Any Color as Long as It’s Optical!

PARIS -- Fashion Central -- Do you sometimes wonder what your pants would say if they could talk? What a tale they’d have to tell, eh? Well, fear not, that day may be soon at hand (or leg). France Telecom SA says it has cooked up an optical technology that will eventually make for “intelligent, communicating garments.”

The European carrier’s R&D labs have created a flexible screen of woven optical fibers, capable of downloading and displaying static or animated graphics (such as logos, texts, patterns, and scanned images) directly onto clothes.

It seems this optiwear will be all the rage by the end of the decade. We know this is true because Gartner/Dataquest tells us so. The research group reckons that 60 percent of the population in developed countries is likely to own a communicating garment by 2010 (particularly long lunch when you came up with that figure was it, boys and girls?).

At the moment, the application of the technology is pretty simplistic. You can download graphics from the Internet or create your own, via a laptop connected to the cloth. A remote control allows the user to switch through a series of images. So the wearer of this wonder material can become a walking bumper sticker. (Honk if you’re optical?)

But the fashion mavens at France Telecom have bigger plans for the monitor material. The company has already built speech recognition capabilities into some prototype clothes. It says that combining the wearable screen with speech recognition and the wireless download capabilities of third-generation networks will “enable users to deploy a screen to read IP text messages or view pre-selected film, modify the colors of their clothes at will, or surf on their favorite musical sites.”

So rather than a mere bumper sticker on legs, the wearer would become the walking embodiment of Times Square: graphics flashing, tunes blaring, touching themselves discreetly when they needed to “reply to messages.”

And there's more: “This unique achievement... can also apply to other spaces and types of media," says the press release, including "public safety (firemen fighting large fires), advertising [ed. note: no kidding!], the automotive industry, interior decoration (furniture and wall fitting applications), fashion (development of fiber optic fabrics), leisure activities (personalized signing on roller blades at night), and more.”

Alors! Who hasn’t wished her chaise longue could pick up Oprah? Who hasn’t yearned for an interactive “I’m With Stupid” tee shirt? And firemen attacking fires while simultaneously playing “Resident Evil” on their hoses… Well, talk about an idea whose time has come!

The style council here at Light Reading is divided on the concept of multimedia clothes. The suave Manhattanites in the office feel their black turtlenecks and berets make all the fashion statement they need. The rest of us think that it might actually be helpful if your underwear can remind you when it needs changing: "You've got lice!"

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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