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From chemistry to catwalk

By Julie Clothier for CNN

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The term "behind the scenes" will take on a whole new meaning when it comes to describing London Fashion Week in future, as fabrics get more high-tech and science becomes a key part of the business.

One of the most important dates in the international catwalk calendar -- the annual event that showcases the season's offerings from the world's top designers -- is happening this week.

Experts say fashion is getting more and more cutting edge, as designers embrace technology to come up with new textiles.

Sandy Black, who is currently reading fashion and textiles at London College of Fashion, says in particular, knitwear is an extremely high-tech part of the fashion business.

Black is one of three speakers talking about the subject this week at a lecture entitled, "From Chemistry to Catwalk," to be held at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

She says that although hand-knitting dates back to the third century, these days it is a far cry from processes used then.

One of the main reasons for this is the flexibility within the realms of knitwear.

"It is highly automated and extremely technical and it includes a diverse range of fibers, including copper wire, to make a wide range of items of clothing," she says.

"Different knitting machine sequences which create unique looks are often patented."

Black says technology is catching up with hand knitting, and machines can create items that do not have any seams.

"The idea of working from 3-D information to 3-D construction is one of the key areas of research, working from body scan data and then linking that up to a knitting machine," says Black.

"It's already happening to some extent. Fashion always works between 2-D and 3-D, creating flat shapes, which are then put together, constructed into 3-D."

She says classic knitwear is often created using skilful processes, and technology will improve this vastly in the future.

London-based company Eleksen is pioneering an altogether new type of fabric. It sells products created out of a "sensory" fabric.

Chief technical officer Nigel Gilhespy says the fabric is made of five layers of fabric, three of which are conductive, which means they create an electrical signal and perform a high-tech function.

"Because we are a fabric company people often think we are only involved in fashion but in actual fact there are a wide range of uses for the product within health, furniture and in cars," he says.

"It sounds futuristic but it has so much potential in so many areas. The fabric can detect moisture, which can let nurses know if a bed needs changing."

Other uses include a toy that can tell whether it's being rocked or patted and it sleeps or burps accordingly.

The company has also created controls for an MP3-player on the sleeve of a jacket and a soft keyboard, which can be connected to PDAs and cell phones.

Gilhespy says he visualizes houses in the future that are filled with sensory fabrics.

"For example, you would have carpets that when you walked on them would turn the lights and arm chairs or your favorite cushion with remote controls built into them."

Senior Research Fellow at the London College of Fashion, Dr. Frances Geesin has worked on researching conductive fabrics.

She says that when high-tech fabrics are used in the fashion business, fashion should remain the number one priority.

"This technology should become part of a beautiful piece of clothing. It should keep its poetry, should be indiscreet."


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