Bringing Historic Fashion to Life: The Drexel Historic Costume Collection in 3D Simulation

Kathi Martin, USA

Responding to MacDonald’s challenge to digital museums in 1996 for “presenting subject-matter, and integrating diverse media in new and interactive ways to enhance the learning process,“ and to “travel through simulated galleries; observe, circle around, and manipulate objects; and have immediate access to catalogue data, or audiovisual materials showing the objects in context of use” (MacDonald, Alsford, 1996), fashion and information science faculty from Drexel University created an online image archive of high quality QuickTime panoramic movies of selected garments from the Drexel Historic Costume Collection. One of the first historic fashion websites to support QuickTime movies, the site allows the viewer to rotate the garment in full panoramic view, zoom in on details of construction and embellishments and search the archive by multiple criteria. As much graphic information as these QTVRs deliver full appreciation of a garment is not possible without seeing it on a moving, three dimensional body.

Complex 3D surface modeling for CAD software has enabled apparel specific body scanning and 3D simulation to be introduced to the apparel industry as an innovative means of rapid prototyping. The Digital Clothing Center at Seoul National University, South Korea, has created software, the Digital Clothing Suite, for the physically-based simulation of clothes, readily adaptable to any body type and motion, which can construct complex ensembles and reproduce their dynamic movements with a striking degree of realism.The study of the realization of historic fashion can be advanced by using this cutting edge technology to examine the processes of patternmaking, draping, stitching and finishing. Specifications gleaned from this examination, combined with the material properties of the fabric of the original garment, can then be used to simulate the finished garment on a moving, three dimensional body. Adding motion and 3 dimensions to a garment enhances the experiential facets of the power of clothing well beyond that of a 2 dimensional representation. The same specifications can be used to create a custom body with the girth and stature of the wearer of the original garment. This virtual replica can then be used to “consider the dressed body as subject in and object of, (the) two sided quality of dress.” (Tranberg Hansen, 2004, p. 372)

Fashion design, digital media, computer science, and information science faculty and students from Drexel University and Seoul National University are using this advanced technology to realize new ways of interpreting, examining and contextualizing historic fashion.This paper considers a prototype for dynamic 3D simulations of selected garments for an exhibition of 25 garments from the Drexel Historic Costume Collection at the Winterthur Museum, Delaware, the premier museum for American Decorative Arts. The simulations will allow these fashion objects to be exhibited without diluting their exceptional dynamism.

“The nature of interdisciplinary works requires us to follow connections and relate things in unexpected ways”(Svenson, 2003:195). Unprecedented explorations of cultural heritage are possible in a virtual space where the knowledge resources of multiple institutions can come together.