Climate Dress | Næstved Museum

Climate Dress


The Danish design bureau Diffus Design is represented by to works and a collection of textile samples in the exhibition 'Pimp Your Ride! - An exhibition on crafts and technology'. The aim is to show the development of the combination of textiles, embroidery and technology in their design and different collaborations.

The Climate Dress (2009) and the ELAC ceiling (2016) are both items that not only mixes handicraft with technology. They are items, that prove how the use of technology has pushed the possibilities and boundaries for what handicraft can be and what it can be used for. In design research a distinction is made between two very large categories: the affirmative design and the critical design. Affirmative design is design objects or ideas which simply boosts, underlines and lives up to the expectation we already have. How our things should look like and what they are supposed to do. Critical design, on the other hand, breaks with our common ideas and assumptions. It is in this last category we find Diffus Design. Through immediately recognisable items the designers manage to turn our existing perception and immediate convictions upside down.

Diffus Design is founded by architect Michel Guglielmi and art historian Hanne-Louise Johannesen. Their work with design is influenced by an investigative and curious approach to technologies, materials and the circumstances our commodities are part of. Through the combination of traditional handicraft and new technological possibilities they want to push both craftsmanship and technology in new directions. This is manifested - and very clearly indeed - through the use of intelligent textiles. The Climate Dress, now on display in the Design Museum Næstved, is an example of that.

In both The Climate Dress and the other design projects, Diffus has been involved in, the foundation is the combination of knowhow in traditional craftsmanship and new technology together with complex materials. The aim is to create recognisable items, which at the same time through alternative materials and the technological abilities seem unpredictable and unconventional. The Climate Dress is a handmade dress with the recognisable function to be an article of clothing. But at the same time it has a - for dresses anyway - completely different an untraditional function. With small sensors embroidered into the fabric it is able to sense the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the surrounding air and indicate it with light from the little light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

The discussion about global warming is constantly boiling and great changes for our planet are predicted. If we not put a stop to the vast amounts of CO2 emitted a great increase in the global average temperature will occur with severe consequences for both nature, animals and humans. The discussion about and measuring of CO2 particles is for most of us a very distant and intangible process. One easily can feel alienated from the large international climate conferences that address this particular issue. One also may forget that this is a problem for which we have responsibility ourselves.

By integrating a sensorial function in a piece of clothe, which can measure the CO2 emission around us, the process becomes much more present for us. The amount of CO2 around us becomes visible. We can not avoid to relate, when it is the downright dress we wear which reminds us of it.

The Climate Dress was presented on the climate summit, COP15, held in Copenhagen back in 2009. It was supposed to be a very concrete comment on the current challenge of global warming.

The dress, however, also challenges the way we normally perceive clothes and textiles. By bringing in digital sensors into the handwork, the dress is made with, it becomes more than a piece of clothe holding us warm an being decorative. It is (apparently) also a comment on a large international challenge. In The Climate Dress is used a special kind of conductive thread. The thread resembles the type of thread which is normally used in embroidery. Well, it has "just" the special ability to conduct electricity and to make hundreds of LEDs light up. Through this immediate invisible difference in the type of thread, Diffus Design in their designs initiate completely new methods and qualities in the traditional embroidery trade. You may say that the revitalisation of the handicraft opens for completely new views on what clothes can and should do.

As said initially, the ability to challenge our common idea about what clothes and dresses normally are characterizes The Climate Dress as critical design.

An often used example for critical design is the invention of the MP3 player. It led to brand new practice in listening to music. All of a sudden you could bring your music everywhere. And the music in your ears could affect the way you perceived your surroundings.

You may say, that The Climate Dress pushed some of the same buttons the MP3 player did. It is in the borderland of critical design. Dresses and clothes are often connected to other pieces of clothing where factors like trends and seasonal fashion sets the framing. But when the dress suddenly is able to measure the CO2 concentration in the surrounding air it is not just breaking with the conventions, normally connected to clothing. The dress finds itself in quit another category: the climate debate of the political arena.

The goal of changing a specific items drawing up and look is not necessarily characteristic for the critical design. The essential, however, is that the experiences and perceptions you gain by using your commodities are challenged and changed. When Diffus Design preserves traditional craftsmanship and incorporates new technology in it, it is in this combination we can identify the radical.

When a basically traditional dress is presented for us we have an expectation what it is supposed to be: a piece of clothing to wear. When the dress turns out to be able to do something completely different and more, measuring CO2, all or our expectations and understandings are challenged.

Through the embodiment of conductive thread in traditional embroidery The Climate Dress is an example how the combination of traditional craftsmanship and new technology can be compiled. In an intelligent combination it may change the rules of the game - for both technology and craftsmanship.