Design Exchange Charts Evolution of Sportswear in New Exhibit

Right on time for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto, the Design Exchange is launching a satellite exhibition (situated offsite at 39 Parliament Street) that charts the evolution of sportswear, titled Smarter. Faster. Tougher.

Here, curator Marie O’Mahony speaks to us about the exhibit and the top trends in sportswear right now.

S/: Tell me in your own words about the exhibition.

Marie O’Mahony: I think that sport today is ubiquitous, touching almost every aspect of our lives from health and fitness to fashion and product design.  The show is divided into four sections to examine the nature of sportswear today and its wider cultural, social and aesthetic significance. The four themes are performance, fashion, ethnographics and nature. In addition, the exhibit’s Interactive Zone will enable visitors to handle fabrics and explore digital technologies used in sports. We have brought exhibits together from Canada, the Americas and worldwide, mixing familiar names such as Adidas and Puma, with less familiar names producing some spectacular examples of sportswear and fashion.

Why is this exhibition important for our time right now?

Well, the Pan Am Games are a major reason for the Design Exchange to put on this exhibition, of course.  We hear a lot about innovative swimsuits that break world records or trainers that are super lightweight, and people want to know the how and why; they want to find out more. Sports have always been a leader in material and design innovation so this exhibition is an opportunity to showcase these developments and see them up close.

What inspired you to curate an exhibit like this?

It was a double inspiration I suppose.  I think that there are a lot of exciting developments happening right now in sportswear that are having an impact on the industry itself with a wider social, cultural and aesthetic importance also. The second factor was visiting the Design Exchange when I first came to Toronto three years ago as a professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. It was one of the places that I visited in my first week here. I really liked the Design Exchange’s vision for Canadian design and its place internationally so I decided that I had to work with them. Deciding on the right exhibition to curate took a few discussions but I’m really thrilled that we decided on this show. I think that it is the right place and the right time.

DESIGN Museum AXA, photo courtesy Team BRUISE.
Design Museum AXA, photo courtesy of Team BRUISE.

How has the technology behind sportswear history evolved over the last little while?

Oh gosh, its been huge! I wrote a book called SportsTech for Thames and Hudson in 2002, and so much has changed since then. Wearable technology and sensors are big news right now, but we are also seeing nanotechnology provide very fine layers of coating on fabrics and hybrid materials that combine fabric with ceramic. We have some examples of these in the Innovation section of the show so people can handle some of these innovative materials and see what they feel like.

What are the top trends in sportswear right now?

Wearable tech and biometric data are huge right now. The move is towards greater integration within clothing so that it is invisible and unobtrusive to the wearer. A second trend is in collaboration with relationships between brands and athletes, designers, artists and musicians making these very rich narratives and not just a name next to the brand. A third trend is in the marriage of performance and comfort as comfort has such an important role to play in ensuring the optimum performance of a garment.

Photo courtesy Amsterdam Worldwide.
Photo courtesy of Amsterdam Worldwide.

This exhibit is especially timely given that the Pan Am and Parapan Am games are happening here this summer. Can you expand more on how this exhibition is in dialogue with the games?

The exhibition is presented and commissioned by Panamania so without this support it really would not be taking place. Many of the garments included in the exhibition relate to games featured in the Pan Am Games such as soccer, swimming, athletics and equestrian sports, and athletes as well as brands have been really generous with their knowledge and help in putting this exhibition together. In September we’ll be hosting a talk where visitors will hear from a variety of elite athletes, industry experts and top notch designers who will discuss their first-hand experiences and stories on the evolution of sportswear and how it affects their research, daily routines and performance.