Material Pursuit

A pair of New York-based designers weaves technology into fashion.

In the twentieth century the textile industry was revolutionized by innovations such as nylon, spandex, and ultrasuede. If couture designers Roberto Crivello and Savania Davies-Keiller continue their current pursuits, they may invent the next ground-breaking material. “Technology is our primary interest—how it functions and how it affects our lives for the better,” Davies-Keiller says. “We’re always looking to make use of new developments as well as trying to develop things ourselves by playing with cocktails of those technologies and applying them to apparel.”

It was this shared obsession with how things work that inspired Crivello and Davies-Keiller to team up when they met in 1992, eventually creating DDC Lab in 1997. They have since continued to make exciting textile choices through their explorations of materials used in furniture, building construction, and even roadwork. These projects have been so well received that in 1998 DuPont commissioned the designers as creative consultants, a relationship that lasted for six years.

Among DDC Lab’s most popular introductions is Climate Control—a fast-wicking and drying, stain-resistant stretchy fabric made primarily of polyethylene paper that is flash spun with polyester and Lycra. Initially shelved because it shrank at high temperatures, the concept went through eight months of trials and has since been used to make one of their best-selling items. Motivated by anecdotal reports of cancer resulting from cell-phone radiation, Crivello and Davies-Keiller found that the most common way of protecting something is to shield it with metal. So they incorporated a steel scrim into a high-twist polyester to produce an “antiradiation” textile. The designers used it to put cell-phone pockets on their garments, and also created entire suits from it.

Despite their passionate curiosity, they are not slaves to invention. “There are definitely good technological advancements—and there are also awful ones,” Davies-Keiller says. “We humans are constantly pushing the limits of possibility, going down paths that perhaps we shouldn’t. Being responsible in our choices—aware of the impact of technology on our ecosystem—is important.” One of DDC Lab’s recent ventures, a line of bags and ergonomic blazers made from Teflon-treated cork, a common flooring material, reflects this attitude. Although Crivello and Davies-Keiller chose cork for its sustainable properties, style mavens are enthusing over the look alone. “Cork is an amazing material: it’s regenerative, flexible, and durable,” Davies-Keiller explains, “but it’s also very fresh looking in clothing and accessories.”

Because cork can’t absorb much dust, it is naturally hypoallergenic; and the Teflon coating makes it waterproof and washable. The designers are now working to refine the material for their spring line, experimenting with shaving and pressing to make it thinner and more lightweight. “We’re always seeking to take our work one step further and tap into new things,” Davies-Keiller says. “There’s a multitude of materials out there that could be adapted to our industry.”

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