If you live in a city, or even if you have only just visited one, you’ve likely experienced the common struggles of many an urban dweller: maintaining your personal space on the streets and public transportation, tactfully wielding off insistent panhandlers, and trying to get anywhere on time amid the constant rush of bodies. If you’re female-bodied and live in the city, chances are you’ve had to deal with catcalling or even more aggressive forms of street harassment as well. All of these urban realities are what artist Kathleen McDermott had in mind when she created Urban Armor, a line of futuristic clothing designed to protect urbanites from their unrelenting surroundings.
McDermott, a Hong Kong-based artist originally from New York, is very familiar with the unwanted forces that become part and parcel with urban life. After spending some time volunteering with elderly homeless people, she began to perceive public space in cities in a more heightened way.
Explains McDermott, “Most of people in cities don’t spend their lives in public space, most people have a private space they go back to, but it got me thinking that even during the time we spend commuting through public space, there are so many forces affecting our minds and bodies,” of the urban elements such as other people, traffic, pollution, and even surveillance and advertising that urbanites are constantly forced to combat. “I became interested in the idea of creating a force that acts back,” says McDermott. And thus, Urban Armor was conceived.
Urban Armor is a series of designs that double as protective armor for the urban dweller. With McDermott’s vision, a fashionable, futuristic-looking wrap scarf is able to cover one’s face automatically when the person wearing it is confronted with anything from sick people on the bus to cigarette smoke in public spaces. She calls this scarf the “Autofilter.” Another functional fashion with urban protection in mind is the “Miss-My-Face,” a hat with long netting designed to protect identities from surveillance.
My favorite piece from Urban Armor is “The Personal Space Dress,” a whimsical looking garment that has the ability to expand to provide the person wearing it with additional space in times of discomfort or even danger. “The Personal Space Dress” is a dress that uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect when someone, or something, is too close to it. Then, it uses continuous rotation servo motors to expand the dress and protect your personal space,” details Urban Armor. How many times would one of these garments have come in handy during your evening commute?
Obviously, McDermott’s inventive collection won’t be ready to hit the shelves anytime soon, but it does raise some important questions about how urban dwellers interact with their environment, and with each other. McDermott is happy to use Urban Armor as a conversation starter to get people thinking about safety, privacy, and personal space. She invites collaboration and wants to hear the stories of city dwellers and how fashion or technology can improve their quality of life.
Learn more about McDermott’s work and Urban Armor at urbanarmor.org.
Images of fashions: via Urban Armor