Radhika Dhuru August 20, 2015

Fashion designer Melinda Looi’s new ‘Gems of the Ocean’ collection includes one of the world’s first full-length gowns to be 3D-printed as a single part. It also comes with unique 3D-printed accessories straight out of a mermaid’s world. So what does it take to make a collection like this one? A highly skilled team of 3D modeling wizards celebrating all the design freedom offered by 3D Printing! Here’s how they did it – and here’s why even a 12-core CPU with 64GB RAM can seem like it’s not enough computing power sometimes.

Melinda Looi first entered the 3D Printing world through a collaboration with Materialise in June 2013 for Asia’s first 3D-printed fashion show. This time, ‘Gems of the Ocean’ showcases Melinda’s love for the seascape and inspiration from nature. However, Melinda says, “3D modeling is not in my skill set... I think it would have been impossible for me to come out with such amazing pieces without the help of these talented modelers/designers.” And that’s where Sam comes in.

Image courtesy of Melinda Looi

3D Modeling the Collection: Computing Power vs Design Goals

The ‘Dive Into Me’ gown, the star of the collection, was co-designed and fully modeled by Samuel Canning, 3D Design lecturer at Griffith University. To ensure an absolutely flawless fit, the dress was designed specifically to fit the physique of the model who would be wearing it. Modeling the dress, which was to be printed in a single piece, turned out to be a technological challenge. “Computing power dictated the entire build strategy,” recalls Sam. “In terms of hardware, I could only model five layers at a time before my computer started to lag.” And that was a 12-core processor with 64GB RAM.

Working with the software program Solidworks, Sam first designed the dress in 19 separate STL files, adding up to just under 7GB of data. He began by asking Materialise about the size of the biggest laser sintering printers available at the time (early 2014), and then formulated a strategy to fit a full-length gown within the available build volume. In order to make the floor-length gown fit, the dress was folded over twice in its final printable design and traveled the full length of the build platform about 2.5 times. Finally, after six months of extensive and intricate work, the dress was ready to be printed.

Image courtesy of Melinda Looi
Image courtesy of Melinda Looi
Image courtesy of Melinda Looi

‘Shaping’ Fashion through 3D Printing

The 19 separate sections were assembled in our software program Magics, and then printed in polyamide on Materialise’s largest selective laser sintering (SLS) machine. Straight out of the printer, the dress emerged complete and requiring no assembly at all. For additional aesthetic impact and luxury, however, Melinda finished the dress with a colored dye and 5,000 Swarovski crystals embedded in specially designed cavities within the dress.

The gown shows the versatility of flexible 3D-printed material, and the vast possibilities 3D Printing offers to the fashion industry. Unlike the common misconception of a 3D-printed dress as a rigid, immovable sculpture, this gown gracefully follows the wearer’s movements. Besides, the fact that the gown was printed in a single piece, with no need for assembly, challenges much of standard fashion manufacturing and represents an all-new way to look at the future of labor in fashion.

Image courtesy of Melinda Looi

Bringing Up the Train

To accessorize the stunning gown, the ‘Gems of the Ocean’ collection also includes a statement shoulder piece, a pair of ‘Coral Colonies’ shoes, ‘Swim Corals Swim’ bracelets, and ‘Whisper to Me’ earrings. Behind this collection is Melinda’s dedication as well as that of her talented (and very international) 3D modeling team: Daniel Siri, Tony Mun, Kaecee Fitzgerald, and the aforementioned Samuel Canning. This has been a truly worldwide effort: Melinda and Tony are from Malaysia, Sam and Kaecee come from Australia, and the model for the dress was 3D-scanned in Italy where Daniel is based; all before the collection was 3D-printed at Materialise headquarters, Belgium.

“I wanted to bring the enchanting underwater world to the land above,” says Melinda.

It looks as though she’s succeeded in introducing not only those worlds but also those of fashion and 3D Printing, as well as 3D modeling talents from all over the terrestrial world, and we’re looking forward to the exciting outcomes of these introductions.

If you’re interested in the applications that 3D Printing offers for fashion, you might like to follow our blog tag for 3D-printed fashion: we recently covered Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht’s collaboration with Audi and Chinese designer Steven Ma’s 2.7-meter-long 3D-printed wedding veil.

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