short, portable versions of collections records that you can embed on your blog or website. Social sharing links and instructions for using artifact cards are available via a link on every collections record.
Archival collection records are brand-new to our Digital Collections. Previously, you needed to use our library catalog in order to find broad information about specific archival collections. Our new site allows us to include information from archival finding aids alongside the records that represent individual items from those collections. We will continue to add these archival records as collections are acquired and processed.
A record for one of our many archival collections.
Expert sets have been totally overhauled. They still collect groups of artifacts selected by our collections experts on specific themes, but are much more robust and visually appealing. As noted above, they are also searchable directly from the Digital Collections homepage. But you don’t have to be an expert to create your own set… Anyone can! Just click the “Add to Set” button on any artifact record and log in or create an account. It is also easy to share both expert sets and user sets via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail.
One of hundreds of artifact Expert Sets created by our collections staff.
Another notable new feature of the site is that many of our collections images are available for immediate high-resolution download for a service fee. Anywhere you see the BUY icon on an image (or use the relevant search limiter), you can purchase that image for personal or educational use in accordance with the terms of service listed on the site. We will continue to add more purchasable images to our Digital Collections over time. Lower-res images may be downloaded without a fee.
Lastly, if you ever tried to use our old Digital Collections site on a smartphone or tablet, you might have found it a frustrating experience. The new Digital Collections site is completely responsive, and all features will work equally well on your phone, tablet, or desktop computer.
Please try out our Digital Collections, if you haven't already, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments about your experience. Our hope is that our new Digital Collections makes it easier and more fun for you to find, enjoy, and share the many treasures of The Henry Ford!
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Strange sounds will soon float through the air at The Henry Ford. Ghostly, warbling, hypnotic sounds. Reverberations that might be described as pure science fiction—as seeming “out-of-this-world.” These provocative sounds will rise out of an instrument called the theremin, developed in 1920 by Russian and Soviet inventor Léon Theremin. Famously, it is one of the only instruments that is played without physically touching it, and is considered to be the world’s first practical, mass-produced, and portable electronic instrument. These instruments offer a deep range of sonic possibility; learning to play one is a stirring experience.
At Maker Faire Detroit, July 30-31, 2016, Dorit Chrysler will provide several theremin workshops with KidCoolThereminSchool, a workshop program “dedicated to inspire and nurture creative learning and expression through innovative music education, art and science.” On Saturday, youth workshops (ages 4-13) will be held on a first come-first served basis at 11am and 1pm, followed by an adult workshop (ages 14 and above) at 4pm. On Sunday, youth workshops will be held at 1pm, followed by an adult workshop at 4pm. Maker Faire attendees are encouraged to arrive early to guarantee a place in the workshop, as each session is limited to ten participants. Additional guests are welcome to observe the workshop and test a theremin afterwards. Workshops typically run 45mins to 1hour, and will be held in the upper mezzanine area in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit.
Dorit Chrysler is rarity in the realm of musical performance: she is one of the few theremin players in the world who is considered to be a virtuoso of the instrument. She has accompanied an impressive list of bands including The Strokes, and Blonde Redhead, Swans, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and Mercury Rev. Additionally, as part of her visit to Maker Faire, Dorit will give a performance each day at 3:15pm in The Henry Ford’s Drive-In Theatre, followed by a short Q&A session.
Kristen Gallerneaux, our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, had the opportunity to speak with Dorit Chysler about theremins, her music career, and the importance of collaboration.
Can you explain, using a few key words or phrases—as fanciful as you want them to be—how the theremin sounds? The granddaughter of the Lev Termen, the theremin's inventor once told me, you have to play the theremin with your soul - to me the sound at its best translates your slightest physical motions into a haunting & delicate soundscape, like weaving winds, tickled butterflies or howls to the moon, and yes, a theremin can sound exquisitely lyrical, but—at its worst, it can also sound like stepping on a cats tail.
How did your introduction to and love of the theremin as an instrument begin? What was your creative background before committing to the theremin? Having studied musicology in Vienna, I had been an active composer and also played guitar and sang in a rock band - when encountering the theremin at a friend’s house, I was instantly touched by its unusual interface, dynamic potential, the quixotic efforts necessary in controlling its pitch -why had the theremin not been more popular? It clearly deserved more attention.
How can the presence of a theremin influence the structure of a song? A theremin is surprisingly versatile - it can be applied in solo voicing (just like violin or guitar) or looping monophonic voices atop of each other, which creates a very unique weaving effect or dynamically in swoops and other gestural movements generated through its unique interface of motion translating into sound.
Are there any “quirks” to playing this instrument live? Playing a theremin live can be a challenge, as circuitry, wind (outdoors) or Hearing Aid ‘Loop’ T-coil Technology in concert halls, just to name a few, can interfere with the instrument. In addition, if you don't hear yourself well onstage, it is impossible to play in tune—so if playing with other instruments, such as an orchestra or a band with drummers, it is a challenge that can only be mastered with your own mixer and an in ear mic. Needless to say, all of this does not contribute in making the theremin a more popular instrument, the technical challenge playing live is real but can be mastered.
While commercial theremins are available via Moog Music, Inc., the theremin you sometimes play in your live shows doesn’t look like a commercial model. Is there a story behind who built it? Any special skills that creator may have had to work hard to learn in order to make the instrument a reality? I own several different theremin models and sometimes play a Hobbs Theremin, created by Charlie Hobbs. This prototypes has hand-wound coils and a very responsive volume antenna which permits very dynamic playing.
What is the strangest setting in which you have played the theremin? Many diverse settings seem to offer themselves to a thereminist. Some of my favorite ones have been: playing in front of Nikola Tesla's ashes, resting inside a gold ball sitting on a red velvet pillow at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, or inside an ancient stone castle ruin, atop a mountain in Sweden, or on a wobbly boat off Venice during sunset and with creaming ducks, at the Carnival in Brazil on a busy street filled with dancing people, and finally, a market place in a small town in Serbia, when an orthodox priest held his cross against the theremin to protect his people from "the work of the devil."
Could you talk a little about the importance of collaboration, and perhaps talk about a project that you are especially fond of where collaboration had a key role? I strongly believe in collaboration—its challenges and the new and unforeseen places it may take you. My biggest challenge this year has been playing with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra, to be surrounded by a sea of acoustic instruments sounded incredible and was a great sonic inspiration. We all had to trust each other and some of the traditional classical musicians of the ensemble eyed the electric theremin with great suspicion! Also I enjoyed playing with Cluster, stone cold improvising together onstage, or with a loud rock ensemble, filling the main stage at Roskilde festival with Trentemoeller, looking at a sea of thousands of people. This Fall I am committed to projects in collaboration with a project in Detroit with the band ADULT., a French band called Infecticide (they remind me of a political French version of Devo), a children’s theremin orchestra, and a theremin musical production for Broadway. Stylistically a theremin can fit in nowhere or anywhere, which opens many doors of collaboration
Can you tell us a little bit about how KidCoolTheremin school began? What other sorts of venues have you travelled this program to? KidCoolThereminSchool began very organically, when children and adults were so eager to try the theremin themselves after concerts. I developed a curriculum and started classes at Pioneerworks, a center for art and science in Red Hook, NY. We were supported by Moog Music in Asheville, NC, where I had been teaching students over the course of six months. KidCoolThereminSchool has been going global ever since, we have had sold out classes in Sweden, Switzerland, Detroit's MOCAD, Houston, NYC, Moogfest, Vienna, and Copenhagen. This fall, KidCoolThereminSchool will go to Paris and Berlin as well as free classes in Manhattan as part of the "Dame Electric" festival in NY, Sept. 13-18th.
Why is it important for young people and new adult audiences to have the chance to try a theremin? Ever since its inception, the theremin as a musical instrument has been underestimated—it merely hasn’t found its true sound as of yet. In this age of technology, a theremin's unique interface of motion to sound, seems contemporary and accessible. Amidst a sea of information, the very physical and innovative approach to different playing techniques can allow each player to find their own voice of expression, learning to listen and experiment, to train motorics and musical skills in a playful and creative way.
What can people expect to learn at the KidCool workshops at Maker Faire? Due to time restrictions, we will offer introductory classes on the theremin. We will go through the basics of sound generation—and ensemble playing is sometimes all it takes for someone to get inspired in wanting to dive further into the sonic world of the theremin.
Is there anything you are particularly excited to see at the museum? Yes, the collection apparently holds two RCA theremins. They are currently not on display but we (the NY Theremin Society, which I cofounded) would very much like to help examine and determine what it would take to operate these instruments one day, and to even play them in concert at the museum in the future. For a long time now I wanted to see the permanent collection of The Henry Ford!
At Maker Faire Detroit 2016, Drew Blanke—more formally known as “Dr. Blankenstein”—will arrive, trailing a rolling suitcase full of broken toys and noise-making creations along behind him. Over the weekend of July 30-31, 2016, Blanke will hold workshops to teach people how to “up-cycle electronics into one-of-a-kind 21st century art.” He asks that guests interested in participating in the workshop bring along broken electronics from home—to “open them, inspect them, and learn from them.” He will also have a few of his own creations available for hands-on demonstrations.
This will be Dr. Blankenstein’s first appearance at Maker Faire Detroit, but he is no stranger when it comes to providing engaging circuit-bending workshops. Kristen Gallerneaux, curator at The Henry Ford, first encountered Blanke at Moogfest 2014, where she saw him demonstrate a musical calculator programmed to play a song by the band Kraftwerk. What else could the song have been, but Pocket Calculator? For fans of synthesized music, his homage was a crowd-pleaser. Blanke has also appeared at World Maker Faire in Queens, NY, and returned to Moogfest 2016 to provide a series of all-ages hands-on workshops.
On Sunday, July 31st, at 2:45pm, Dr. Blankenstein will give a talk in the museum’s Drive-In Theatre called “Circuit Bending & the Art of Electronic Discovery: Open It, Inspect It, LEARN IT!”
Our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, caught up with Dr. Blankenstein for an interview.
How did your love of synthesized music begin? Are there any historic innovators that you would say are direct inspirations on what you do, and how you think about sound design?
I am not sure the exact moment when I began to love synthesizers, but I can tell you it most certainly started in the early 1980s. It wasn’t as much a love for the instrument at first as it was the wonderful sounds they were able to make. I think of music from films such as Tron, Close Encounters of the Third Kind & Breakin’, sound effects and theme songs from TV shows such as Nightrider, CHiPs and Star Trek, and 1980s music such as Kraftwerk, New Wave and early Rap all left a huge impact on me. I can’t leave out Michael Jackson and breakdance music either, I was a mini Breakdancer at the time thanks to Mom & Michael Jackson. Older dancers called me Kid Fresh (LOL). All of these elements created a need to know more about how these sounds were created. I knew there was something different about them versus say a guitar, flute or drums etc. Even at the young age of 5, I knew I wanted to know more.
As for inspirational innovators that I have been influenced by in my later years, I would have to point to Bob Moog and Herb Deutsch. The work I do and the work they did (although similar in nature) is much different in style, but I connect deeply with the passion and creativity that was alive between the two of them. It’s almost like the Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of the synthesizer world, both such amazing and inspiring American dream stories. It’s almost impossible to not be inspired by them.
Dr. Blankenstein is pictured here demonstrating one of his creations to Herbert Deutsch, co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer. You have called yourself a “circuit manipulator / designer, artist, and professional Maker”—how do these things work together and influence one another?
That’s a fantastic question! I am a big preacher of the concept of “if you want to know more about it, then jump right into it and try it out”. In my experience it’s more difficult to learn from a chalkboard than by exploring / reading and practicing a new interest you are excited by. I am excited by technology and the power it gives me to express myself. As time has gone on since the early 80s, it has only gotten easier and easier to get involved with whatever evolving technology excited me at the time. Especially now with the Internet and all the fantastic resources available to learn from (YouTube, Instructables, kits and How-To websites, etc.), plus the constantly dropping prices on great development gear such as 3D printers and Arduino /RaspberryPi, it’s never been easier to learn about something new and get involved. I kind of saw this happening early on in the game, say about 1995 or so. This allowed me to really explore many different aspects of technology and art. More importantly it gave me the time needed to make it all fit together nicely as it does now. I started in graphic arts / web design and electronic music performance / production. I later would sell big name instruments for a couple of major retailers. I owned a marketing company which allowed me to hone in on even more technical skills such as video editing, text writing and promotion. In the end, every single part of that comes into play with my work in Dr. Blankenstein. To me, it’s proof that if you don’t know exactly what road will take you where you are going, any and every road you pick will take you there. You just need to be passionate about what you are doing.
A view of Dr. Blankenstein’s workbench
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to learning the electronics end of things—things you learned that help you make/manipulate/creatively “break” the things that you do? Did you learn this formally at a school, or on your own by way of tinkering?
Well, it really started around 1986 or so when my father started doing HeathKits again. HeathKit was a company that started in the late 1940s and went out of business in the early 90s. Their basic idea was, “Why buy something at top dollar, when you can build it yourself for less?” It was a great way to learn about electronics and save some money on a gadget you wanted, but didn’t want to pay a lot for (some of their more popular / famous kits were the “HERO” robot used by Mr. Wizard and reportedly built by Steve Jobs in the early 1970s, a VHS Video Tape Recorder, or a color TV). My father was building the kits again (he was building a programmable analog musical doorbell kit), and he had built them as a child himself. Of course, I wanted in on the fun as well. My father would let me solder a resistor or two into place and explain the color coding system to me. He later would buy me an A.M. (not F.M, only A.M.) radio kit for me to complete myself, which I did (minus a few errors fixed by my father).
That was when my love for wanting to know what was inside machines grew, almost as much love for what the machine did itself was needing to know how it worked. At this point, I remember opening up many of my childhood toys to “see how they worked”. I was not always able to put them back together, but I ALWAYS managed to learn something in the process. This is a very important point to be made, one that I try to drive home in all of my workshops. It’s important if we as humans want to stay creative to make sure to look inside a machine and learn how it works. It connects you even deeper to all the hard work that went into making that device possible, develops a newfound respect for the world around you, and in the best case scenario (for what I do)… gets you excited to learn more about how things work and how to make something / or modify it yourself!
I’m a grassroots engineer, street taught… some would call me a hacker. It’s possible to be all of the above and more (it’s actually likely in many cases)! I am not saying that Engineering isn’t a wonderful thing to go to school for, and to follow as a career… it is and you should! I’m saying, you can be a Doctor, a Plumber or a Pizza maker and still be a fantastic Engineer. The most important part is the will / need to learn and the wonder to experiment and explore the world around and how it works.
A view of Dr. Blankenstein’s workbench. Can you tell us about how you go about being a Maker in your day-to-day life? Do you have a workshop at home, or do you use any kind of organized Maker spaces?
I do have a shop in my Queens, New York apartment. It’s a tight space, but it’s rather amazing what can be done from it. One half is my computer workstation, and the other half is made up of two Maker workbenches. One bench I use mostly for circuitry which has my main soldering iron / rotary tool setup / oscilloscope / drill press etc. The other bench I use more for assembling my final products. So here you will find a lot of screw drivers, wrenches, extra screws / nuts and bolts etc. I try to keep the two areas separated so that my final pieces don’t accidentally get damaged by production tools (hot soldering irons, spinning drills) or metal scraps etc. I don’t use any organized Maker Spaces at this time, I wish there were more in my area. In New York, a lot of them seem to be in the Brooklyn area. Maybe I should start one for Queens!
Collaboration is a key attribute within the Maker community. Do you have a network of friends who are also involved in circuit bending or making sound-based work? Are there any online resources where someone might find such a community?
I wish I was working with more people than I am at the moment, because I do agree with you 100%. Collaboration is key to the Maker movement / community. That being said, it’s something easier said than done. As you get older, and you get more involved in your own work, it sometimes gets more difficult to find the time between your everyday work / life to make the connections one should be making when working on a lot different kinds of projects. I hate to sound like my parents here, but this is why SCHOOL is amazing and SO important. I can say to the younger Makers out there, as an adult… you will never have a better opportunity to connect and collaborate with great like minds than you will in middle / high school and college. So do what your parents say and take full advantage of it, you will thank us for it later. I do work with some other Makers out there from time to time, one of whom is Tim Sway… the amazing woodworker / instrument maker. We have collaborated on a few projects to date you can find out there if you search the web. There are a few other people I have been talking to lately that I hope to be working with in the near future as well. Lastly, that is why Maker Faire is such an amazing concept. All of us who work on our projects day after day, week after week, month after month, can finally come out in the daylight, meet follow Makers and show off ( and check out other people’s work) our hard work and collaborate.
Dr. Blankenstein’s “GoogaMooga”—his submission to the “Circuit Bending Challenge” at Moogfest 2012. Can you talk about an especially challenging project, where the outcome was totally worth all of the effort you put in to it? Have you had any amazing accidental discoveries or spectacular failures?
It’s hard to talk about challenging projects and massive learning experiences without talking about the GoogaMooga (a 30min video of me building it can be found on my YouTube channel), my submission for the Moogfest 2012 “Circuit Bending Challenge” hacking contest. I had just gotten back into circuitry full time as was determined to be picked as part of the Top 3 to go to Asheville and compete. Did I have the skill level need to do so? Well, that was an entirely different story all together.
The idea was to use three 10 second voice recorders used to say Happy Holidays to Grandma and Grandpa in a custom greeting cards and turn them into an epic (contest winning) sampler / synthesizer. No problem, right!?! ;) Well I knew what I wanted to do, but the hard part was figuring out how to make it all work together. First I tried to etch a custom PCB mixer I planned on running all 3 sample units through. That was a total failure, a waste of sensitive time (the contest deadline was in days) and money. Plus, I had no idea how to run three separate 4.5volt samplers off one 9V power supply. The concept of a voltage divider chip / components hadn’t been revealed to me yet. So, I wound up running each of the mini voice sampler units off their own power supplies. Which pretty much meant loading the piece with NINE AA batteries and a 9V power supply to run the pile of LED lights I added and an FX section. Sounds crazy right? Later I would find out, even though I did just about everything completely wrong... I followed rule #1 in engineering, MAKE IT WORK! First and foremost, it must work… it may not look amazing on the inside, but make it work. In case you are wondering what rule #2 is, it’s always try to learn something new from your mistakes… I most certainly did as well. Guess what? I was picked to be part of the Top 3 of the contest and a relationship that still exists to this day was forged between Moogfest and myself. There isn’t much in life that will be easy or work perfectly when you first start doing it, just remember that everyone goes through it… and keep pushing through to your goals.
What is the benefit of making your own instruments, rather than exclusively playing commercially-purchased instruments? Are there any “quirks” to playing these types of things in front of an audience?
As for benefits, I suppose that depends on the artist who is using the instrument. I would guess the same can be said about “quirks” when performing with them. It really depends on the artist using it, how they are using it and what their final vision for their sound is. Meaning, an instrument can be built perfectly… in a way that it performs perfectly next to a commercially purchased instrument, but some would say, “Where’s the fun in that?” Some people look for pieces that are one-of-a-kind or unpredictable on purpose, it really depends on how the piece was built, and who is using it in what way. Playing a circuit bent piece live on the spot in front of a crowd, versus sampling cool sounds from it and using it in a computer written composition will get MUCH DIFFERENT results from the same exact instrument. I think someone who realizes that, will get the most out of a boutique instrument or something they built themselves.
Dr. Blankenstein is pictured above giving one of his custom guitar pedals to musician Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys. Do you think it is important for young people and new adult audiences to know about the “guts” of what powers everyday technology? What can we learn by taking things apart?
I think it’s beyond important. I’m a big believer that modern culture has people in the mode of “get the newest model” without really thinking about if their current model still does the trick for them. It seems to be a harmless habit to be in, but I don’t believe it’s harmless at all. Besides creating an amazing amount of exponentially growing yearly e-waste and wasting money… maybe even worse is that it makes us solely consumers. We need to be makers, innovators and thinkers… like the men and women whose devices / creations fill the halls of the Henry Ford Museum. Each one of them wanted to make it better than the last one, and with good reason… not just because they HAD TO have the newest model.
When we think about how things work, when we look inside and see what we can learn / recycle or reuse from it… or if nothing else take a look inside at all the hard work that goes into creating these devices. We gain respect for the item, we are amazed by it, we learn more from it… we are less impressed by the company who made it and if it’s the newest model and we are more impressed by what it does. We are impressed by what it does, and that we (the human race) have been able to make it happen in the last 80 years or so! We are amazing, we build amazing things!
What can people expect to learn at your Maker Faire workshop?
I love to show people how simple it is to get involved in circuitry! I like explaining to folks that with the knowledge of just a few easy to follow electronic principles, Circuit Bending very low cost battery powered electronics is actually rather easy, educational and rewarding (changing resistance to modify pitch, swapping out speakers for audio outputs, adding colorful LEDS, changing power sources etc.).
Most people have stuff laying around their house that would be thrown / given away that can easily be modified into one-of-a-kind Circuit Bent creations. The best part is, you have no choice but to get better and better at it and learn more about electronics as you go along. So, I hope to show folks some good examples of what that looks like when you are done with it, what it sounds like, and how they can get started to do the same thing at home (on a very small project budget).
Is there anything you are particularly excited to see at the museum?
There are so many things I am excited to see at the museum, in fact the entire concept of a museum like The Henry Ford excites me beyond belief. Talk about a museum that a Maker like me can really enjoy! Not that I don’t love my native fine art, science centers, or natural history museums here in New York, but a museum dedicated to invention, ingenuity and inspiration… that’s a place I can spend an entire week at. I will actually be staying a few days after the Maker Faire to make sure I don’t miss anything great. From what I see online, it’s just not possible to see the entire campus in 2 days (most certainly when the Maker Faire is going on).
What I am MOST EXCITED to see? It’s hard to have to pick, but I would have to say the communications and information technology artifacts in the museum. I just HAVE TO see the original Apple 1 computer and of course my friend Herb Deutsch’s original Moog Synthesizer prototype! I get goose bumps just typing that sentence. I’m excited to come see you Michigan—see you at the Detroit Maker Faire 2016!
Spotlight on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation: Season 2, Episode 10
Forgo the needle and thread — all you need to make clothes from scratch is a computer and an idea.
In fashion, “printed” usually refers to patterned fabric. But when it comes to one company, it actually describes the way clothing is made.
Bay Area-based startup Electroloom is using 3-D printing to create seamless garments that are soft as butter. Its innovative electrospinning process ultimately makes it possible for anyone with some CAD ability to design and produce fabric items on demand. Dubbed field-guided fabrication, it entails making a mold, placing it in the Electroloom machine and watching as 3-D printer nozzles layer microscopic fibers up around it. Still in its infancy, the technology has so far been used to make simple garments such as beanies, tank tops and skirts.
After the Electroloom appeared on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation earlier this year, The Henry Ford Magazine caught up with co-founder and CEO Aaron Rowley to talk more about the technology and the possibilities yet to unfold.
THF Magazine: How did the idea for Electroloom come about? Rowley: I’ve been working in the technology industry, as have my co-founders, and we saw an obvious lacking in terms of 3-D-printing capability — it couldn’t make soft goods and material things like clothing, towels, shoes — anything that’s soft and flexible. We wanted to expand 3-D printing to produce those items. We knew that it would be extremely valuable, so we set out on this hypothetical task. We just started prototyping and designing, and that’s where the original genesis came from.
THF Magazine: How has your company evolved? Rowley: When we first started working, we were in a garage and in our apartments working on the kitchen floor. Then, we began to work out of a technology shop and maker’s space, a community of people that supports a facility that has equipment, classes and training. We also participated in accelerated programs, which catapulted us to the next level. While the origins of this project were truly conceptual, when we were successfully getting fabrics and soft material, that’s what propelled us into building these larger, more robust machines.
THF Magazine: How does the Electroloom work? Rowley: The simplest way to describe it is that we convert liquids into textiles. Basically, we use electricity to pull on the liquid, and the liquid, as it’s being pulled on, then hardens into a fiber and as you pull that across a gap — let’s say inside of a machine — that liquid converts into a fiber as it dries. The final product is completely seamless.
THF Magazine: So what does the fabric feel like? Rowley: The fibers that we work with are actually single fibers, really tiny micro- or even nanoscale fibers. They’re very, very small, which makes the material very soft. The fabric has been described as a hybrid between cotton and suede. The texture on the surface is soft like suede, but it’s got the look and dimensions of cotton and polyester with comparable thickness.
THF Magazine: What’s next for the Electroloom? Rowley: We are in the middle of fundraising right now. We also received a grant from the National Science Foundation specifically for projects pursuing advanced technology and nanotechnology. We are exploring some private investments, too. The goal is to expand the team to refine the technology and, later this year or early next year, have an actual set of machines “out in the wild” as well as our own clothing brand.
THF Magazine: How do you see this technology being applied? Rowley: We’ve been approached by several clothing brands interested in working with the technology and product design teams who want to work with this method. A few stores are even interested in having the tools in-store to engage with customers. We’re flushing this out to determine what’s most doable in the near future. We’ll be settling on something soon and making some cool announcements.
THF Magazine: Do you really see people using Electroloom to make clothing in their own homes? Rowley: I try to discern between near-term realistic stuff and what’s our bigger vision. Having people make things in their homes is far off, but the goal is to, over the years, refine this technology so if somebody did want to have this in their home to print fibrous products — from kitchen towels to socks and underwear — to supplement actually going out and purchasing these items in stores, we would love for that to happen and for people to be able to add customization, colors and shapes.
Did You Know? It takes between eight and 14 hours to encapsulate a mold with printed fibers in the Electroloom.
How it Works
See the full episode of The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation here.
The Vietnam War is remembered as “the Helicopter War” for good reason. The Huey helicopter played a pivotal role serving the U.S. Armed Forces in combat as well as bringing thousands of soldiers and civilians alike back to safety. The helicopter’s prominent rotor “chop” and striking visual as it flew in groups across the sky, became iconic symbols of a challenging period in our nation’s history; symbols that continue to evoke powerful feelings today.
The Henry Ford is proud to host a special display on the front lawn of Henry Ford Museum: Take Me Home Huey is mixed-media sculpture created from the remains of an historic U.S. Army Huey helicopter that was shot down in 1969 during a medical rescue in Vietnam.
Artist Steve Maloney conceived of the piece to draw attention to the sacrifices made by veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War. Maloney partnered with Light Horse Legacy (LHL), a Peoria, Arizona-based nonprofit and USA Vietnam War Commemorative Partner focused on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. LHL acquired the Huey helicopter – #174 – from an Arizona boneyard, re-skinned and restored it, and delivered it to the Maloney to transform into art for healing.
DESIGNERS DISILLUSIONED WITH FAST FASHION LOOK TO CREATE A GRASSROOTS GARMENT INDUSTRY ONE CITY AND ONE HANDMADE SHIRT AT A TIME
Laura Lee Laroux is full of confidence, even though some peers say she shouldn’t be.
Laroux, 36, moved to Bozeman, Montana, with seven sewing machines and 12 rolls of fabric in a U-Haul earlier this year, intent on making the rugged town at the northern foot of the Gallatin Range the new headquarters of her clothing line. She calls it RevivALL because she upcycles old materials into new garments, such as ruffled dresses fashioned from men’s shirts and hip bags revived from leather scraps bought from a recreational vehicle manufacturer.
Laroux had been overly busy and underearning in her previous home of Eugene, Oregon, running a clothing boutique, co-producing a local fashion week and, in the snatches of remaining time, working on developing RevivALL. But then, like so many bold Americans, from the pioneers to Kerouac on down, she concluded that her destiny, her chance to leave the old muddle behind and pursue her dream full time, lay elsewhere. “I just got some kind of rumbling inside me that said I have to leave Eugene,” said Laroux.
But Bozeman, population 37,000, isn’t New York or Los Angeles, teeming with seamstresses, fashion buyers and media. Why does she think she can make it there?
The same could be asked of legions of other upstart fashion designers setting up shop in locales such as Lawrence, Kansas; Nashville; and Detroit, none fashion capitals likely to be featured on Project Runway.
Something is afoot.
The odds of upstarts breaking profitably into the $2.5 trillion international fashion business remain long, but American entrepreneurs like Laroux have been newly emboldened to try by a confluence of cultural and economic forces. These include an appetite among some activist consumers to opt out of the fast-fashion system; Web stores like Etsy that connect small makers to buyers everywhere; low costs in postindustrial American cities; the decline of New York’s garment district; and fledgling pockets of support for apparel startups by government and not-for-profit groups. The result of all this has been the growth — sometimes halting, occasionally stunted, but often encouraging — of grassroots garment industries across the American landscape.
“Not all designers have to come to New York,” said Lisa Arbetter, editor of the influential fashion magazine StyleWatch, which has a per-issue circulation of 825,000. “Every line doesn’t have to be sold in Saks.” A LITTLE IS ENOUGH It might seem counterintuitive, but the fact that 97 percent of the clothing sold in the United States is now made overseas, up from 50 percent in 1990 and 10 percent in the 1960s, has created opportunity for American makers. While Zara, H&M, Gap and Fast Retailing, the parent of Uniqlo, have annual sales of more than $74 billion combined, some of the fashion-forward want to wear clothes that a million other people aren’t also slithering into.
What’s especially sweet about the kind of apparel businesses those like Laroux are starting is that a little success can be enough. Their ambition is not to become the next Betsey Johnson or Yves St. Laurent, but merely to gain the satisfaction of earning enough money selling dresses made from shower curtains, cruelty-free handbags or bespoke belt buckles to quit their boring day jobs.
“I’m close to making a living on my own stuff,” said Leslie Kuluva, who has seen sales of her line of LFK T-shirts printed in Lawrence, Kansas, rise every year since 2006. Kuluva says when she started, “I used to print them on my living room table and lay them out on the couch to dry, and cats would be walking all over them.”
Now, the “stuff” she creates in her professional print shop on East 8th Street in the college town includes men’s ties she buys at thrift stores and upcycles by printing clever designs on them, along with baby onesies and adult shirts she buys wholesale and unprinted from American Apparel, adds LFK logos to and sells at a profit of roughly $10 a garment. The line is carried at downtown shops such as Wonder Fair and Ten Thousand Villages eager to support local makers.
MORE THAN A HOBBY Of course, having one artist or even a dozen eke out a living printing shirts one by one is not on its own enough to jump-start the economy of a town or change fashion as we know it. The challenges in taking a step up from that by launching a relatively small national apparel brand are formidable, as would-be entrepreneur Lisa Flannery learned over the past few years. A veteran of two decades of toil in various roles at big brands in the Manhattan fashion business, Flannery attempted to start her own surfwear line.
“You need serious capital for development and production; unlimited amounts of time for sourcing, designing and fitting,” Flannery shared in a long and deeply detailed gush during a short break from her current job as a technical design manager at a national clothing brand. “And a partner or really good friends and family to help you with the sales, marketing and PR, legalities and accounting, etc., because you need to handle design and production, which are really jobs for multiple people — if you can manage to handle that, then you confront massive minimums, which is why you need all of that capital — minimums on fabric, trims and the amount of units the factory will produce for you — most China factories want at least 3,000 units — otherwise you are making small lots locally at very high prices, which your potential customers scoff at because they are used to Forever 21/Zara/H&M prices. And then if you do manage to get some traction, you can bet someone is going to knock you off at a much lower price.”
Flannery ended up spending more than $10,000 and gave up when, after subsisting on four hours of sleep a night, her health started to fail. She’s not optimistic about the long-term prospects for Laroux and others.
Such barriers to big dreams are why Karen Buscemi runs the Detroit Garment Group (DGG), a three-yearold nonprofit with an ambitious agenda. “We are trying to make Michigan the state for the cut-andsew industry,” said Buscemi, a former fashion magazine editor.
Funded by donors including two automobile seating manufacturers, the DGG offers as one of its five major programs a fashion incubator. It takes up to 10 fashion entrepreneurs; installs them in offices in Detroit’s Tech Town building; gives monthly workshops on making business plans; provides access to high-end design equipment for free; assigns seven mentors across legal, sustainability, sales and other fields; and, at the end of a year, sets up a showroom where retailers come and hopefully buy clothes and start a wholesale relationship with the incubees. Those not admitted to the full program can sign on as an associate member for $100 a month to use the high-end printers, patterndigitizers and other machines to create a fashion collection.
DGG’s apprenticeship programs in pattern-making and sewing machine repair promise to help convert the unemployed into garment workers. (DGG’s certificate classes in industrial sewing are offered at a few schools, including Henry Ford College in Dearborn, which is not affiliated with The Henry Ford.) Meanwhile, DGG is working with a variety of state agencies to establish a full-blown garment district, taking advantage of the decline in New York, where the district, due to high costs and foreign outsourcing, is a shell of its old self. Los Angeles has already shown it can be done, becoming a new apparelmaking center.
The idea could very well work in Detroit, too, said StyleWatch editor Arbetter. “They are training people in a manufacturing skill that dovetails into the history of that town as a manufacturing center, and by doing that, they are creating businesses and creating jobs. It seems that particular city is ripe for this.”
One key, Buscemi said, is starting small by helping young designers find stable footing. “They want to come out the door from college and be entrepreneurs,” she noted. “But unless you have had experience, how are you going to do that and turn it into a real business rather than a hobby you are doing on the side?”
A COMMUNITY WITHIN Apparel brands can change a city. In Nashville in 2009, the jeans shop Imogene + Willie opened in a former gas station on 12th Avenue South. Its informal vibe, with cool folks lounging on couches next to stacks of blue jeans and thick belts — a few doors up from the famed guitar shop Corner Music — helped establish a neighborhood aesthetic.
As co-owner with her husband, Carrie Eddmenson explains in the brand’s online statement: “The way Matt and I operate has always involved a mix of uncertainty reinforced by intuition, call it a gut feeling.”
The words could be a manifesto for Nashville, where guts, gut feelings and flights of inspiration have for a century oozed through the city’s honky-tonk veins, only recently spilling out into creative fields beyond music.
Although the jeans are made in Los Angeles, the store’s bustling neighborhood, now known by the hipster moniker “12 South,” is one of the emblems of Nashville’s ferocious resurgence. Chef Sean Brock credits the city’s apparel scene for his decision to open a Nashville outpost of his award-winning restaurant Husk. “I came back to visit friends,” Brock said, moments after slicing a local ham for thrilled patrons in the dining room last winter. “And there was just a buzz. People were coming from New York and LA to do things like make leather belts.”
In Bozeman, Laroux has identified what there is of a garment industry and has taken steps to become a part of it. There are companies producing backpacks there, and Red Ants Pants, a brand that is like Carhartt for women, is headquartered in Bozeman. Even though not all of these companies produce apparel in Montana, their presence, Laroux figures, means there must be expert seamstresses, fabric cutters and other production people around, some of them likely willing to take second jobs for an ambitious, youngish designer.
In her first 10 days in town, Laroux met with a woman who runs a coworking space and a screen-printing business, another who has a clothing boutique and another, Kate Lindsay, who founded Bozeman Flea, a market for artists and makers. Laroux’s goal is to start earning $50,000 annually, after expenses. Some of that income may come from selling patterns for her dresses for $10 each via websites such as Indiesew; some from showing at an upcoming fashion event in Helena, Montana, and at Bozeman Flea; some from opening a local shop with other designers; some from sales of sock garters on the e-commerce maker superstore Etsy; and some, perhaps, from catching the fancy of a buyer from a national retailer looking for a unique American-made product.
The extra bedroom in the faux colonial she rents with friends, her share being $600 monthly, has become, for now, a design studio and sewing room. Not for long, Laroux said. “In three months, in my ideal world, I would have this little storefront I’ve been looking at downtown, with my studio in the basement and three other designers that have studio space, and we take turns running the shop.”
Long ago at fashion school in New York, Laroux had a burned-out professor who told the class none of them were ever going to really make it as designers. “’You’re just going to be getting coffee for people at design houses,’” she recalled him saying, acting as if administering this dose of reality was a favor.
Maybe it was. He made her angry, and now she’s making her stand, assembling a fashion posse.
By Allen Salkin for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story ran in the June-December 2016 edition.