Futuristic bridal gowns, haute couture costumes and tech-inspired fashion accessories, all made with 3-D printers, have garnered international recognition for Rachel Nhan ’11, a Texas A&M Visualization graduate who designs and crafts plastic-plated apparel suggestive of avant-garde armor and sends them down runways worldwide.
Her dresses, with intertwining organic shapes, high feather collars and circuit board designs, are given spacey names like Entity, Nostroma and Topology. These otherworldly outfits are adorned with plastic 3-D printed pieces designed using computer programs like Maya and Rhino, and sewn into fabrics.
A New York City fashionista and Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, Nhan currently works as a designer at Victoria’s Secret. Her visually stunning, wearable art, created under her own name, has been featured in The New York Times, on Fox and CBS, and showcased at numerous technology and fashion exhibitions.
Nhan has had her 3-D printed clothing featured in a MAC Cosmetics Halloween ad campaign, designed apparel graphics for Aeropostale and Jack Spade and created costuming for World Wrestling Entertainment.
She has also shown her dresses in Dusseldorf and Shanghai. Along with pieces from her newest collection, last January her 3-D printed designs were showcased alongside other high-tech clothing at the BodyHacking Con Fashion Tech Show in Austin.
“Fashion has always been dependent on the newest technology of its time and this is our new frontier,” Nhan said in a New York Times article, where she spoke on American designers following behind other countries in embracing the trend of avant-garde, “unwearable” clothing.
Nhan’s most recent collection, Futura, features a 3-D printed chest piece, cuffs and a clutch made with circuit-board designs printed in clear plastic. When worn, these accessories create a spooky, futuristic illusion of circuits grafted to skin.
Continually inspired by modern technology, Nhan credits her skill in 3-D animation and computer programming to her Texas A&M education, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in visualization.
“I wanted to apply my technical background to wearable designs. I like to create garments that bring out otherworldly characters in their wearers,” she said, adding that most of her design inspiration comes from films. In fact, she initially aspired to work in character modeling and animated movie design.
Tim McLaughlin, head of the Department of Visualization, said Nhan is a shining example of the diverse career paths available to visualization students.
“She’s done something that was never a formal part of our curriculum, but she learned to push available technology to facilitate her creations,” he said. “She’s a young leader in this field because of how she was taught to think. We want our students to become fearless with technology and embrace whatever they need to execute their design ideas.”
Experimentation with new technologies is more assessable to today’s Texas A&M visualization students with the addition of the MakerPlace. A workshop designed to facilitate hands-on high-tech craftsmanship, the MakerPlace is outfitted with laser cutters and eight different 3-D printers, where today’s Nhans can realize their digital creations
“There’s a whole range of possibilities with the MakerPlace,” McLaughlin said. “Our approach is to create these sandboxes filled with tools and different kinds of hardware and machines for the students to create and play with.”