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Couture in orbit. Fashion, technology, space inspiration

01 October 2015 — 7 minutes read

My name is Annalisa Dominoni. I have a PhD in Space Design, and teach product and fashion design in the lauree magistrali courses held in English at the School of Design: the Master’s Degree in Product Design for Innovation (Space4Inspiration Course) and the Master’s Degree in Design for the Fashion System (Advanced Sportswear Course).
I graduated with the highest distinction in Architecture, specialising in Industrial Design in Milan in the nineteen-nineties.

My dissertation, Atlante, won the Targa Bonetto prize in 1992, the inaugural National Visual Arts Prize of the City of Gallarate (1993), and the 17th ADI Compasso d’Oro International Award (1995).
My research is distinguished by my passion for space and the universe. In 2001 I obtained my PhD in Industrial Design from the Politecnico di Milano, establishing a new area of experimentation in Design for Space and Extreme Environments and helping to affirm the role of design in the aerospace industry and extreme environments.

Since then I have taught and conducted research at the Department of Design at the Politecnico di Milano, focusing on innovation, technology, new materials and wearables to facilitate manned space missions and improve comfort for crews by developing new devices and equipment for confined environments and microgravity conditions. I head international research groups, coordinate initiatives in the scientific field with the Italian and European Space Agencies (ASI and ESA) and with NASA in addition to companies in the aerospace industry, including Thales Alenia Spazio and Kayser Italia and private-sector firms wishing to test innovative space technologies and materials for their products.
The results of my projects are presented at international symposiums and published in scientific journals.

I have been principal investigator for two experiments tested in orbit on the International Space Station (ISS). VEST, Missione Marco Polo, with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in 2002, was rated as one of the best Italian design products for 2003 in the ADI Design Index, and chosen for the 20th ADI Compasso d’Oro Award in 2004, while GOAL, Missione Eneide, with the European Space Agency (ESA), 2005, received the Eneide Mission Award from the ESA for the success of the mission.
My books include Industrial Design for Space (2002), Esercizi creativi di design. Il processo creativo nel design del prodotto ambientale per la didattica (2008), Per designer con la testa oltre le nuvole (2012), Forma e materia. Design e innovazione per il tessile italiano (2012) and For Designers with Their Head Beyond the Clouds (2015).
I am a consultant for the Enciclopedia Treccani, to which I contributed the entries Space Design, in Nuova Enciclopedia Treccani del XXI Secolo (2010) and Turismo Spaziale, in Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti (2016).

Couture in orbit. Fashion, technology, space inspiration

The European Space Agency (ESA) asked me to design a collection of clothes (this time to be used on Earth) with innovative materials and technologies derived from space research. The collection was presented together with the projects of another four European design schools with a show organised by the ESA at the London Science Museum on 25 May 2016 and the European Researchers’ Night held at the ESA/ESRIN headquarters on 30 September 2016.

I developed the concept of the Couture in Orbit collection together with my students on the Master’s Degree in Design for the Fashion System (Advanced Sportswear Course) and at the end of the course I chose the three best ideas together with the ESA team. The project continued as research activity (combining teaching and research is the formula which I find the most interesting) with the support of the ESA Technology Transfer Program (TTP), technical sponsors D’Appolonia and Extreme Materials for the integration of materials and technologies into the garments, and the laboratories of the Politecnico di Milano’s Design Department, particularly Lab Moda for advice and creation of the models and prototypes, and Immagine Lab for photographic and video documentation of all stages of the project. ↗

This initiative is the first European Space Agency project to open up to a broader public, consisting not just of researchers and scientists but also companies in the private sector, in order to communicate, through the language of fashion the importance of scientific research conducted in orbit and its impacts on everyday life. The imaginative world of space offers fantastic scenarios for experimentation which can be transformed and reinterpreted by the language of fashion, apparently so distant from the scientific world which revolves around space, for example by finding new applications of technologies for garments that can improve their comfort and the performance of the people who wear them.
The fashion system has an important role to play in this spin-off process, as it is a catalyst for trends, lifestyles and behaviour, while at the same time it is open to the use of new materials, smart fabrics and wearables.

Couture in Orbit is also an opportunity to reflect upon the role of technology in relation to fashion, which increasingly considers innovation a value to integrate into its production process, especially if it is sartorial in origin. Asking how technological innovation can influence people’s behaviour and performance and how we might become more aware of this process of transformation is the task of design, and it is a mark of our Design School and Design Department that they create important opportunities for our students to conduct research and engage with the real world, such as this prestigious project with the European Space Agency. ↗ ↗

Couture in orbit esa polimi projects

The Couture in Orbit ESA POLIMI collection is inspired by the confined microgravity environment experienced by astronauts on board the International Space Station by looking at their activities in orbit and relationships with objects which, being weightless, generate new behaviour, and by seeking to find connections between the two environments, which seem very different on the surface.

The lack of natural light on the International Space Station (ISS), which causes alterations in the astronauts’ circadian rhythms, leading to anxiety and depression, can be compared to the biochemical imbalance known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) typical of northern regions. The 23.44° project leverages the possibility of stimulating the mind and the body and restoring balance with therapeutic fragrances contained in tubular structures integrated into clothes which are released into the air by means of vapour. The idea takes its inspiration from the cooling technology used in astronauts’ extra-vehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits to keep temperature constant thanks to heated water flowing through a system of tubes stitched onto the interior fabric of the undersuit.

Food in space has been another source of inspiration that has enabled us to investigate comparable conditions that we find on Earth: astronauts are forced to eat in almost perpetual movement, floating on board the International Space Station (ISS) without being able to remain still unless they fasten themselves to the structures provided on board the habitable modules. Foods are often in freeze-dried form and the types of tools and packaging used are unattractive. Food Keeper proposes clothes which allow their wearers to transport and preserve food and water by “wearing” their own meals wherever they go and to rediscover the pleasure of consuming them on the move, while walking or around town. Each garment has a different function determined by various kinds of large-capacity compartmentalised pockets capable of maintaining a constant temperature thanks to multi-layer insulation (MLI), a space material used for various applications in space vehicles, instrumentation, wiring, structural elements and reflective parts of satellites.

Design can mediate between science and beauty and imagine new uses for space technology that do not yet have applications which are different from the original. The Tourist in Space project integrates an ESA patent for an innovative antenna which amplifies the range of the signal by means of a star-shaped configuration of small cones, but which could shortly be printed on fabric with conductive ink, envisaging a very large number of uses in garments and accessories because of the transmission and reception strength of the antenna in extreme or inaccessible parts of the planet. In this case, I find it interesting to explore how technology applied to fashion and reinterpreted in graphical terms – the technological pattern with its beautiful circular design – can be translated into aesthetic value and paradoxically exist without technology too. ↗ ↗ ↗ ↗

The first couture in orbit spin-offs

The success of Couture in Orbit has convinced the European Space Agency and the Politecnico di Milano to launch a new advanced studies course with which we have called Fashion in Orbit to maintain continuity with the project which generated it.
It offers a unique opportunity to build cross-cutting relationships with experts belonging to the most technologically advance sector in the world and to explore how research conducted in space can inspire fashion and create new opportunities for social growth and business. The capsule collection created will be characterised by a high degree of innovation thanks to collaboration with industrial partners operating on the cutting edge in the fields of smart textiles, technologies and wearables, and will be presented by means of a professional portfolio with a strong, recognisable image. ↗ ↗

Team couture in orbit

Project Leader

Prof. Annalisa Dominoni

23.44° Therapy Garment

Roberta Fustinoni, Giorgia Presti e Sophie Ward

Tourist in Space

Agostina Issolio, Aleksandra Obradovic e Barbara Lopes de Oliveira

Food Keeper

Alice Laurentin e Isabel Cristina Martinez