Noa Raviv: Humanising computer-led fashion design

Noa Raviv: Humanising computer-led fashion design

Was this garment created by humans or machines? New York-based designer Noa Raviv reflects on the SS17 collection that surpasses 3D printers.

Noa Raviv’s designs, which incorporate 3D-printing to create otherworldly beauty, have earned her numerous accolades – including Fashion Designer of The Year Award at the international 3D Printshow and the Fini Leitersdorf Excellence Prize – and have led the designer, only two years out of Tel Aviv’s fashion school Shenkar, to the forefront of her craft, pushing the boundaries of our understanding of fashion and technology, and how old and new techniques can work together to redefine our notions of design. We caught Noa a month after the end of The Met’s Manus x Machina show in New York, in which her work was featured.

With her current focus on the balance between the tensions around us – those of harmony and chaos, of tradition and innovation – it comes as no real surprise that Noa’s own work radiates both beauty and complexity. Her designs are peaceful, light, airy, white, yet they have a boldness, and a power. In Hard Copy Collection, a black thick line outlines the flower-like shapes that burst from each piece, making them harder, more mechanical – and yet – more beautiful. Elements of her intrigue are directly reflective of Noa’s own upbringing in Tel Aviv. “Whoever has had the chance to spend some time in Tel-Aviv understands the uniqueness and complexity of that place. The mix between old and new, beautiful and ugly, intensity and peacefulness is really what makes the city so special, which had an impact on my formation,” she explains, also citing her parents and their relationship as an influence and a reflection of this theme. “They are real opposites complementing each other in so many different ways.”

“This topic of hand work vs machine work represents the zeitgeist and reflects something that is happening everywhere, not just in fashion, and is tied to general questions of high vs low, consumerism and the pace of  our lives in a globalised world.”

This concept of contrasts runs deep throughout Raviv’s work and through into the recent Metropolitan Museum of Art fashion show Manus x Machina in which her work was shown alongside industry giants Hussein Chalayan and Iris van Herpen. The exhibition could have been a battleground of processes, but instead elegantly showed how the two worlds are alike in many ways, and moreover how old and new techniques can work together to further their own crafts. Noa adds: “Because of Andrews Bolton’s sensitivity and immense respect for fashion, these ideas and questions came to life in a very poetic and harmonic way.”

In Raviv’s own work we see this tension in motion: the friction between her use of 3D printing to create shapes that otherwise would be impossible to produce – bringing items from the world of non-existence into the world of reality, a tension of actuality in itself – and her usage of heavy-laboured hand-sewn techniques that are also incorporated in each design. “I feel this topic of hand work vs machine work represents the zeitgeist and reflects something that is happening everywhere, not just in fashion, and is tied to general questions of high vs low, consumerism and the pace of  our lives in a globalised world,” says Noa, who hand-cuts and hand-sews each of the designs, meaning that every item can never be recreated exactly; the antithesis of what should happen with machine printed products.

So from one contrast to another, as Noa explains that for her, “the tension between the ‘real’ and the virtual is a very interesting theme, especially now when most of our interactions with people, objects, and even ourselves, are done through screens.” This concept became one of the central themes of her 2015 Oops instillation in Jerusalem, an idea which grew from when she incurred a computer fault while working with CAD modeling software. Noa was fascinated by how the errors did not really exist, and could not be printed, yet they had occurred, and with this in mind she chose to bring these errors, as grids, into reality. “I wanted to create an optical illusion that confronts and blends the real with the virtual. While usually we expect machines to create perfectly crafted objects and the handmade to have irregularities – I wanted to mix the two and ‘humanize’ the computer by making it fail and on the other side to create handmade parts that looked ‘flawless’ as if they were created without a human touch.”

Noa’s designs scream of femininity, embodying qualities which are to me a woman: the constant movement between power and softness, poise and creation, regality and chaos, and sensitivity and strength. But because of the uniqueness of Noa’s creations, and their accomplished combination of futurism and beauty, past interviews have been focused on her innovation and the technological aspect of her designs rather than her as a female, and her as a female designer, which is refreshing to say the least, and Noa agrees. “I believe that through my work I can express femininity in many ways other than the narrative popular culture often dictates, and expand the possibilities for women through my aesthetic. I often feel that my own interpretation of femininity is quite different.”

“I wanted to ‘humanize’ the computer by making it fail and on the other side to create handmade parts that looked ‘flawless’ as if they were created without a human touch.”

“I believe that inspiration is everywhere,” Noa says of her work, “and there is some kind of exponential reward when it comes from the simple and mundane things. It’s kind of like conceptual thrifting – it is much more rewarding and fulfilling to find a treasure in a messy flea market than in an established and polished mall, because the discovery process becomes more challenging and the final outcome is enhanced by its new context.” Trying to find worth in the mundane surely runs parallel with Raviv’s ideas of finding inspiration in a glitch, as in the end, it was Raviv who brought it to existence to this world. “In Hard Copy Collection for instance it was computer mistakes that really became the main theme of the collection, and in this new collection it was scribbles and doodles that often ended up in a trash can. Both themes are about something that can be seen as almost worthless but in the right context becomes attractive and powerful.”

This self-declared optimism materialises in joy and humour which can be seen throughout Noa’s works, particularly her Noa Raviv for H. Lorenzo Collection in which a geometric crop-top and skirt remain interesting and beautiful, but also hold a playful aspect; it’s as if the top has been distorted, giving it a look as if it has melted, a sort of dystopian party outfit. “I think all fields of design are meaningful and have so much impact on our daily mood, feelings and self esteem,” says Noa. “I think that now more than ever people are attracted to strong visuals and visually intriguing objects and this in itself is very powerful.”

Indeed, visuals are the driving force behind so many industries today, though the constant production and reproduction can mean that images lose their impact or meaning. Noa has said this before of Classical Greek sculpture, an influence in her past works, and of the danger of this repetition, evoking questions towards technology such as whether it can be dangerous, in that it is unbound by physicality, morphing and reproducing at will, influencing our own physicality in the world. Noa, however, is not phased. “Technology and fashion have a lot in common, both are rapidly changing and creating the ‘new’ as a reflection of what people wish to have. Changes are not always easy to digest and when they happen, a new set of rules (and limitations) will emerge to distinguish the ‘new’ from what we had in the past. I believe that the change of perception around what we want or consider as attractive is what pushes technology and fashion, I find it fascinating and I wish to be part of that.”

Words by Elizabeth Pllx

Photography by Ryan Duffin

All images courtesy of Noa Raviv