#CNI Lux Day 2: The Future of Materials

Alice Newbold, Vogue Daily Editor, reporting live from the CNI Luxury Conference in Lisbon

From lab-grown leather to synthetic ivory to asteroid mining – the world of materials is changing fast. But beyond this, is the fashion industry about to enter a post-material world? In her second presentation of the 2018 Condé Nast International Luxury Conference, futurist Sophie Hackford explored the potential language of materials.

“Many materials are still in the petri dish and prototype stages. They use cutting-edge science which is why it takes a lot of time to get to market.” Mushroom leather, stem cell fur and diamonds made out of synthesised materials such as cotton and pineapples have a lot in common. “They are all formed by stripping products down to absolute basic physics.” Once we see things at the micro level of genetic engineering, then we can start building from the bottom up. “We’re on day one with this programming, but we will eventually be able to remix production techniques, like you would music.”

Scientists are also working on how we can bring ideas and concepts to materials, so that the concept is the face of the product, rather than screen of it. This will mean that digital information will become physical and that materials will have logic. “Today we programme machines,” Hackford explained. “But tomorrow we will be programming matter.”

“Where previously materials had one purpose and were manufactured in one way, the age of digital manufacturing in partnership with biology, physics, chemistry and artificial intelligence means that we will have huge freedom to develop new techniques,” she continued. If modern leather is liquid, for example, it won’t work with old factory techniques. This progression will, in turn, influence artisans as well as factories.

The new role of designers must become a “collaboration between man and machine… a team mate,” Hackford shared. Artificial intelligence will help designers simulate how a fabric will look using big virtual worlds, like computer games, to create and imagine.

But, when a product has been coded into existence, where does its intellectual property and value lie? When do people have to touch a product to make it artisanal? What is material luxury? These are all questions Hackford leaves the conference to ponder, as well as the concept of post-materiality. What if the future of materials is not material at all? What happens when materials become pixels, or when objects become content? It’s certainly a less wasteful, environmentally-friendly proposition. Food for thought, indeed.

The fourth annual Condé Nast International Luxury Conference is in Lisbon, on the 18th and 19th April. For more information, visit the website