ITW | Olya Petrova Jackson from Ab[Screenwear] on Designing Elegant FashionTech

8 min read

Good news for the fashion-tech world! This season, NYFW welcomed among its participants a young tech savvy brand: Ab[Screenwear]. Created by Olya Petrova Jackson in 2016, the brand aims at renewing the nature of contact between people and technology with the apparel acting as a technical device. Far from a mere “gimmicky” view of the technical outfits, Petrova Jackson designs chic pieces of fashion-tech. To fully understand her work and inspiration, we sat down with the designer to ask her a few questions about her collection.


A1/16_Marfa lookbook. Photo Credit: Spencer Kohn @spencerkohn.

Olya Petrova Jackson’s story with technology started on a very intimate basis.. Indeed, the designer herself admits that during her studies at Parsons [New York-based fashion school] her relationship with cellphone helped bridge the gap between the real world and her studio allnighters. This arose her interest into making the connection with technology less unemotional and closer to an almost bodily touch. As a result, Petrova Jackson intended to establish a new way to interact with technology through fashion, breaking the screen and creating intimacy between people and technology.

I think I come from a less technical place with technology. I’m really interested in code, but my understanding of technology is very physical.”

Thus she launched Ab[Screenwear] where she harvests the potential union between traditional luxury outerwear materials such as wool, cashmere and leather—or as she refers to it “the sensual, material world”— with an RGB-like, dichroic polyurethane—”the emergent, a-material intelligence of our virtual lives.” Having worked for Ralph Lauren and Maiyet, Petrova Jackson is familiar with the usual luxury material. According to her, the first way to deal with the issue of technology being too far from the human being is to consider the body itself as a screen. Her way of achieving her goal hence relies on the design of a mechanical extension of the body that sticks to the sensual and warm reality of the world.

I am curious about intimacy and how our own body facilitates it. It appears to me that as humans, we ourselves act very much like a screen – re narratives, projections, content circulation.” says the designer, on her inspiration.

As a result, her inspirations tap into both the human and virtual world. She is for instance very interested in the any messaging system that happens through body “without a voice, without a mouth” or body expressions such as as Noh performance or traditional dance practice – flamenco, zeibekiko etc. But she also exploits native screen interfaces, rules and accidentals of electronic processes that are, according to her, familiar to all of us and almost physical. Mixed up with other elements, these inspirations permit to establish her “intimate” technology.

To fully understand the intentions and objectives of the designer, we seized the opportunity to sit down with Olya Petrova Jackson asking her a few questions about her work. What is the story of your collection? Can you tell us more about its message? What does it interpret?

Olya Petrova Jackson: I started toying with first prototypes of screenwear when I was at school but it wasn’t until later in 2015, when following a yearlong “incubation period” for the project I quit my day job, coined a term for what I was doing – Screenwear, and soft-launched an Ab from a studio in Ny’s Chinatown. Today Ab[Screenwear] is a luxury fashion label and lab.. Ab signature dichroic garments speak to the RGB aesthetic of our technology (RGB is the new black!) and aim to recontextualize our relationship to digital screen. Could you define your approach of wearable tech? Why do you think it is right, compared to what can be called gimmicky today?

Olya Petrova Jackson: As a non-technologist designer, my ambition in tech is Wearables that are ready to Wear. Wearable tech, as I come across it right now, doesn’t have that delicate tactile physical appeal that well made ready-to-wear garments tend to have. Not as a critique, of course, but the reality is wearable tech is often focused on small accessory-based biometrics or mass market biometrics-wired clothes or just pretty complex couture pieces that are SO not wearable. To me, the quality of construction, finishes, fabric combos and surface applications are as important as concept and embedded technology. I want Wearable [tech] to be ready to Wear. You say you have a physical approach to technology, how do you define this “physical” approach, and to what do you oppose it? Do you consider it a body-approach of tech, and do you think it is what makes tech more aesthetic?

Olya Petrova Jackson: I started Ab[Screenwear] as a designer with an expertise in body, thinking, surface and garment construction, not as a technologist. To me, tactility and beauty are equally important as functionality etc. Form equals content. “Medium is the message” :) I have a lot of love and respect for body and it is my mission as designer to provide the best tactility, fit, comfort, that would make the wearer feel amazing. Last thing I want is to alter one’s body or compromise materiality, something that seem to entertain fashion industry a lot these days.I want body to shine through these garments not the way around. What does coding bring to your creative process? Why is it important in your design work today?

Olya Petrova Jackson: Coding to me is one of the ways that subjectivity of our devices manifests itself. I am not particularly technical with code, but I am aware of its impact & am constantly learning. I personally think that coding influences are very active, they are part of the same cultural undercurrent as emojis, likes and hashtags (which is interesting to me both as native computer “physical affordances” and as post-language state of intimacy) What is your ambition for your brand? What’s the next step? What is your vision? Does it have a statement behind it?

Olya Petrova Jackson: Dichroic screen-like material that we use right now are touch screen operable – you can navigate your phone through panels. Ab[Screenwear] pieces are strategically constructed with this in mind. This is one of the wonderful physical affordances of the dichroic material I sourced, not a technological advancement per se. In fact, I am thinking of Screenwear of today as iPhone 1 of 2007 – before all these amazing smartphone technologies evolved. Flexible screen technology is sort of nascent right now, we are dealing with Screenwear at its early stages. Going forward, I am interested in flexible screens, new haptics, wireless interfaces and similar emerging modalities – to move Screenwear from concept (fashion) to product (technology). I am thinking about Screenwear as new interface – as functional and responsive as real phone/computer screen. As we doing ground work for Screenwear, we’d love to be at the forefront of it when the technological component is ready. Screenwear that is Ready to wear, a place where high end fashion marries tech.


A1/17_Kahn lookbook. Photo Credit: Jenia Filatova @janiafilatova.

Cover photo credit: A2/17_Postmasters presentation, shot by Jason Lasswell @jslasswell

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Post written by Sarah Banon, Editor

Graduate student from French Business School ESSEC, Sarah is passionate about fashion and spends her free time writing. She is very curious and likes to discover and study new trends. She joined Clausette Magazine in May 2016.

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