The fashion collective of digital designers, florists and pattern cutters helmed by Paula Sello and Alissa Aulbekova builds up digital garments and structures for in-game avatars and Instagram filters
Auroboros is the couture brand from designers Paula Sello and Alissa Aulbekova, who are growing structures onto their garments through physical and digital crystallization. Here they talk about the relationship between technology, science and fashion and the sustainable possibilities of digital pieces.
Biomimicry is a design practice that has one simple absolute rule – you inform your design through the imitation of nature’s structures. Imagine the way a spider webs internal structure collects water for the arachnid by funneling dew to the center of the web in the early hours of the morning before it evaporates in the midday sun. Here, Alissa and Paula work together to create a garment that imitates nature’s own crystal structures that have a repeating, uniform pattern which reveals itself as time allows the crystals to grow.
How did Auroboros become what it is today?
Alissa: I was doing digital fashion and 3D scanning – Paula came from a more avant-garde design background. We joined forces, wanting to bring industries together through the technological side, the scientific side and our combined interests. The symbol of Auroboros means constant renewal. It’s what you see in biomimicry, because nature grows out of nothing and then falls apart in a very cyclical process.
Paula: While biomimicry is a concept that for us creates symbiosis between the digital and physical, it comes from a high fashion perspective. The garments grow, they fall apart – they are not going to last forever, as a lot of fast fashion does. (Biomimicry is the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems – Ed.)
Alissa: We are aware of the negative effects of fast fashion, constant consumption and not taking care of your clothing. Our pieces take between a hundred to two hundred hours to make and are made-to-measure, but not made to last, so you need to cherish the moment you have them in and then they disappear – maybe as all clothes should do.
Paula: As Alissa said – you only have so much time with the garment, but it does not completely disappear. There is a life cycle occurring on it, like the growth of a flower from a bud. It has a peak moment of beauty and then it falls apart. That process says something about us having to appreciate fashion deeply – if you do wear it again, it will not be the same. No garment is the same twice because each piece and the crystals grow in their own way. It can never be replicated. That is the point of couture and it does not get more unique than something that grows on you.
Take me through the cycle of creating both the physical and digital garments, from the sourcing all the way through to the finished piece.
Paula: The garments and experiences start with a sketch and then go into the digital, where we can start playing around with the idea. For the physical garments, it is quite a lengthy process. As Alissa said, these pieces take a minimum of forty-eight hours to create but can take up to two hundred and fifty hours. The process starts with a surface understructure on which the crystals ‘grow’.
How do the crystals grow on the garment?
Paula: It is a self-sufficient process, in which I create the understructure for it and then the crystals grow across it through the process of crystallization, where a solution hardens over time on a base material, creating ‘crystals’. It is impossible to control and direct their growth fully, similarly to how you would grow a plant. We are collaborating with the Queen Mary’s University of London on the scientific elements of the solution that we use for the process. I am at a stage now where I can grow the crystals on most materials, however I choose to work with organic materials or materials that are recyclable to minimize waste. We have been sponsored by Swarovski with their recycled crystals that we use in some of our garments. We have also had a material sponsorship from Tiranti, who supplied us with a recyclable metal mesh on which the crystals are grown .
Alissa, how about the digital side?
Alissa: The process follows the same technical logic as the real creation of a garment because you create patterns that are then stitched in 3D software. We take it further by manipulating the ‘cloth’ and changing the digital materials. We mimic the procedural growth of the crystals from the couture line onto our pret-a-porter through animation software. It is work until the last minute, because you want to be happy with the material texture and how the fabric falls, or whether it has this hyper-realistic fluidity. We take pride in being strong on both sides and pushing the line between what is real and what is not.
Paula: For both the physical and the digital creation processes, we have an amazing team involved, including the people at Sarabande. Sometimes pieces have several highly skilled, unknown artists working on them as well as our team.
Alissa: Every time we have a project or a garment in mind, we try to find talents and specialists in each field and collaborate with them on our original idea. It is a tough ask – how do you make a dress that grows? There are many ways to approach it. As we collaborate with people, we merge a lot of techniques, ideas and processes, from the digital bodies we choose to display our garments, all the way through to the physical pieces themselves.
Auroboros works as a collective. This is an unusual route for designers, especially since you work with people outside of fashion too.
Paula: We work with everyone, from sculptors in the physical space to florists and material specialists. With our collaborative ethos, everyone has another perspective and history that they add to the process.
Alissa: There are also other professions that are not as well-known, like 3D environment creators.
Our ultimate goal with Auroboros is to create a nirvana of innovators, scientists and artists to collaborate and work on this positive utopia. Sarabande has been a catalyst for us – Lauren Bowker saw potential in us and has enabled us to do this.
Digital design can be difficult to understand – how do you create digital garments that imitate nature?
Alissa: Paula and I did research educating ourselves, because there is much coming out, from the render engines to software that people use. We are using 3D clothing software like CLO 3D to explore different materials, but it always changes because you do not end up using just one – you use a separate one for construction composition, for material or even rendering out.
Paula: Throughout the whole process, Alissa has also been making a VR Auroboros world together with one of our collaborators.
Seeing as the industry is changing, this idea of sustainability means a way of creating clothing and fashion that prioritises the well-being of the people in it and the planet. What roles do you think digital clothing and clothes with a short, physical lifecycle like yours will play for fashion?
Paula: We are conscious of creating this collection with sustainability in mind, even when moving away from biomimicry. We are not mass-producing, because our physical collection is limited. Most people have access to smartphones and visual social media like Instagram and there is a desire to dress up and have fun and digital fashion allows for that. Because we limit our physical collection and mostly create cyclical, digital garments, sustainability is at the heart of what Auroboros means – a cycle of beginnings and endings.
Alissa: If you break down the word ‘sustainability’, it is to sustain the level you are at. This is the big problem in the fashion industry – there is no way to sustain an acceptable level of production because of the constant creation of brands and pieces, collections and drops. This is why we chose to structure our brand like this – we found an exit from this cycle of non-stop creation and huge amounts of waste that is happening in fashion.
Paula: We have been talking about how sustainability is having to look at one’s own mortality. Things have to end in order to be sustainable. One of the things that people were saying to us in the beginning was, ‘Don’t you want to make the clothes last?’ – and that is the point – clothes should not last as long as they do. It is beautiful that they do not last for centuries. Our world does not have the space for millions of people to have millions of pieces of clothes that do not decompose.
What is the future for Auroboros?
Alissa: We have a collaboration that is going to be out in the digital space that is going to shake the foundation of fashion, because it is a new way to do things. We have been lucky to meet like-minded people to collaborate on this. . We are bringing out our growing couture collection and then showing our full digital collection and giving access to it to the public.
Paula: This is the year we will start opening up. But again, with an awareness of the precautions for the coronavirus and everything else that is going on. For some people who have seen our biomimicry concept it will be a surprising move taking us down a different route. Physically, it will be ethereal and otherworldly.