This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.
Mathilde Rougier combines physical practises with digital experiments on upcycled modular material pieces with AI generated design patterns. Her work functions within the idea of deterioration and restoration of data to create something new. Her focus on sustainability echoes within the digital sphere, with technological inspiration applied to analogue methods. Through this type of fashion design, Mathilde challenges the waste issue in garment construction and production.
Her graduation project Modular Augmented Capsule is a 100% up-cycled collection addressing damaged data and its restoration as a form or creation. The collection is based on a personal collection of digital archive of garments, the archive manipulated digitally through pixilation, 3D scanning and AI. The work transcends past object permanence and style obsolescence by maximising modularity within a loop. We discussed with Mathilde the future of fashion, avatar identities and digital thrifting.
Your work occupies both physical and digital worlds, can you comment on how this shifting proximity informs your practise?
The collection stems from on an IRL observation: what waste do we produce as an industry? The solutions I have found and the aesthetic that inspired the collection come from digital systems and garment restoration. What I do is augmented reality, so a middle ground between physical and entirely digital fashion (with 3D avatars). I still want to dress people IRL but want the option to do so without producing waste. The physical part of the collection stems from trying to reproduce a pixel system IRL. I was interested in how this tiny unit of information can act as a building block of many different images and how this could translate into a physical modular system.
The garments in your project Modular Augmented Capsule are upcycled from existing materials, how did this affect your creative process?
When you work from second hand or waste materials you have to reverse your design process. You can’t design ex-nihilo, you have to start with what you have, with material reality. This brings in new challenges. Waste gains value when it’s organized as raw material can be extracted, that’s how recycling plants function, they sort out the waste. I wanted to do this with all the leather scraps and sample books I had gathered. That’s when the CNN came in, it allowed me to design with the available material always in mind.
How has the concept of object obsolescence inspired your work?
The idea of obsolescence is at the heart of my reflection. The current fashion system is based on a paradox. We create clothes that exploit resources and don’t biodegrade whilst fast-cycling trends put those same clothes out of fashion in less then 6 months. I’m interested in regeneration, how can we use the same resources to produce new designs over and over again. The physical modular system I have developed functions like this. The garments can be constantly « updated » therefore separating consumption ( which consumes, burns through matter, exploits) and production (generation, renewal, creation).
Your work uses a problem solving approach to fashion, alongside this ongoing need to work sustainably, how else do you imagine a solution based approach can be utilised to address issues within the industry?
Fashion has considered itself a fine arts since the birth of fashion shows in the 1860s. This has encouraged a more decorative and aesthetically led approach to the design process. In short « form over function ». I place myself in the perspective of social design: I’m trying to answer a question or solve a problem.
How do you compare the process of making garments for IRL vs URL?
My approach to IRL design is never ex-nihilo, I always start with the material , the waste streams available to me. On the contrary, digital design is free from any material constraint, so I treat it as such. It also has the capability of being constantly updated and changed.
Can you comment on the use of avatars in your work and how this digital identity can offer the opportunity to play with expression of self?
We are all cyborgs, according to Harraway’s definition in A Cyborg Manifesto, cybernetic organisms who have a mixed digital and organic identity. This is all the more visible with social media. The avatar can be an expression of the deeper self, freed from gender and the physical limitations of the organic body. We don’t choose the skin we were born but we can choose our digital skin. I think there is a lot of power of de(con)struction of gender in this idea.
What do you think the fashion industry can learn from modular design, as seen in your practice? What new frameworks do think fashion could follow?
I think we have created an artificial framework on top of nature, divided from it. I think the cycles of nature would be an amazing inspiration. In nature, plants grow, flourish, die and go back to the ground to feed the growth of the next plant. We should strive to achieve this in design.
What are your hopes for the future realities within fashion design, AI and sustainability?
I think we have yet to explore the full potential of Artificial Intelligence. It’s a very broad field with a variety of applications from design, to supply chains or image generation. I think in terms of sustainability it might have more « behind the scenes » applications.
What is in store for your practise post graduation?
I’m going to continue developing and researching into sustainable and circular designs as this has always been my prime focus. I’m also continuing to develop my skills in the digital field and exploring the possibilities offered by those techniques.
What do this year’s graduation shows reveal about the future of the fashion show?
Fashion shows were forced to go virtual. In fact most people have always experienced shows through a screen. Only a select few people attend fashion shows, the rest see them on Vogue Runway, Instagram, Showstudio and YouTube. I think trying to cater to this majority is in the interest of those organizing fashion presentations. I think the forced distance imposed by Covid allowed for this shift to happen. I think we have yet to develop more interactive and immersive digital presentations but overall we are going towards something more democratic, which is very exciting!