Threeasfour this week again brought art down fashion runways in New York City — this time through a collaboration with 3-D printing company Stratasys Ltd., largely based in Eden Prairie.
Vogue called the creations a "beautiful pair of dresses that shared the stained-glass effect of butterfly wings," after the Wednesday night show.
The pieces were part of the Chro-Morpho collection, which will travel to museums, including the "Designs for Different Futures" exhibit opening Oct. 21 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and an exhibit in 2020 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Threeasfour is a collaboration among three designers, all immigrants — Adi Gil from Israel, Angela Donhauser from the former Soviet Union and Gabriel Asfour from Lebanon. They were celebrating 20 years working together, with Chro-Morpho giving nods to the original 1999 collection. Asfour told Vogue the works also were meant to bring focus to the world's "environmental crisis."
Threeasfour has a history of promoting issues through its fashion. Its February show was a tribute to Kate Spade, who died by suicide in 2018. That show also featured art as fashion, with designs based on Stanley Casselman paintings, according to Women's Wear Daily.
For the latest collection, Threeasfour worked for months with Stratasys and Travis Fitch, whose Fitchwork has developed a niche of custom-designed fabric pieces, home decor and jewelry.
Three-D printing is not new to the fashion world. It has been used for years to introduce highly stylized fashion pieces for New York Fashion Week. But past efforts involved stiff, structural pieces that often had to be assembled onto the model's body on site.
Past 3-D-printed haute-couture gems that debuted at Fashion Week included one-of-a-kind chain-mail dresses that cost a cool $60,000 each.
Earlier this year, Protolabs and GE Additive had a big part in the 3-D-printed Zac Posen creations that actors Katie Holmes and Nina Dobrev and model Jourdan Dunn wore to the Met Gala in New York City. Dunn's $63,000 dress sported giant 3-D-printed rose petals that had to be attached one by one to form a realistic but eventually wearable flower dress that she then walked down the runway.
With the Threeasfour works, Stratasys used a new printing technique to help the designers create a type of fabric, printing microscopic dots of colored polymers directly onto textiles to achieve flexible, strong and functional 3-D-printed garments for the first time.
The high-tech fabric — made via an advanced Stratasys J750 printer — created "an explosion of unique color and texture combinations that are simply not possible through traditional methods," said Naomi Kaempfer, the company's director of art, design and fashion. "Within the next two years, I believe consumers will be able to purchase an array of 3-D-printed garments from high-fashion brands."
Designers said the newest options for 3-D-printed fabrics are nearly endless. Stratasys' J750 printer can produce 500,000 combinations of colors, textures, gradients and transparencies to create delicate geometries using microscopic layers of applied polymers, films and metallic substances, Kaempfer said. The end results are fabrics that capture the look of butterfly wings, embroidery, thermoforming, foils and more.
Adi Gil, creative director of Threeasfour, said her work with Stratasys helped create a "skinlike illusion" on the fabric.
"With 3-D design and printing, we've embodied the fragility and light wing movement of the butterfly," she said. "It's a stunning display of nature, fashion and technology."
The beauty belies the hard work behind each garment, officials said.
For example, the Chro-Morpho collection that debuted this week sported one "Greta-Oto dress" for which the 27 fabric panels took more than 17 hours to 3-D print.
Designers used Stratasys' "lenticular printing technique" to play up the dress' light, color and movement, Gil said. The effect was achieved by printing thousands of spherical, fish scale-sized "cells" made of photopolymers directly onto polyester fabric. That made the color shift with each small movement.
The thousands of cells on the dress's 27 parts consisted of a clear lens with strips of color contained inside, she said.
Stratasys' bread and butter, like other 3-D-printing operations, is in the manufacturing world, mostly in auto, aerospace and medical device industries. But the company sees an opportunity in the fashion design world.
Officials said Thursday that Stratasys will provide its 3-D PolyJet technology to the European Union Re-FREAM program this year as part of a broader Science, Technology & the Arts (STARTS) initiative that encourages artists, designers, engineers and scientists to explore 3-D printing in fashion.
"We are always looking to revolutionize manufacturing methods, pioneer new design options and inspire designers and students to create without boundaries," Kaempfer said. "Our mission is to change the way people think about design and to redefine what's possible."
Stratasys is dually based in Eden Prairie and Rehovot, Israel, and has 2,400 employees. It generated $663 million in 2018 sales, but lost $11 million as it battles a highly competitive marketplace and works to expand the industries in which its printers are used.
In separate news Thursday, Stratasys announced that the company increased its stake in Xaar 3-D from 15 to 45%. The U.K.-based Xaar PLC will continue to own the remaining 55%. Terms were not disclosed.
Stratasys officials said the investment is intended to accelerate the development of industrial 3-D manufacturing methods that use an innovative, high-speed sintering technology.
Stratasys' stock price fell 2.55% Thursday to close at $24.82.