CuteCircuit Clothing Lights Up Katy Perry, U2; Develops HugShirt

At SXSW on Sunday, the London-based label announced a Kickstarter fundraiser for the launch of its HugShirt, which allows people to send virtual hugs when wearing the tees.
Theodoros Chliapas

Worn by Katy Perry, U2 and Nicole Scherzinger, apparel company CuteCircuit is changing how we perceive clothing. Founded in 2004 by American Ryan Genz and Italian Francesca Rosella, the London-based label merges technology and fashion using micro-electronics, LED technologies and smart textiles.

At New York Fashion Week, the duo showed their Twearkle collection, a range based on their first product, a kinetic dress, which lights up and changes patterns based on the wearer's movements. Pants appear normal in lit environments, but in dark or dim settings, creases embroidered with electroluminescent thread light up in response to the models walking.

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"They are part of our ready-to-wear range," said Genz, who indicated that arrangements with a major e-tailer were close to being finalized. "We also have in this show the Galaxy miniskirt, which is iPhone-controlled." The skirt fabric, which is woven with LEDs, lights up in patterns and is the more wearable version of the company's original Galaxy dress, which at 24,000 color LEDs featured the world's largest wearable LED display. The original is on permanent display in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry as the centerpiece of the "Fast Forward: Inventing the Future" exhibition.

While CuteCircuit had already been widely featured in British press, it was in 2010, when singer Katy Perry decided to wear the duo's dress to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Costume Institute party, that the world took notice. The following year, the company dressed U2 in light-up leather jackets for the North American leg of its 360 tour, and in October 2012 put Nicole Scherzinger in the world's first Twitter dress, which displayed fan tweets in real-time across Scherzinger's lap.

The patented-fabrics are created internally by the company and termed "Magic Fabric" and "White Magic," depending on the density and ability of display. White Magic uses thousands of points of interwoven white lights.

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On March 9, in an appearance at the Austin Convention Center for SXSW, Genz and Rosella announced a Kickstarter fundraiser as well as the launch of production for their HugShirt. The shirt allows a person to send another person a virtual hug when both are wearing the HugShirt. A sender squeezes himself or herself, sensors in the shirt relay duration and strength of touch via Bluetooth to the wearer's phone. An app on the wearer's phone instaneously relays to the recipient's phone the detail. The recipient's shirt immediately warms and vibrates in the exact points of touch, thereby allowing two people a world apart to send each other a hug. The shirts allow people to both receive and send hugs.

"We are going to make thousands of these, as we literally get emails every day asking for them," says Rosella. "Although we started out 10 years ago inventing the shirt in 2002, to make these items is a very long process, and it's only in the last two years that it has become possible not just to make them but also to use them. Back then the HugShirt was advanced; the mobile networks and mobile phones were not. We designed it before iPhone and Android existed."

The designers see a future in clothing that replaces some cellphone technology. They have a dress which -- using a standard SIM card -- can make and receive phone calls as well as a T-shirt capable of pairing with an iOS app to show images and texts, play music, and take and share photos. However, for the foreseeable future, CuteCircuit's audience is clearly in entertainment. Rumor has it that CuteCircuit will be outfitting Katy Perry when she tours this summer.