Timothée Gleize: Fashion + technology = sustainability

This RCA graduate designer is making technology humane with his virtual reality creations

2020
12th March

Growing up in a sleepy town in Burgundy, Timothee Gleize took inspiration from fashion magazines and video games in equal measure. His interest in fashion took a pretty conventional path: studying at École de Condé and Institut Français de la Mode, interning at Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang, and consolidating it all with an MA at the Royal College of Art. It was only after his graduation in July 2019 that his practical skills took on a virtual edge, inspired by a video of programmers digitally draping fabrics onto avatars. Now, the designer is blending fashion and technology, using both mediums to explore sustainable design and virtual alternatives to the concept of a fashion showroom.

Your website says: ‘Digital rendering and VR bring sustainability and efficiency to the traditional design practice.’ What do you mean by this?

This philosophy came from my experiences of working in the fashion industry. While working for luxury brands, I saw how wasteful their design processes were. Just one look could have up to ten fittings, which could mean ten different designs, prints and mock-ups. I also discovered that draping is a really wasteful way of working. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could isolate this whole process to the computer. When I went back to the RCA, I designed my whole graduate collection on the computer. It allowed me to create with a sense of immediacy that I hadn’t experienced before. When you design in 3D on a computer, you get to see the full silhouette, but when you draw on paper, you only see the front or the back. Designing digitally means designing with a 360-degree view. 

“Draping is a really wasteful way of working. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could isolate this whole process to the computer.”

How does that philosophy influence the way you design now? 

After designing that collection in 3D, I had all this clothing and an avatar that I’d designed with the same tools. From there, I started to create a 3D space. I placed my avatar inside the space and let other people enter my curated fashion environment. It was like a virtual showroom, but one that played with the senses: people could see and hear my collection. There were floating garments, more abstract designs and more poetic elements. It was really fun to experiment with. A virtual showroom is an exciting tool for new companies that may not have the budget for a big showroom or retail space. From a customer’s perspective, you can visit a newly designed shop every time. It will make for a more enjoyable and varied shopping experience.

A virtual showroom is an exciting tool for new companies that may not have the budget for a big showroom or retail space.”

In virtual reality, there’s an obvious lack of human touch and face-to-face contact. How do you address this?

Technology can make a process like design feel cold, almost clinical. I wanted to balance that, so I brought warm textiles and colours into my digital world. I think there’s a kind of community and nostalgia to be found in technology, like how we access warm memories through photos and videos stored in iCloud.

Technology can make a process like design feel cold, almost clinical. I wanted to balance that, so I brought warm textiles and colours into my digital world.”

For people who have never worked with digital fashion tools before, could you explain your creative process from beginning to end? Which programmes do you prefer and how did you learn to use them?

I personally use Clo3D. There is other software in this category but Clo seemed most open to the public. It’s focused on fashion visual renderings, and sits between original 3D programmes and digital fashion pattern-making software like Lectra. On top of that, I like to use Unity for post-processing rendering and creating my VR experience where I place my 3D models in spaces. I make the 3D spaces themselves in SketchUp. I learned how to use the software by watching YouTube tutorials and a lot of trial and error. When you start to get the hang of it, it becomes playful and entertaining. Witnessing your design take form is pretty rewarding.

I learned how to use the software by watching YouTube tutorials and a lot of trial and error. When you start to get the hang of it, it becomes playful and entertaining.”

Can you give any examples of other people working in virtual reality and fashion tech, explaining why their work is progressive?

Anna Sophie Goschin is working on an interesting approach to fashion manufacturing using 3D scanning, CNC machines, and vacuum forming to create garments. I also like the work of Rick Farin, who worked for Marine Serre and Xander Zhou. Frederik Heyman has produced some interesting work for SHOWstudio and Gentle Monster. They use digital work as a new way to display fashion; it’s more curated and free-form.

How did your digital design process fit with the teaching at the RCA? 

The RCA is known for nurturing multidisciplinary creatives. I was using facilities and technical resources that were a more natural fit for Architecture or Industrial Design students. The teaching there was very open-minded, as long as we were able to explain our thinking and the method behind our process. Zowie Broach is a brilliant and visionary person who has a hunger for change in fashion. She influenced me to always look for something more and to take action on my own terms.

The RCA is known for nurturing multidisciplinary creatives. I was using facilities and technical resources that were a more natural fit for Architecture or Industrial Design students.”

How do you plan to bring digital design to the wider fashion industry?

I’m working on more visually enjoyable 3D environments and digital design processes that people can use more easily. My approach to the software used to be quite raw, which led to issues with the sizing and comfort of my digital designs. I’m refining my designs by focusing on how something fits on the body and how well it will translate to the physical world. I want to join a company that shares my values of sustainability and also sees technology as the future of fashion.

Why do you think many big fashion companies haven’t adopted more sustainable processes? 

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world, but I have hope that it will change. This technology was invented years ago, but fashion brands are only just starting to consider 3D rendering and scanning. The way I’m working now isn’t changing much for the wider industry, but it shows how easy the process is to adopt. Transitioning to a less wasteful design process would mean that the customer could get the same product in a more environmentally friendly way. Right now, we have the technology to digitally scan bodies to make tailored clothing. This could cut out overproduction. Beyond that, there may come a time when we stop buying physical garments altogether. Maybe one day, we will just buy digital assets for our online avatars to wear in an alternate online life. The future of fashion is fantasy. 

The way I’m working now isn’t changing much for the wider industry, but it shows how easy the process is to adopt.”

You’ve said you wanted to work within a larger company. Did you consider starting your own digital brand and why did you decide against it? What do you think the current limitations are for digital fashion? 

I am still considering starting something. At the moment, I’m figuring out what type of projects I want to focus on and producing new digital design work. It’s hard to convince people that this process could result in real products beyond rendering – it’s not just a pretty picture or video. There is also a lack of support for people using digital tools in the fashion industry. The main limitation we face is the amount of  attention people are willing to give this new way of working.

It’s hard to convince people that this process could result in real products beyond rendering – it’s not just a pretty picture or video.”