Experimental Fashion Label Baëlf Design Harnesses Technology as a Medium for Design
Before Jamela Law found her fashion calling, she was by self-admission a hardcore science student. “I have always been obsessed with technology, machines and nature’s laws. I am aware of the limitations of the human mind and am convinced that the kind of intricacy that intrigues me can only be achieved with the help of computers. By far, 3D printing is the most direct fabrication method that can bring all my interests together,” says the creative director of Baëlf Design, the experimental fashion label she co-founded with industrial designer Lionel Wong in 2016.
Following his stint as a product designer in the US, Wong too developed a strong interest in computational methods of fabrication, including additive manufacturing. “As an independent designer, I had many ideas and needed a means of conveying them into physical form as quickly and reliably as possible—and 3D printing offered a relatively affordable way.”
As Baëlf Design’s eyes and ears, Law’s focus includes research, outreach, visualisation and experimentation. She is constantly on the lookout for technological innovations and interesting techniques that can be harnessed and adapted into their works, while also seeking collaborations with like-minded creatives and institutions such as the National Museum of Singapore, New York Fashion Tech Week, and The Mills Fabrica in Hong Kong.
As the ideas generated through Law’s process of research often come with their own unique set of challenges, Wong, who is the label’s design executive, is tasked to come up with new considerations on how to connect disparate elements using technology such as graphic design, 3D modelling and form-finding. So much so that “we have been producing 3D shapes of such complexity that are impossible (or too time-consuming) to be done via manual approaches”.
How do you see the relationship between art, technology and fashion?
Baëlf Design (BD) The biggest difference between us and fashion designers is that we neither chase after or set the latest trends nor predict customer preferences. We tend to release our works whenever we like with no considerations for the seasons. Every dress we make is custom and fitted to a specific body, and since most are made to order, excessive material wastage is avoided. We are also more adventurous when it comes to using new materials such as those that are conductive and self-sanitising.
Do you consider your works “wearable art”? How would you distinguish between this and a more traditional interpretation of fashion?
BD Our explorations in the field of wearable art have a very different set of demands. As art, these pieces convey the designer’s intent through their physical characteristics, embodying a narrative within their overall form or the detailed processes of assembly. Wearable art prioritises innovative, unconventional uses of technology to achieve surprising results, unlike traditional forms of dressmaking which are bounded by industry constraints such as production times and turnaround rates. Wearable art-making is a brilliant medium because it helps express the intangible, fragmented and unusual aspects of the human experience with tremendous therapeutic value.
What are some of your favourite motifs that you work with?
BD We take much inspiration from the traditional arts. For example, the Cresceres clogs are our futuristic rendition of the classic Peranakan beaded slipper. The 3D floral patterns are generated using the traditional shoe’s 2D flat crescent-like fabric pattern as a starting point. For its internal heel structure, we explored techniques such as topology optimisation, which is an algorithmic process that refers specifically to our technique of solution handling. By adding or removing material, we ensure Cresceres is cost-efficient and lightweight, yet strong enough for the wearer to stand on it.
Tell us about your latest work at Baëlf Design. Where did the inspiration come from?
BD We have been looking at the field of interactive wearables, with programmed behaviours to induce therapeutic reactions for its wearers. We are specifically looking at soft pliable textiles that not only accept touch input, but also give off outputs such as playing sounds through the use of conductive mediums. For our Hooded Scarf project, we were inspired by the notion of having “second skins” or a class of organisms that lives with us in symbiotic relationships. We believe that garments of the future will not be static forms that merely clothe and protect the wearer. With technology, they will be imbued with lifelike qualities and helpful intelligence to aid their wearers with the rigours of daily life.
What are you working on next?
BD As more people are adopting plants during the pandemic, we are working on a Fashion for Plants series of pots that are also sculptural art pieces. The designs are whimsical and unexpected, with surface textures made using various algorithms. But the commonality to all of them is that they rely on simulating the behaviour of living organisms. For example, the details shown on one of the vases are based on how slime moulds form networks and move around to seek out nutrients.
(Related: 8 Best Bespoke Fashion Designers In Asia For Your Made-To-Order Gowns)
Also featured in the Fabrics of Our Time series: Oniatta Effendi of Baju by Oniatta | Phuay Li Ying of Ying the Label
- Images Baëlf Design, Bernie Ng (Sabot de Venus)