Tech and fashion after a longstanding frosty stand-off, where one has been in fear of the other, have finally reconciled the fact that it is inevitable that they will go to bed with one another. It’s been well documented that Apple have spent fashion month wooing the fash crowd, with editors flown out to Cupterino to see the launch of the Apple Watch and a super razzy dinner in Paris hosted by Azzedine Alaia and Marc Newsom in honour of Jonathan Ive (definitely one of the more surreal moments of my time in fash land…). Tech wearables may have made a huge leap forward with the Apple Watch but what of the more intangible and complex relationship between technology and fashion.
It’s with this in mind that I revisit the work of Brooke Roberts as I finally, after all these years, managed to get a one hour sit down time with her. She has spent the last few years carving out a very specific niche for herself that I’ve documented on the blog. Whilst holding down a day job as an NHS radiographer, Roberts has then been taking medical scans and turning them into digital knitwear, combining science, technology and fashion in a way that makes her work pretty unique. The balancing act of these diverse fields is reflected in her work and in Roberts’ working lifestyle. “I’m in a position where I can make my collections but also get up and go to a hospital and realise that fashion is about fun – it’s not serious in the scheme of things.”
After a few seasons of showing off-schedule and taking her collections to Paris, Roberts took a break from doing formal collections and took on consultancy work (in addition to her work for the NHS!). For S/S 15, Roberts relaunched her website and e-commerce site and repositions her brand with a bang. In her “Super Women” campaign, she summarises in a visual nutshell why her work is an important conduit for conversation about fashion and technology. On the way to work, Roberts came up with the idea for her look book, which features women in the tech and medical field wearing her collection. “Imagine if I could get Ghada Mikhail, who specialises in cardiology for women, in this season’s collection,” said Roberts. ” imagine if her peers could see her in this light and imagine if the fashion world could see someone like her in my clothes.'”
Roberts set about compiling a wish list of super women who, in Roberts’ words “seek to learn something new every day and are curious and engaged with technology,” which is something that the fashion industry has been resistant to for a long time. Now the worlds are merging (where the industry wants to or not) and Roberts is using her collections to reflect a dialogue between the two fields. “These are the kind of women that are my customer – they work in fields that change everyday and advancing everyday. They’re into innovation.”
At a fundamental level, Roberts’ lookbook also celebrates women of influence and power in sectors that are still mainly male-dominated. That’s another conversation that Roberts’ work is stirring up. On a commercial level, Roberts can use campaigns and projects like this to find out more about her workings as a designer. “I can have genuine conversations with the women I meet,” said Roberts. “It was a huge learning curve for me. I learnt a lot about how people respond to my product and women’s motivations. It’s great to be around such dynamic people. They were all taking part because they wanted to be there.”
But conversations and issues are pointless if the work doesn’t back up the message. Roberts’ aesthetic in digitally created knitwear has been refined from her earlier collections. Using small scale repeats, there’s more of a hybrid element to her work now as opposed to straight forward literal representations of brain scans. Dissecting and re-arranging MRI brain scans, 3D brain maps from The Allen Institute for Brain Science and 8-bit video game characters like Pac Man, Roberts creates more abstracted patterns or her knits. They’re open to interpretation as pixels and bubble-like formations dance across sweaters and dresses in a pastel colour scheme inspired by Tank Girl comics. Once again, Roberts has experimented with yarn combinations to push the knitwear techniques themselves. Where fash and tech can sometimes come together in shoe-horned unions, Roberts work reflects knowledge, research and curiosity on her part and a real personal crusade to get the worlds to meet.
The crux of the matter is though, would Roberts ever give up being a radiographer to turn to her label full time. “With eighteen years as a radiographer, I’ve got so much experience and I feel like I’ve got a wealth of knowledge and I could continue creating from what I know. I love interacting with patients and being part of a close knit team. I do a lot of research at the heart attack treatment centre. There’s a real sense of being on the cusp of things.”
Then comes the but. “But you have to do what you’re passionate about,” Roberts concluded. And creating and fashion is ultimately what Roberts has set her sights on. In a crowded landscape of young designers, Roberts’ work stands on its own. It might even have been to her detriment that her work is so idiosyncratic as beyond novelty and hype, fashion’s relationship with technology continues to be a bumpy ride. That’s changing though and Brooke Roberts the laboratory-like label will reflect those changes along the way. Roberts has big plans for merging and commenting on how the tech world can come together with fashion in future campaigns and events. She’ll move away from formal seasons, dropping product on to her e-store when she feels like it and she’ll continue to speak to her customers directly. “I’m an experimenter and a problem solver at heart.” It’s these qualities that make Roberts a fascinating designer to watch evolve, at an exciting time in fashion where young design voices can be seen and heard (and consumed) in a multitude of ways.