In Berlin, a Design Studio Puts Luxury Into 3-D

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In Berlin, a Design Studio Puts Luxury Into 3-D

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Is 3-D printing the shape of fashion to come?

From the rise of brands selling digitally fabricated jewelry on platforms like Shapeways to the proclamations by the Google futurist Ray Kurzweil that by 2020 we will be able to print open-source clothes in our homes for just a few cents, headlines would have you believe that style trends will come from a printer, rather than off the rack, in the not-too-distant future.

After all, there are already the otherworldly couture creations of the Dutch designer Iris van Herpen and, coming in December, the first Futurecraft 4D shoes that Adidas said are created from light and oxygen.

And in the studios and factories of fashion brands, 3-D printing already has transformed manufacturing when it comes to non-pliable product samples and prototypes for items like sunglasses and sneakers. An additive process that gradually creates a physical object from a digital design, it has started to reduce the industry’s wasteful footprint and made customizable objects more cost-effective.

In the open market, however, luxury consumer-oriented items — and specifically garments — still have some way to go. But one Berlin-based design studio that has worked with brands from Prabal Gurung to Alexander McQueen thinks it can change all that.

VOJD Studios, founded in 2013 by Christian Hartung and Hristiyana Vucheva, was conceived of as a housewares and interior design brand for personalized 3-D printed products. They soon found that it was more lucrative and easier to create smaller objects for higher prices: manufacturing bespoke parts such as umbrella handles, belt and handbag hardware, phone cases, necklace pendants, and watch buckles. They have since worked with a number of big-name players on a series of custom projects.

“We recognized that many luxury players were still reluctant to get into the 3-D printing market because they just didn’t think the materials and production were of a good enough quality yet,” Mr. Hartung said, adding that VOJD creates its own materials and does all finishing of products.

The idea behind the business, he said, was to show that traditional craftsmanship and future technologies are able to work together: After the initial printing process, products are completed manually at a factory in southwestern Germany, much like any luxury-goods workshop.

“The long-term benefits for brands — particularly when it comes to cost savings and production speed, the lack of need for mold making and the ability to customize pieces — are all very significant,” Mr. Hartung added. “And once we were able to show the types of product that we could create would be impossible using traditional manufacturing processes, more and more companies have started to listen to what we have to offer.”

Now, VOJD has 15 employees in Berlin who specialize in the research and development of 3-D printed accessories and jewelry for the top tier of the global fashion and luxury market. For Carolina Herrera, for example, they created bracelets, necklaces and brooches in the shape of jasmine flowers for the fall 2016 collection. With Loewe, as part of the brand’s fall 2017 men’s wear line, a new type of ceramic material was used to print chain bracelets that were single interlocking pieces and didn’t require assembly.

A bracelet, center, surrounded by chains and mesh, all 3-D printed by VOJD Studios.CreditGordon Welters for The New York Times

And for Akris, VOJD collaborated on a line of lightweight, architectural 3-D printed rings in silver and polyamide (it rarely works with metals). The intricate pieces, shown at the Akris spring 2016 show in Paris, were inspired by the Naoshima Pavilion in Japan, a geometric meshlike steel structure by the architect Sou Fujimoto.

Albert Kriemler, creative director Akris, a Swiss fashion house, said, “I am always thinking about how to bring new methods of creation into our studio, but when VOJD approached us in 2015 I was fascinated by what they thought was possible.”

“Once the rings were completed, and in a range of colors, I was even more impressed,” he said, calling the project something that “expanded the imagination.” The rings were sold in Akris boutiques for $245 each.

Mr. Kriemler said no further collaborations were planned but added that he continuedto be excited about 3-D printing and incorporating it into the Akris design process.

Of course, the higher the prices, the higher the product standard needs to be, putting constant pressure both on brands and their manufacturing partners to innovate.

Mr. Hartung said that a signature of VOJD work was intricate geometries and interlocking elements impossible to replicate elsewhere.

“Many of the brands we work with have long had projects or concepts because of them being impossible, too difficult or expensive to realize traditionally,” he said, noting that the cost of an average 3-D printed object had fallen roughly 10 percent a year since 2013.

So, for example, a piece could be printed now for 52 euros ($60) that would have cost €80 in 2013, allowing the savings to be spent on improving aspects like finishing and coloring.

And Mr. Hartung said his long-term aim was to create manufacturing programs that can be licensed to brands so they can use the technology themselves.

“Three-D printing is revolutionizing processes in many industries outside the world of fashion,” said Mr. Kriemler of Akris. “Traditionally, this has a been a sector resistant to embrace change. But I think it is inevitable that once the technology is of the right standard, luxury will be next.”

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