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Can 3D printing be anything more than a fad in fashion?

The last few weeks have seen 3D printing hit the catwalks and red carpets, but with an exhibition looking ahead at future possibilties, Catherine Neilan asks if it can be more than a fad.

3D printing has long been building momentum as the great new technological advance, with designers claiming they can create anything from firearms to prosthetic faces

Last month saw the technology make its first real entrance into the fashion world when burlesque star Dita von Teese squeezed her curves into what was billed as the world’s first 3D printed dress.

Von Teese 3D printed dress

Von Teese 3D printed dress

Designed by Michael Schmidt and generated by architect Francis Bitoni, the floor-length dress was created by using a process in which layers are built up by fusing plastic powder together with a laser.

Given the core ingredient it’s no surprise that the dress ended up looking like it was made of Lego and although von Teese wore a nude silk corset underneath (presumably not 3D printed) the resulting net dress is unlikely to catch on with the wider market.

Clothing designers worried about consumers ripping off their designs using Google and a home 3D printer therefore should probably breathe a little easier. The limitations – effectively the material – are such that only those with a penchant for the kinkier materials are likely to get stuck in.

As this article debunking the idea that 3D printed guns could result in unlicensed weapons spreading across the country points out, “home 3D printers are cheap toys for making more cheap toys”. The same applies to fashion – or at least clothing. After all, cheap clothes are far easier to buy than print.

But, as we’ve seen with other launches, consumer demand seems to play a relatively small part in certain areas of technological advancement.

But that said, 3D printing could offer inspiration to designers looking to innovate, rather than consumers themselves.

Later this month the Fashion Space Gallery is launching an exhibition looking at the potential of 3D printing as a tool for design.Layer by Layer will showcase a selection of 3D printed shoes, as well as footage of Iris Van Herpen’s 3D printed dresses shown during Paris Fashion Week back in January. It will also demonstrate the hardware, with a 3D printer running in the gallery throughout the exhibition, printing objects that will be put on display.

Shoe on display at Layer by Layer

Shoe on display at Layer by Layer

It’s hard not to be sceptical about the potential for such a niche design tool, but in certain areas of fashion - footwear especially - the method could yield interesting results. But until the problems around material are ironed out, it’s unlikely 3D printing will be anything more than a fad for those working in the most abstract reaches of the industry.

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