Fashion and technology: How IBM Watson and Marchesa designed a one-of-a-kind dress

By Taylor Holland

We often think of science and art as opposite ends of the creativity spectrum: discovery versus inspiration, thinking versus feeling. Yet great minds have always known it’s more complicated than that. There is art in science, and there is a science to art.

This has never been more true than it is in the digital age. Computers have become the new canvas for many artists, and in the future, cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson could become their creative partners.

Earlier this year, fashion and technology came together in unique ways at the “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, IBM and Marchesa unveiled the first cognitive garment — a dress created by the human imagination, but with computer-generated inspiration.

Concept design by Marchesa

How the dress was made

To create the “Cognitive Dress,” designers from Marchesa used Watson APIs, cognitive tools from IBM Research and solutions from Watson developer partner Inno360.

First, the Marchesa team chose five emotions they wanted the dress to convey: joy, passion, excitement, encouragement and curiosity. IBM Research then fed this information into a cognitive color-design tool that understands aesthetics, human emotions and the psychological effects of different colors. Using this data, as well as hundreds of images associated with Marchesa’s signature style, Watson suggested color palettes that fit Marchesa’s brand and evoked the chosen emotions.

Next, Inno360 helped Marchesa choose a fabric for the dress. Inno360’s R&D platform, powered by seven Watson services, searched more than 40,000 sources for fabric information. Using fashion-centric criteria from Marchesa — weight, flexibility, luminosity and more — the platform recommended 35 different fabric options that would also respond well to the LED technology that needed to be wired into the dress.

Using the Watson-generated recommendations around color and fabric, Marchesa designed a floor-length couture gown with LED-bejeweled flowers.

Thanks to IBM Watson and Marchesa, fashion and technology go well together.

Karolina Kurkova in the “Cognitive Dress”

What the dress can do

For its final cognitive touch, the dress taps into Watson Tone Analyzer, which analyzes Twitter messages for emotional cues and changes the color of the dress based on public opinion.

Simply put: It turns the dress into a high-tech, high-fashion, social-media mood ring.

At the Met Gala, for example, it analyzed tweets tagged #MetGala and #CognitiveDress, looking for one of the six emotions that Marchesa originally identified. When group consensus changed from one emotion to another, the color of the dress changed as well. For instance, when tweets were mostly joyful, the flowers on the dress lit up red, while excited tweets turned the flowers blue.

The muse in the machine

After the unveiling of the “Cognitive Dress,” many media outlets reported that it was designed by a computer. However, that isn’t the full story of how fashion and technology came together for this project, or how man and machine collaborated to bring it to life.

The dress was both dreamed up and designed by people. Watson simply helped them see new possibilities and options they hadn’t considered. In other words, big data isn’t replacing human creativity; it’s enhancing it.

The same thing is happening in other arts. Cognitive systems like Watson are now helping chefs create new recipes, journalists report the news and musicians compose new songs. As technology continues to unlock new levels of human creativity, the partnership between man and machine has never been more exciting, nor the relationship between art and science.

Written By

Taylor Holland

Founder, Taylored Editorial, LLC

With 11 years experience writing about business and technology trends for both media outlets and companies, Taylor Mallory Holland understands how mobile technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration, and reimagine…

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