As 190 nations gather in Paris today to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, one dress holds court at London’s St. Pancras International Station as a symbol of solidarity. The first phase of the “Dress For Our Time” initiative, the frock is the world’s first digital garment devoted to exploring climate change and its human impact, according to designer and London College of Fashion professor Helen Storey, who constructed the dress from a tent that was given to her by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Together with interactive creative agency Holition, Storey outfitted the frock with digital displays to visually map out the globe-spanning effects of climate change. The dress harnesses meteorological data from Britain’s Met Office to “show our planet, both as we know it now and as it will be if we don’t do enough,” Storey said in a statement.
DRESS FOR COP21
The fabric of the dress, which previously sheltered a Syrian family of six in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, is similarly replete with meaning. “In giving the tent a second life, it gives the piece an unbreakable bond to humanity and represents the importance of nurturing and protecting all people and safeguarding generations to come,” Storey said. “I wanted it to be a powerful symbol of what it means to be human amidst the precarious nature of our existence.”
It also offers a tangible link between global warming and refugees. The UNCHR warns that climate-change-related events such as coastal flooding, prolonged drought, and shoreline erosion will be one of the biggest drivers of population displacements in the foreseeable future.
All of these are issues that defy easy explanations, but then Storey is no stranger to using fashion to illustrate key concepts. She’s also the co-founder of “Catalytic Clothing,” a project that featured among its creations an air-purifying gown.
“Dress For Our Time symbolizes the collaborative way that I have worked for over 20 years [by] breaking down the boundaries between traditional subject areas and using fashion as a catalyst for change,” she said. “I have always experienced, that it is our collided imaginations that hold the key to some of the world’s most complex problems, and being constrained by viewing arts and sciences as totally separate will never get us closer to what our planet requires.”
Storey is currently soliciting feedback on social media through the hashtags #Dress4OurTime and #ClimateChange. This, she says, will help inform the next chapter of Dress For Our Time, which she’ll announce in January and roll out in March.
“We want Dress For Our Time to help elevate people’s voices and share some of the hopes and fears that we all have around the future of our planet.” she said. “None of us have all the answers, but by using creative ways to discuss the issues which really matter to us and future generations, we can find new ways to explore the evidence and stay in relationship to its truth.”