If You Could Change Your Body As Easily As You Would Your Clothes, Would You?

This season at Premiere Vision I explored what human augmentations could mean for fashion's future.

Can you imagine rewriting what has always been? That we are born, we grow up, we age, and then we die. Well, thanks to technological disruption, like implants and robotics, innovators are not only exploring what it means to be human, they are also opening us up to a world where the augmented humanity and the human body will help us build upon our most powerful humanistic attributes.


Rethinking and Reimagining the Body

It is no secret that when it comes to the Augmented Human, humanity has continuously focused on extending human capabilities. It is this need to rethink and reimagine the human body that has led to questions like how close will we live with technology in the future? How will we utilise it? and how will it change us? Maybe we are headed towards a world where bodily enhancements will be the next step in our evolution.

“By 2040, technological possibilities to augment ourselves will be at its highest point.”

If we look back into the history of evolution, we see that our body has been adapting to changing circumstances for a long while now. So it comes as no surprise that a recent report by Imperial College, predicts that by 2040, technological possibilities to augment ourselves will be at its highest point. Although a scary prospect for some, to augment one’s body is something that is going to be influenced by both developments in technology and fashion.

Ghost in the Shell

Described as being at the intersection of fashion, technology and architecture, the conversation around the augmented human is nothing new. Considered quite underground and out of the box, when one does take a closer look, they will come to realise that we have been augmenting our body for a long time now. The difference is that the new movement is more focused on functionality and we are more familiar with the non-functional augmentation of our body like plastic surgery.

Before putting ourselves under the knife became the norm, the corset was a great example of how fashion has allowed us to change our body, albeit in a non-functional way, to fit in with fashionable trends. Adopted by mainstream consumers, the corset was an instrument designed to augment the woman’s body for vanity purposes rather than functional ones. Decades since the corset became unfashionable, I feel that we have started to move away from non-functional as we head towards a future were functional wearables will be merging with the human body and disrupting what it feels to be human.

Using the Body As A Vehicle

Breaking boundaries by approaching the human body differently, we are seeing developments in technology that are influencing how the human form could evolve in the near future. We only have to look at movies to get an idea of how technology is going to be integrated into our evolution. Sure, some might argue, that films like Ghost in the Shell are pure science fiction, but the truth of the matter is that people are already becoming ‘superhuman’.

“The superhuman phenomena is due to science populating the human body with powerful technologies.”

The superhuman phenomena is due to science populating the human body with powerful technologies. A great example of this is Aimee Mullins, an amputee who was once quoted as saying that her special “cheetah” legs gave her superpowers. She is not alone in feeling this way. We are witnessing many amputees taking advantage of robotics and emerging technologies that are rapidly ushering in an era of human augmentation that is no longer about replacing one’s leg but more about giving someone a human enhancement makeover in the shape of a limb that is better than their ‘natural’ one.

Aimee Mullins says her special “cheetah” legs give her superpowers.

Besides replacing limbs with advanced prosthetics, augmentation of the body also has us leaping towards a future where embedded technology will treat various illnesses. This has so far included restoring vision in blind patients suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa. Promising to give numerous people a new lease of life, you cannot deny that the augmented body is a definite step on from the current wearable technology trend. But they are still sceptics who question whether replacing our body parts with technology makes us less human. Does this mean that in the future the new human who has had cybernetic enhancements will become indistinguishable from the technology itself?

Extending Human Capabilities and Altering How and What We Strive to Design For Ourselves

Imagine augmenting your body, not for fashion but for convenience. The changes might not serve to make you look more attractive, but rather serve the purpose designed to make your life easier. This is something that Corpus 2.0 explored. They had an exhibition at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where they showcased a future where we alter our body to adapt to individual needs.

Image credit: Corpus 2.0

The Corpus 2.0 project looked at the possibilities of the designed body by showcasing various shocking images. One of them was of a woman with a smoking hole that made it convenient for her when she wanted to smoke. It also meant that she would be able to recognise other smokers who would bear the same change. Another image showed a woman with a high-heel foot. A rather scary looking photo, the objective of the enhancement was to make sure that we will be able to wear our favourite Choos pain free because our feet are shaped in the design of our favourite shoes.

Then there is A.Human, a futuristic fashion brand whose concept is less about convenience and more about being able to change your body as you would your clothes. Foreseeing a world where fashion will be crucial when it comes to the augmented body, A.Human stands out because they are designing for the body through the language of fashion.

Image Credit: A.Human

Driven by the belief that the future of fashion could be futuristic body modifications, the brand shuns traditional apparel in favour of body modifications. Cleverly, A.Human found a way of getting the brand mainstream recognition by roping in celebrities like Kim Kardashian to create a buzz around their wearable art. Founder Simon Huck not only got the reaction he wanted, his collection was also a conversation starter that raised questions like, is this a trend that you can see yourself adopting in the near future?

The Fashion Tribe 2.0: Science Fiction of Today is the Technology of Tomorrow

It is no secret that fashion embraces the tribe mentality. We all belong to some style tribe that allows us to identify with those who not only dress like us but might also listen to the same music. Well-known fashion tribes that we are all quite familiar with include goths, punks, hippies, hip hop and of cause the Harajuku.

Fashion tribe, Harajuku.

As we make our way into a future, that could very likely be determined by wearable technology; I foresee a change that will give birth to new tribes that will offer an alternative culture to what we are used too. These new tribes will evolve from where we are now- the device being in our hand to it being implanted in our body. They will be identified as Visible, Embedded and Invisible.

The Visible tribe will wear their augmented body changes like a badge of honour. Their cyber enhancements will make a loud and proud fashion statement. The Visible tribe’s augmented decisions will be based not on how the tech looks but more on what abilities it gives them. The modifications they make will not only be focused on enhancing their ‘natural’ body, but the technology they adopt will also be part of their identity. So in a nutshell, the Visible tribe will be less about vanity and more about disrupting what it means to be human.

You will be able to recognise the Embedded tribe by how their technology sits under their skin. Not quite visible, they view augmenting their bodies as a legitimate kind of futurism. Similar to the current biohackers whose hands or wrists are implanted with tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, in the future the Embedded tribe will be able to take advantage of the shrinking technology, which means if they choose too, they would have the option of making it invisible, something that isn’t possible today.

The Invisible tribe will take a different stance when it comes to augmenting their bodies. They make sure to still blend in and look ‘normal’. Their enhancements will not be noticeable; they prefer the camouflaged approach to technology, where they can reap the benefits without having to look less human. Evolving the human body for them is about being able to enhance it in a way that is functional while still staying true to their natural form.

These new tribes will be designed to adapt to an environment that is wired, sensor-filled, and digitally connected. They will be part of a trend that will be focused on not only enhancing our in body and mind but also make sure that we are always connected to the internet so that we can control the environment around us.

So why do it? Well, one of the reasons why it could become fashionable to augment the human body is that it is a great form of self-expression. Also; it would help us connect to others and the environment around us while improving our quality of life. You will no longer have to imagine a stronger, smarter, more resilient you because your new abilities will give you the kind of ‘superpowers’ that you never imagined possible. Now I ask again, if you could change your body as easily as you would change your clothes, would you?

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Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology and a regular contributor to digital news sites like Wareable.