Cosmetics as dress

By Liz Hancock

Cosmetics as dress

Yesterday I was lucky to be invited to take part in an industry panel discussion as part of the incredible Shapeshifting symposium that’s currently taking place in Auckland.

Shapshifting: A Conference on the Transformative Paradigms in Fashion and Textile Design, is being presented by the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Fashion and Textile department in partnership with the AUT Textile and Design Lab, and intends to start dialogues around the creation and culture of fashion.

Keynote speakers of the event include New York-based performance artist and designer Nick Cave, fashion designer Shingo Sato, fashion theorist Otto von Busch, and experimental textile designer Elaine Ng Yan Ling.

For the panel discussion, I was joined by Ying Gao – a fashion designer and professor who works between Geneva and Montreal, Monica Nakata – Oyster magazine’s co-publisher, and Bronwyn Williams – founder of B Magazine. The event was MC’d by local journalist and radio broadcaster Noelle McCarthy.

Fashion-Forward Beauty

We spoke about the shifting nature of fashion production and media coverage, in light of the swift-moving culture of social media and fast factory fashion. But a topic that I have been considering in light of Shapeshifting, is the relationship between beauty and dress.

Smart Cosmetics

For me, I am always interested in the intersection with beauty, science, art and socio-cultural change. As I spoke of in the March ‘Future Beauty’ issue of MiNDFOOD, I believe we will see a gradual merging of beauty and technology over the coming decade. Sony’s Smart Wig concept sees wireless technology being embedded in hairpieces that are able to communicate information via smart devices. It’s easy to imagine this technology being applied to make-up accessories such as false lashes and nails, and one day blending with nanotechnology to be embedded in nail varnishes and even facial cosmetics.

For those who live medicalised lives, the value of this proposition is easy to see. Imagine a chemotherapy patient, having live health monitoring data being streamed to their oncologist. Or a diabetes sufferer, able to have automated insulin injections with no disrupt to their day?

Transformative Cosmetics

The notion of cosmetics that go beyond beautification, and merge with textiles and dress is, to me, fascinating. British make-up artist Alex Box often uses prosthetics to emphasise, elongate or sculpt her model’s features, and colour to re-form the body, distorting the width of the face for example, by adding zones of dark contour. I love the transformative power of this – the idea of being able to temporarily morph the physical in non-invasive ways.

Make-Up as Dress

The first time I met Alex was when I was the beauty editor of i-D magazine in London, and she had done a shoot for us that questioned why people use false nails, eyelashes and even eyebrows that stop in a preconceived place. Why don’t they continue down the street, trailing in the breeze behind the wearer – she asked. The natural progression of this concept in the context of Shapeshifting, is of course the possibility to merge such things with the clothing we wear, enabling our garments to literally join to our bodies.


If we think of adding our make-up products onto our bodies as removable pieces rather than liquids and powders, the next question is what secondary function they could perform? Would it be possible to wear a re-usable foundation for example, that is an ultra-fine artificial skin that provides 100% UV protection, while also guarding us from pollution? Stanford University recently created a self-repairing material, so these masks could have the ability to be re-used in myriad ways.

Shapeshifting has been a brilliant event to encourage the speculation of what might be in the future. Hopefully this visionary event will become a bi-annual occurrence on the global fashion calendar.


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