The Politecnico di Milano is one of five European design schools participating in Couture in Orbit, ESA’s project to look at the future of fashion using space materials and technology. Professor Annalisa Dominoni of their Design department gives an overview of the school’s role in the event.
Working with Couture in Orbit was a great challenge for us because we explored fashion in the age of technology to understand better how we can be more conscious of the transformation that technology brings. Space innovations will have a strong influence on how people behave and perform in the future.
My students started proposing ideas combining aesthetic values with functional aspects considering new scenarios in our society and its needs. They focused on a design vision with an out-of-the-box approach – like an astronaut looking at Earth from space.
When our school received the invitation to participate in Couture in Orbit, the dean forwarded it to me because of my experience creating objects and garments that have been used by astronauts on the International Space Station.
I was awarded a PhD in industrial design looking at extreme environments and establishing the role of design in space. I developed projects with space agencies aimed at human spaceflight missions and to make astronauts more comfortable using new objects and equipment designed for confined spaces and weightlessness.
I was a Principal Investigator of two experiments run by ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori on the International Space Station: VEST for his Marco Polo mission, and GOAL for the Eneide mission.
I developed the project together with students from the MSc in Fashion Design, which I led during the first semester, from October 2015 to January 2016. We made it into a research activity with the support of our fashion lab who helped make the models and prototypes a reality together with our technical sponsors.
ESA suggested we focus our projects on health and nutrition, because our assigned astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, is deeply engaged in these areas. The aim was to find connections between life in space and life on Earth and to consider not only technological spin-offs and spin-ins but also emotional language and usability.
These goals were transformed into shapes and textures by looking at astronaut postures and movements in microgravity. We examined how they used objects in space to think of new ideas for our projects.
Aesthetically we were inspired by space images, choosing colours like silver and white in all the lunar nuances, using materials such as aluminium and reflective surfaces, selecting curved shapes. We imagined textiles printed with wonderful pictures taken by astronauts looking out of the International Space Station towards Earth as well as by satellites, with marvellous colours, patterns and phenomena of light.
Our technical sponsor D’Appolonia and Extreme Materials suggested we work on two levels finding new applications for space technologies with their cooling technology, and thinking of a next step that includes an ESA patent for an antenna that can be printed directly on textiles with conductive ink. We were also sponsored with a special silver edition of shoes by Vibram.
In my courses I consider the whole class as a design bureau that collaborates each student with his or her own talents to achieve the same goal. The greatest gift for our ‘design bureau’ was to have this opportunity to research and work for such a prestigious client as ESA – all the students were thrilled.