Beyond Seeing “Don’t just look at me with your eyes.”

Spirit Transcends collection by Joyphie Yu from Berlin
Spirit Transcends collection by Joyphie Yu from Berlin | Foto: Sonja Köllinger/goldfasanblog.de

They say “first impressions count” and “clothes make the man,” but what do outward appearances matter if you cannot see? That is a question dealt with by the project Beyond Seeing, which was initiated by the Goethe-Institut Paris in collaboration with four European fashion institutes. An exhibition at the WIP Vilette in Paris shows the collections the project produced.

The students’ approaches were very different and yet had one thing in common: making fashion tangible beyond the visual stimulus. “Our focus was on questioning the limits of clothing and emphasising other than visual aspects,” says one of the Swedish participants about her Sonic Haptic Wardrobe design.

Two visitors with blindfolds feel the exhibits. Two visitors with blindfolds feel the exhibits. | Photo: Sonja Köllinger/goldfasanblog.de

Three-dimensional patterns

The collection contains many haptic materials, some of which are even audible, like sandpaper or bells. “Blind people can’t see prints, so the dotted pattern on this skirt is three-dimensional,” she explains the approach. In order to find the right materials, the designers conducted numerous interviews with blind and visually impaired people.

Unusual sources of inspiration

“The inspiration for this collection was very different from my usual design process,” says Verena Kuen from Berlin, designer of the Invisible Imagination collection. “Usually we use pictures or other visual stimuli. This collection is based on a person’s personal history.”
 
Kuen dealt in detail with the dreams Ugne from Berlin, who became blind at the age of twenty. The clothes reflect her dreams in pictures and colours. “I tried a lot of things and listened to my inner voice to find the right path,” says Kuen. “It was really special to transform a personal story into clothes.”

Designer Maxi Tilch feels her collection with the blind visitor Ugne. Designer Maxi Tilch feels her collection with the blind visitor Ugne. | Photo: Sonja Köllinger/goldfasanblog.de

Haptic, abstract and intuitive designs

Maxi Tilch chose a different approach for her collection Perception of Space, explaining, “I didn’t work together with the blind, but experienced how it feels to be blind myself. I wanted to know what I would do if I lacked the visual aspect in the design process. For that, I entered unfamiliar rooms wearing a blindfold.”
 
The result? Haptic, abstract and intuitive designs depicting the silhouettes of three interior and exterior spaces: a tent, a living room and a train stop. “The biggest difference to the ‘normal’ design process was that my focus was not on aesthetics,” says Tilch.

More than what you see

It was this aspect that Reiner Delgado also likes about the exhibition. The social officer of the German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired is blind from birth and has accompanied the project in Germany from the beginning. “The exhibition is called, ‘Don’t just look at me with your eyes. I am more than what you see.’”
 
For him, the acoustic perception of people is particularly important in public spaces. This idea was incorporated in the exhibition by Valentin Mogg with “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes.” The sightless blogger Lydia Zoubek was inspired by the different surfaces that appeal to different senses.  

Main entrance to WIP Vilette. Main entrance to WIP Vilette. | Photo: Sonja Köllinger/goldfasanblog.de

Feeling colours

For the sighted audience, it was unusual to feel the exhibits while blindfolded. “I didn’t know exactly what I was touching,” says a young woman about her experience. “The cuts are so unusual that I lacked any orientation to tell me whether it’s a jacket or a dress.”
 
In Verena Kuen’s Invisible Imagination collection, however, the visitor was positively surprised when she removed her mask. “While feeling them, I had imagined the clothes in exactly these light, delicate colours,” she says. The concept works.