A Dozen High-Tech Dresses Meant For The Met Ball — Who Should Wear Them?

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images.
The first Monday of May is fast approaching. If you follow fashion, you know there's a certain high-profile event at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art that always falls on that day (there's even a documentary about it): it's the Costume Institute's annual gala, a.k.a. the Met Ball. This year's iteration celebrates its latest exhibit, Manus x Machina, which focuses on how machine techniques have changed the art of garment making. The event is sponsored by Apple, so it is being heavily promoted with that tech-y twist — down to the dress code, which, for Monday's Met Gala, is "tech white tie". Invitees always get inventive with the theme for one of biggest annual red carpet bashes. And there's a wealth of design talents that have used innovative technology in a brilliant way.

Creatives have long been incorporating technologically sophisticated elements into their collections, from Alexander McQueen (at both Givenchy and his eponymous label) to Zac Posen to Iris van Herpen. We looked back at 12 moments when designers were more than simply fashion-forward but also truly forward-thinking regarding what a garment can do (not merely how gorgeous a piece can look). Whether a designer dabbles in 3-D printing or tinkers with next-level materials, or, say, incorporating animations into a catwalk performance, the following labels have proven to be a step ahead of the game.

Most celebrities have probably already triple-secured their get-ups for the gala, but here are some sage predictions as to the labels we'll spot on the red carpet, and the A-listers we expect (and hope!) to see donning them.
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Photo: MCV Photo.
Alexander McQueen, Spring 1999
Widely considered one of Lee Alexander McQueen's greatest catwalk displays, the late designer's final look of his spring '99 show involved robotics, and the results were pretty glorious. Two robots programmed to spray-paint model Shalom Harlow's white strapless dress — look No. 13, from earlier in the show — as she spun around on a circular platform in a beautiful marriage of performance art and technology. (You can watch it in action here.) Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton called this "one of the most memorable moments at McQueen’s runway shows." (The dress was part of the Met's Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit from 2011.)

Alexander McQueen might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Naomi Campbell
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Photo: Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Corbis.
Givenchy, Fall 1999
McQueen served as head designer for Givenchy from 1996 to 2001, and he really knocked it out of the park with this dramatic final look. For fall '99, an reflection on the end of the century resulted in his Y2K collection. For the final look, the late designer collaborated with Studio van der Graaf on a Tron-inspired plastic suit equipped with flashing LED lights, according to Vogue.

Givenchy might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Zoe Kravitz
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Photo: Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images.
Hussein Chalayan, Spring 2007
Ever since he started his own label in 1994 after graduating from Central Saint Martins, Turkish Cypriot-born, British-raised designer Hussein Chalayan has incorporated technology and forward-thinking spectacle into his namesake collections. (Remember his dissolving dresses from spring '16?) It's really hard to pick just one moment that feels Met Ball-appropriate from his expansive archive.

But Chalayan's spring '07 "One Hundred and Eleven" show stands out: The collection's dress silhouettes reference styles of decades' past, but their construction is firmly planted in the 21st century, thanks to mechanics that allowed the pieces to utterly transform. (He recruited the team that animated the Hippogriff in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to bring the technology to the runway, according to Vogue UK.) You can watch the spectacle — and some of the garments — unfold on YouTube. Look out for various Chalayan pieces at Manus x Machina and the designer's take on his own use of technology in the exhibition book.

Hussein Chalayan might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Lady Gaga
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Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images.
Akris, Fall 2014
Swiss fashion label Akris has been around for almost a century — and at its fall '14 show, it proved there's room to preserve a brand's signature aesthetic and legacy while also evolving with the times. Akris incorporated LED lights oh-so subtly into tailored black pieces that erred on the formal side (think suits and gowns), with the help of textile innovators Forster Rohner. The result (called e-broidery) was a marriage of classic elegance and sparkly innovation.

Akris
might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Amal Clooney
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Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images.
CuteCircuit, Met Gala 2010
Since 2004, CuteCircuit has been a constant innovator in wearable tech, thanks to its introduction of new textiles and its use of micro electronics. Think LBDs that double as cell phones, and sweaters that send hugs across the globe. But the London-based label made its flashiest statement (literally and figuratively) with its light-up dresses, favored by Katy Perry. The performer donned an ethereal blush gown lined with LED lights from the brand for the Met Gala in 2010, which Perry could turn on and off with a switch in her bra. The brand has gone on to design various smart garments that the singer has worn onstage.

CuteCircuit might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Katy Perry (again)
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Photo: Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images.
Issey Miyake, Spring 2015
Issey Miyake has always been at the forefront of textile innovation. The designer's successors (Yoshiyuki Miyamae is the brand's current head of womenswear) have ensured that the label always pushes the boundaries of how garments hang on the body, and the visual effect that results. (The brand's most recent presentation featured clothes with reflective stickers on a light-sensitive catwalk.) For its spring '15 collection, a new fabric was introduced: Dubbed 3D Steam Stretch, it uses steam to exaggerate the creases in a pre-treated fabric, a according to Now Fashion. The final product has a lightweight, airy feel with a dramatically textured look.

Issey Miyake might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Solange Knowles
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Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images.
ZAC Zac Posen, Spring 2016
The art of the show-stopping final look is not totally lost: Zac Posen closed out his spring '16 ZAC Zac Posen catwalk with a light show — and it supported a good cause, to boot. Created in partnership with Google's Made with Code initiative and Madison Maxey (and programmed by teen girl coders!), the 500 LED lights on a choppy-hemmed black dress, modeled by Coco Rocha, sparkled in various colorful patterns the entire time she traipsed down the runway. "Much of working at the intersection of design and technology is negotiating between what’s technically possible and what’s aesthetically pleasing," Maxey told Yahoo Style of the project. "With Zac’s team, we found a great combination of fashion and technology." The garment was later worn off the runway by Lupita Nyong'o (at, appropriately) one of her many Star Wars: The Force Awakens promotional stops.

ZAC Zac Posen might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Karlie Kloss
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Photo: Thomas Concordia/Getty Images.
Chromat, Fall 2016
CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Chromat examines the future of fashion in two ways. Firstly, what diversity can (and should) look like on the runway, and, secondly, how to incorporate technology into the design process in a way that legitimately enhances the experience of wearing clothes. Becca McCharen, the designer behind the buzzy brand, has worked with Intel two seasons in a row to inject her runway with the latest innovations. For spring '16, that meant a smart sports bra that responds to your sweatiness and body temperature in a collection filled with cool, architectural athletic gear. For her latest collection, McCharen incorporated light panels (which the models could control with a simple hand motion) to trace the garment's silhouette.

Chromat might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: FKA Twigs
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Photo: MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images.
Anrealage, Fall 2016
Anrealage, the brainchild of Japanese designer Kunihiko Morinaga, has distinguished itself by incorporating the experiential into its fashion designs. Watching runway shows from behind a smart phone screen was actually encouraged at its spring '16 show, for starters. In order to truly see the stunning patterns of the collection, you had to turn on your flash and snap a picture of the runway, the New York Times reported. The following season also incorporated morphing visuals: Its latest fall designs were crafted out of a fabric the brand calls "visual cryptography," which allows for patterns to transform with an audio trigger. Models walked within a glass box that serves as Anrealage's runway — and, as they neared the walls, the patterns on their dresses changed from black-and-white to houndstooth or floral prints.

Anrealage might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Rihanna
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Photo: Victor Boyko/Getty Images.
Iris van Herpen, Fall 2016
The Dutch designer believes "Normal rules don’t apply…" to her line, which is known for incorporating 3D printing and other technologically-advanced, machine-made techniques into the making of ready-to-wear and haute couture (a theme the Manus x Machina explores deeply).

"The world is changing very rapidly, and technology is a big influence on that, and I think the way a garment can be made can be radically changed and sustainable," the designer told Vogue. "It’s very experimental. I’m not trying to change it on a big scale, but I am trying to make little improvements on a smaller scale." Two of her fall '16 dresses, dubbed Magma, were made from two different forms of 3-D printing — flexible TPU and polyamide — to create a web-like look.

Iris van Herpen might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Beyoncé
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Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images.
Junya Watanabe, Fall 2016
Japanese designer (and mentee of Rei Kawakubo) Junya Watanabe often uses voluminous construction, 3D printing, and even math to explore what futuristic fashion can look like. Sometimes, innovation can be simply rethinking other forms of design, and incorporating them into their craft. Take for instance Junya Watanabe's fall '16 collection: According to the show notes, the standout "Hyper Construction" dresses were made using materials typically reserved for industrial design, such as for the inside lining of a car.

Junya Watanabe might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Zendaya
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Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images.
Courrèges, Fall 2016
Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant have been tasked with reviving legendary French label Courrèges. Only two seasons in, they've deftly translated the brand's propensity for the futuristic into collections that feel even a step ahead of contemporary. For fall, the designers tapped into Courrèges' history of innovation with a trio of self-heating coats that felt plucked straight from a sci-fi fashion film. And it's only the beginning of smart apparel for the label: Courrèges co-president Frederic Torloting promised showgoers backstage that there's more room for the brand to grow in the category. Well, we're certainly watching.

Courrèges might be worn at the 2016 Met Ball by: Alexa Chung
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