Fashioning the Future With: Victoria Geaney

Image/Victoria Geaney; Photographer: James Alexander Lyon

Image/Victoria Geaney; Photographer: James Alexander Lyon

Wanna meet the fashion-led researcher who works with bacteria to create biodesigned garments? Well, you're in luck, because we have Victoria Geaney on the blog today, and her work in fashion innovation is next-level awesome. Victoria is a PhD student at the Royal College of Art in London where she's researching the interrelationships of biology, art, and fashion design.

Victoria works with scientists to investigate these intersections, and in doing so, creates garments that are a product of synthetic biology. It's quite interesting philosophically, gorgeous in practice, and overall just really darn cool! And speaking of really darn cool, Victoria's work is often described as "having an environmental pulse." She literally brings clothing to life!

Beyond that, Victoria's work asks the questions of what a future where we grow bacteria specifically to make clothes will look like — or even what it means to wear an actual living garment. That makes this one of our most futuristic 'Fashioning the Futures With' of all time! And what's more, she's already collaborated on a living dress, and, yep, it's bioluminescent and strikingly beautiful. Glowing gruyere, we're gobsmacked!  

Victoria has been featured by outlets including Wired, Nylon, FashNerd, and more. She's been involved in myriad exhibits and even shown designs at Milan Fashion Week. We love that Victoria combines her unparalleled creativity with science, technology, and fashion to redefine not only how we manufacture garments but also how we understand clothing and our relationship to it.

Title: Azazel; (Bioluminescent Bacteria -  Photobacterium Kishitanii  - dress); Victoria Geaney, Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Scientists: Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Photography: Teresa Kroenung

Title: Azazel; (Bioluminescent Bacteria - Photobacterium Kishitanii - dress); Victoria Geaney, Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Scientists: Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Photography: Teresa Kroenung

We were thrilled to ask Victoria all about her creative process, what interdisciplinary work looks like in practice, who inspires her, and what's it's like creating clothing out of bacteria. Meet Victoria Geaney, fiercely cool fashion-led researcher!

When did you first know you were a scientist?

I would say that I am definitely not a scientist, however my practice involves a lot of collaboration with scientists — mainly microbiologists and synthetic biologists. I am interested in how fashion can collaborate with science from the beginning of projects, and in the processes and approaches developed through cross-disciplinary practice. 

I struggled with science as a teenager, however since then I have been fascinated with approaching science from a creative angle. I think this perspective still informs my way of working today.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a fashion-tech designer?

I would probably call myself a fashion-led researcher, rather than a designer. I am based on the research side of the discipline, and my PhD is led by practice. This means that I create work (mainly in the form of one-off pieces created during collaborations with scientists) and then I theorise the practice, in the context of fashion design research.

However, it was my interest in fashion futures that led me to look towards synthetic biology and specifically to bacteria, to emulate properties typical to wearable technology, but using biology.  This means that I purposely seek out bacteria with interesting design properties. For example, I work with glowing bacteria, bacteria that self-repair and bacteria for the production of materials.  Forms of biological wearable technology!

Title: The Protocol; (Bacterial cellulose and 3D printed mannequin); Victoria Geaney and Caroline Yan Zheng; Information Experience Design and Fashion PhD candidate: Caroline Yan Zheng; Filmmaker: Tim Newton; Visual Communication – Sound: Sarah Sajid

Title: The Protocol; (Bacterial cellulose and 3D printed mannequin); Victoria Geaney and Caroline Yan Zheng; Information Experience Design and Fashion PhD candidate: Caroline Yan Zheng; Filmmaker: Tim Newton; Visual Communication – Sound: Sarah Sajid

Can you tell us a little bit about what biodesign is and how it relates to fashion?

Biodesign is an emerging design area which typically uses biology, usually in an applied way.  In biodesign, you might make use of elements such as bacteria in the work, rather than speculating about its possibilities. It is about the employment and integration of the biological, living systems themselves. 

I am interested in how biodesign and bacteria could inform and be reflected upon in terms of their possibilities for fashion futures. And the work I produce is intended to ask questions about these types of futures. 

What does interdisciplinary and conceptual fashion design mean to you, and how do you apply it to your research?

To me, interdisciplinary means the amalgamation of methods and processes from different disciplines, via meaningful exchanges. I define conceptual fashion design as the production of fashion pieces which are experimental, emotional and emphasise concept and process, sometimes over the final outcome.

When applied to my research, I collaborate with other practitioners (chiefly scientists) which leads to cross or interdisciplinary work; and I concentrate on creating pieces in order to ask questions, so am interested in implications over applications.

Following that, can you explain the relationship between biology and fabric in the context of creating a garment?

I have found that working with living systems creates interesting inter-relationships between the scientist, fashion practitioner and bacteria. In a sense, both the scientist and I are working in service to the bacteria — the requirements of the bacteria driving the design of the garment. As the fashion industry is currently under the spotlight in terms of its sustainability and ethical practices, looking back at an ancient technology like bacteria could be interesting in asking questions of our garments. What does it mean to create a living garment? Would we treat our garments better, if they were alive?  Are these garments or are they scaffolds for bacteria to live on? It all depends on your perspective.

I would argue then that the pieces I create are influenced by a current philosophical shift away from human-centred approaches, which in wider terms could mean questioning our relationships as wearers and humans to our clothing.

Title: Living Lace; (Photosynthetic Bacteria -  Cyanobacteria  - grown over lace on agar plate); Victoria Geaney and Dr Simon Park; Scientist: Dr Simon Park

Title: Living Lace; (Photosynthetic Bacteria - Cyanobacteria - grown over lace on agar plate); Victoria Geaney and Dr Simon Park; Scientist: Dr Simon Park

Title: Oscillatoria Sutured; (Photosynthetic Bacteria -  Cyanobacteria  - grown over cotton on agar plate); Victoria Geaney and Dr Simon Park; Scientist: Dr Simon Park

Title: Oscillatoria Sutured; (Photosynthetic Bacteria - Cyanobacteria - grown over cotton on agar plate); Victoria Geaney and Dr Simon Park; Scientist: Dr Simon Park

Title: Living Light Dress; (Bioluminescent Bacteria -  Photobacterium Kishitanii  - dress); Victoria Geaney, Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Scientists: Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Featured in Wired Magazine, January 2017; Photography: Chris Hoare

Title: Living Light Dress; (Bioluminescent Bacteria - Photobacterium Kishitanii - dress); Victoria Geaney, Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Scientists: Bernardo Pollak and Anton Kan; Featured in Wired Magazine, January 2017; Photography: Chris Hoare


What is your creative process like?

It has shifted during my PhD however I work in a similar way to a fashion design process.  Though where that cycle would typically move towards industrialization and commercialization, I instead reflect back upon the work and use methods of data collection to turn it into research and data findings. These are then distributed in an academic research setting and will eventually become a PhD thesis.

Where do you find your inspiration? 

I am influenced by scientific imagery – places such as the Hunterian Museum for the forms and beauty I feel there is in the specimens. I also love art and visiting art galleries, which can be hugely influential on my practice. The work can be quite self-reflective and I am also inspired by emotions and current feelings, which I work through in poetry and creative writing.

What do you find to be the most empowering aspect of fashion design? 

I have always found something hugely powerful in expressing myself visually and creatively, and the space, time and platform afforded by undertaking a PhD at the Royal College of Art has allowed me to be truly focused on the work. That has been incredibly empowering.

What do you think the next big thing in fashion technology/design will be?

I would have to say biofabrication. For me, there is so much scope with bio and in particular bacteria, whether that is directly for the production of materials or as inspiration for technological advancements.

Title: Inciperem; (Bacterial Cellulose and Green Fluorescent Protein Waistcoat); Victoria Geaney and Imperial iGEM team 2014; Director, Director of Photography and Editor: Andrew Contreras; Dancer and choreographer: Liza Weber; Composer: Keiran Merrick; Hair and Make-up: Katarzyna Fringuet

Title: Inciperem; (Bacterial Cellulose and Green Fluorescent Protein Waistcoat); Victoria Geaney and Imperial iGEM team 2014; Director, Director of Photography and Editor: Andrew Contreras; Dancer and choreographer: Liza Weber; Composer: Keiran Merrick; Hair and Make-up: Katarzyna Fringuet

How do you define your personal fashion aesthetic?

Biofashion chic! Personally, I love a jumpsuit. And anything floral.

What advice do you have for younger girls (middle and high school) who want to pursue a career path similar to yours?

So, at high school, I studied Art, Textiles and English for A Levels, and went on to do an Art Foundation course before specializing in fashion. I then did a BA in Fashion: Innovation for my degree at university, before starting my PhD by practice in fashion research. I would advise young women to be questioning, receptive and open to all influences, and to follow your passions. I followed my dream and I am now studying what I love, so keep working hard and persisting until you get to where you want to be.

Do you have any favorite STEM and/or fashion designer characters in books/movies/other art forms? 

Sputniko! is a huge inspiration – though not exactly a character, I would describe her work as art which take the concept of fashion design to new interdisciplinary spaces.

If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?

What a great question — I would love to be able to be transported to anywhere in the world, so I would say a wearable tech second skin that would enable me to take on the characteristics of different things in nature — such as animals or trees. I would love to hear whether they speak to each other, what they are saying and to experience being able to swim in deep oceans of the sea as well as being able to fly through jungles and incredible places around the world.  

Where can people find you online? (Web, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Github, Patreon etc.)

To learn more about Victoria Geaney are her awesome work and research, find her on the web here: https://www.rca.ac.uk/students/victoria-geaney/ and http://ldoc-cdt.ac.uk/victoria-geaney/

And be sure to follow her on Twitter, too: @VGeaney

Kristen O. BobstComment