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The Science of fashion

Emma Bullough

As this year celebrates the 75th anniversary of the public launch of nylon, an essential constituent of hosiery, it leaves the question begging: what has science done for fashion?

Any woman will tell you what an essential part of their wardrobe tights are and we owe their existence to the scientific advance that produced nylon back in October 1938. The polymer nylon can be produced via a polycondensation reaction, where two simple monomers are combined, forming water as a by-product. Such a simple reaction rocked the fashion industry identifying a clear and unwavering link between the worlds of science and fashion. However with the continuing ability of tights to ladder so readily, clearly there is still room for improvement.

The prescence of polymers in fashion doesn’t end with tights. More recently, in 2000, fashion designer Manel Torres invented the ‘Fabrican’ with the help of some chemical engineers. ‘Fabrican’ is an instant fabric sprayed-on using an aerosol can, creating washable and re-usable clothes, which have been demonstrated at London fashion week in 2010. Inside the can is a liquid suspension of fibres, which when sprayed, cross-link creating the instant garments. The spray works on any surface and can be used to form intricate patterns. It is also available in several colours and scents

Back in 2008 Karl Lagerfeld, the designer for Chanel, helped models step out of the dark ages by designing high heeled shoes with light bulbs built into the heels. They may not involve a complicated chemical reaction, or the invention of a new phenomenon, but they did require a degree of technical input. Things like: how do you create working light bulbs that aren’t too hot to the touch? Or how are you going to power them? And how do you stop them shattering when stood on? These would all have had to have been considered, all on top of the obvious issue of making the shoes aesthetically appealing.


The massive crackling nail polish trend of 2011 was all down to a slight difference in chemical structure compared to that of normal nail polish. Nail polishes usually comprise of butyl acetate or ethyl acetate, in crackling nail polishes ethanol is also present, either in place of or along side the normal solvents. All the solvents evaporate when exposed to air, only ethanol evaporates more quickly. As the solvents dry at different speeds, the constituents that are still wet pool together and form cracks in the surface.

As we enter 2013, the tie between science and fashion grows ever stronger as it leaks into high street stores, via Topshops launch of a range of chemistry and other sciences inspired t-shirts. Laser cut clothing is another trend that wouldn’t have been a possibility not that long ago, but thanks to the recent improvement in technology and price of the machines responsible, they’re now everywhere. Also the current, viral trend, of infinity accessories has its roots in maths and physics where it would normally be employed in equations.

The relationship between science and fashion has been a long one and won’t stop here. Where’s next for the odd pairing? Who knows? But I feel sure we will see much more from the duo. Proving that geek really can be chic.



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