Some of the most innovative ventures in fashion may have been hatched over a bottle of wine, but for the Micro'be' project, it's literally an intrinsic part. This Australian partnership, of scientist Gary Cass and contemporary artist Donna Franklin, has been making clothes from fabric they've actually grown from wine itself.
"The inspiration for this project was an amazing bottle of Australian red wine," explains Cass, who works in the faculty of Natural and Agricultural Science at the University of Western Australia. His initial collaboration with Franklin was on a garment grown from fungus (as part of her residency at the artistic laboratory, SymbioticA, that brings artists and scientists together). However, by 2007 the project had taken an alcoholic turn, resulting in the creation of the world's first "wine dress".
The practicalities came about after a less appetising encounter with a vat of wine that had gone off and on whose surface Cass noticed a skin-like layer had formed. This cellulose was the work of acetobacter, the bacteria responsible for transforming wine into vinegar, which is every winemaker's nightmare but for Cass had the makings of a fascinating fabric.
"Knowing that the skinning material was bacterial cotton and cotton was used for clothing it was a small step to start producing garments," says Cass. "We have now perfected a culturing technique that will allow the bacteria to form a 3-dimensional garment that will be seamless and can also be formed to fit the wearer like a second skin."
Its colours are dictated by the hue of the wine. Reds provide a more opaque material, ranging from maroon to rust, while whites result in something see-through. Though this may make the latter a little too risque for everyday clothing, it has applications in medicine as a bandage that can keep a wound sterile while revealing how it's healing underneath.
While Cass favours cheap Aussie cask wine for his creations - preferring to save the better bottles for drinking himself - this fabric can come from a variety of alcohol sources, with varying degrees of success. Cass and Franklin grew a garment from Guinness for a show in Dublin, but the bacteria didn't have much of a taste for the local brew and made only a little material;l what was made proved hard and brittle.
Taking the production of seamless clothing to another level is one of its potential features.
"By using the bacteria, we can replace weaving machinery that presently is not capable of producing 3D seamless wear," Cass says. "The Micro'be' material has the potential to save on the high labour costs of patterning, cutting and stitching a garment and to compete against other textiles by offering a low-production cost material that is adaptable and has the potential to replace synthetic materials in manufacture."
It's also "the ultimate in environmentally friendly textiles", claim the pair, in that it is created naturally and is completely biodegradable, allowing "for a greater choice of organic/low-impact materials for the fashion industry". The project also carries a strong conceptual element, in endeavouring to make people consider where the material for what they're wearing comes from.
On the practical side there's still some fine-tuning to be done before we can slip on a pair of shiraz-based cycling shorts or sport a slick little pinot noir number. At present the fabric lacks flexibility, which reduces its wearability, but that is something Cass and Franklin think they're now close to cracking. The other issue they are currently tackling is that of its less-than-appealing bouquet, described as "a kind of morning after the night before" smell.
They plan to launch a more fragrant and flexible dress next year. Meanwhile, if you get a whiff of stale booze among the throngs at Fashion Week, it may not be someone reeking of the excesses of the previous evening, but the currently not-so-sweet smell of fermented fashion.
A STYLISH SELECTION
WEARABLE ART WINE
Brancott Estate Limited Edition Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $25.95
Brancott Estate has released a series of Limited Edition bottles designed to celebrate its 15-year partnership with the WearableArt Awards. The sauvignon, with its notes of succulent passionfruit, tangy lemon and green herb, sports the Dragon Fish costume designed by Susan Holmes. (From leading liquor retailers.)
&Co The Supernatural Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $30-$32
One of New Zealand's most intriguing labels, with a great sauvignon inside the bottle too, that combines weighty tropical fruit and savoury herbal undertones with an exhilarating line of grapefruit and mineral. (From Caro's.)
Zios Rias Baixas Albarino 2010 $24.99 on special until September 2
Another aesthetically pleasing bottle containing a great example Spain's trendy albarino grape, with hints of apricot kernel and acacia honey wrapped round a fresh citrus mineral core. (From Glengarry.)