Fancy Meets Function on Runway 

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By Xeni Jardin  |   Also by this reporter

02:00 AM Aug. 05, 2005 PT

LOS ANGELES -- In the future, we'll text-message hugs to each other's shirts, our coat buttons will house cameras, and our underwear biosensors will phone home when we're in trouble.

Some of us will go topless, adorned only with computer-extruded brooches adhered directly to skin.

That's what's in store if the runway fashions during the fourth annual Siggraph Cyber Fashion Show ever see the light of day.

This week's runway show brought together 35 exhibitors from 10 countries to display wearable computers, computer-generated jewelry and clothing designs festooned with electronics.

The event had one thing in common with typical haute couture shows -- most of the outlandish prototypes on the backs of underfed models here won't end up in your closet anytime soon.

But much was unique about this event: the exhibitor list combined familiar fashion brands like Oakley and Fossil with tech names like Sony, Charmed Technology and the MIT Media Laboratory.

The event's latex-clad emcee and founder, Isa Gordon, referred to herself as the "cyborg host" and read her lines from a head-mounted teleprompt running a Microsoft operating system. The device, which rested over one eye like a pirate patch, crashed several times during the show, then died mid-show when batteries ran out, requiring a return to paper scripts.

Models had names like Sara Tonin, Venus Prototype and Stardust Angel.

A wide array of looks were on display, from a Burning Manesque electro-luminescent wire hodgepodge, to remixed Victorian, to what can only be described as "extreme android makeover," complete with platform Goth boots and long, metallic hair tendrils.

Some prototypes were pure fancy. A men's jacket and women's dress designed by Akira Wakita of Japan's Keio University displayed luminous codes that relay body temperature, just in case you want your loved one to know how hot you really are.

Virtual reality goggles from Electroboutique turn your environment into a fashion show by painting everything you see with Photoshop-like filters. Instead of viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, why not gaze at it "Matrixified" with cascading lime-green gobbledygook text?

Other designs were created for more practical purposes. MIT's Gauri Nanda created purses with sensors that communicate with scarves and skirts to remind wearers where they misplaced their car keys or warn them to bring an umbrella because it might rain.

A head-mounted thermal camera system from Emagin and Total Fire Group was designed to help firefighters see through dark or smoky conditions where it would be hard to identify flame sources with the naked eye.

Wearable Environmental Information Networks of Japan, or WIN, showed several notable designs, including Report-the-World, a get-up designed for future stealth journalists. A retro trench coat hides 10 hidden cameras for capturing 360-degree panoramic images. The front pocket holds a small computer, a ring-embedded speaker transmits location-based audio instructions, and a head-mounted display is stylishly encrusted with Swarovski crystals, like an electric tiara.

WIN also demonstrated Dog @ Watch for children. The plushy-form device for the wrist hides a GPS sensor, a cell phone for voice-dialing parents and an alarm sensor to monitor the wearer's safety.

Kirsten McCall, a 9-year-old model, acknowledged the value of safety features to "protect against bad guy kidnappers," but was more excited about other potential features.

"I'd like a jacket that has a TV on the sleeve, so I can watch shows all day -- but mostly, I want clothes that do my homework for me."

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