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Syrian Designer Nabil El-Nayal is Printing the Future of Design



Nabil Nayal at his SS16 presentation

Coco Chanel famously once said, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening…”

What‘s undeniable is that technology has turned the fashion industry on its head by introducing new methods of retail, distribution, communication, and production. For instance, 3D printing and scanning have given designers more freedom to create and envisage even the most impossible wearables.

Here, Gracie Stewart speaks with emerging Syrian designer Nabil El-Nayal to explore further.

Nabil El-Nayal, the Syrian-born fashion designer who was shortlisted for the 2015 LVMH Prize, was one of the first designers to use 3D printing, a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from digital designs. 3D printing uses a layer-by-layer technique that creates a staircase effect when an object is printed, allowing designers to manufacture everything from accessories to shoes. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the need to push the boundaries of what is thought possible. I’m currently researching the use of 3D scanning in fashion design because I believe it’s critical to always be searching for new techniques,” he begins.

For his Royal College of Art collection in 2010, El-Nayal’s fascination with the Elizabethan (1558-1603) dress was enriched by research into the dress by historians, such as Janet Arnold. After surrounding himself with relevant research material, El-Nayal became fascinated with the ornamentation of the era, specifically baroque shapes. And after stumbling across a reproduction of an Elizabethan mirror in Camden, London, he took it to the Rapid Prototyping department at the Royal College, where he spray-painted the mirror frame in white, the color best captured by the Artec Spider 3D scanner.

Tiny “dots” were then marked onto the baroque frame, which enabled the scanner to map out and read data-points. After scanning a mannequin to provide an ergonomic backdrop to the baroque pieces, he then developed the designs in a 3D software called Rhino by collaborating with a technician who specialized in the use of 3D printing for architecture. Once this was ready to “print,” the file was sent to a 3D printer, which built the baroque pieces out of a powder-like substance, which took 12 hours. “The next morning, I was so excited to see the 3D renderings of my designs. It is such a magical moment when 2D designs become real-life 3D objects that you can touch,” he adds.

Nabil Nayal’s 3D printed baroque antlers Photo: Instagram/@nabilnayal

Nabil Nayal’s 3D printed baroque antlers
Photo: Instagram/@nabilnayal

El-Nayal’s current research centers around building on this work, and he is currently pursuing a research doctoral degree at the Manchester Metropolitan University. “I recently undertook a pilot study of the TC2 KX-16 body scanner to scan my Spring 2016 collection. My aim is to develop the ‘designer’s’ creative process by pushing the boundaries of drawing through the use of 3D imagery. I am obsessed with craft and construction techniques of the past. Technology is also a form of craft.”

Consumers may not know it, but 3D printing has already changed the way the fashion industry works by allowing designers to create prototypes more quickly and develop complex creations. However, El-Nayal notes that this accessibility could also lead to new challenges for designers. “What I think is going to be particularly interesting is how we tackle the inevitable copyright issues which will arise from 3D printing. Once consumers get printers at home which are sophisticated enough to print a certain fabric or garment, all they will need to do is download a pirated file from somewhere, like BitTorrent, which contains the details of a garment (just like movies or music today) and they will be able to create as many copies as they would like for almost no cost,” he says.

“It won’t be long before consumers can choose and change the print on their clothes as easily as they change the wallpaper on their iPhone,” he continues. Indeed, over time, 3D printed clothes have become increasingly wearable, and printers are now capable of mimicking weaves and stitching techniques while manufacturers are expanding the gamut of available materials to further the wearability of the clothes.

But if 3D printing might one day trickle to the hands of consumers, it might first elevate emerging designers by reducing mighty manufacturing costs as well as radically minimize production time. Printing can also efficiently create tailor-made clothing. If the power of couture is currently in the hands of the petites mains, with time, designers may be able to input code to ensure that garments fit with exacting perfection and eliminate both human error and cost while maintaining the blueprint of avant-garde design.

“For me, fashion is not just what we wear or how we wear things; fashion is a visual narrative that should communicate the times we live in, building on ideas of the past and looking directly to the future,” concludes El-Nayal. “I think it is so important to embrace technological advancements to push our understanding of what fashion can be.”

For more posts in the #CraftTheFuture series, click here.

—Gracie Stewart

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