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Meet the designer creating the blackest ever material

Goths: your favourite clothes are landing soon

What its creators describe as the blackest wearable material known to man is (almost) here and it’s 40 per cent darker than the blackest black. Goths rejoice! Using cotton to create the first ever blacker than black t-shirt, German designer Phoebe Heess and creative partner Gabriel Platt have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of fashion’s dream fabric, named Viperblack.

Only last year, Surrey Nano Systems developed Vantablack, a substance made of carbon nanotubes, the “world’s darkest material”, a material so black it has been compared to “looking into a black hole”. Unfortunately, carbon nanotubes are unfit for wear but Viperblack promises to solve this problem.

Phoebe Heess’s futuristic designs are based on her love for the colour black – incidentally it’s the only colour in her palette – and she uses contrasting materials paired with technology to create her collections.

Dazed caught up with Phoebe and Gabriel to discuss how they created the blacker than black material, being inspired by Yohji Yamamoto and their self-proclaimed high-tech brand status, which involves using knife-proof materials.

How has the Kickstarter campaign been going?

Gabriel Platt: That’s what I've been working on all day today, hanging out on Reddit and talking to people, who don’t understand why they have to pay 100 dollars or euros for a t-shirt. It’s just a concept they don’t really understand because it’s just high fashion, an innovation and it has its price. We are producing it in Germany, we’re sourcing from Switzerland and it’s just not the cheapest way of doing something like this. We deliberately don’t want to go to Asia for these things because of our social and ecologic standards – which are really important to us. It’s just mainly production costs.

If you reach your goal on Kickstarter and your first piece is established – where will you go next?

Gabriel Platt: Kickstarter are really interested in getting other forms as well, apart from the t-shirt. Someone said they really want to have a hoodie or a little black dress. For the future we want to go to Paris with Phoebe’s next collection – this is both Phoebe Heess and Viperblack, which is a project included in the brand. So that’s our next step for January.

Phoebe Heess: I would like to do an art installation.

Have you heard of Vantablack? They're used in other fields other than fashion, do you see Viperblack doing that?

Gabriel Platt: There is Vantablack but the problem is, that is made of carbon nanotubes. This has two implications that makes them unfit for being applied on a piece of cloth. The first is that it's very unstable because it’s made up of these super, super tiny nano pieces of black carbon and to fix it on a surface, you have to put a fixative or lacquer over it and then the whole fun is taken out of the equation, as the fixative will reflect the light so, that doesn't work. The second is carbon nanotubes are said to give you cancer and that is the main reason we cannot use it on a piece of cloth as much as we would like. In fact that stuff is darker than what we have but it's the reason why cars have filters because that’s the stuff that comes out and it’s highly dangerous. 

What materials do you use?

Gabriel Platt: Cotton, which is treated in a way that it sort of has the same functionality as carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes work as a photon trap. Light has a specific wavelength and these carbon nanotubes are so small that the light gets trapped inside, so there’s no reflection. That's what the technicians we work with are trying to establish in a form of cotton, so it has the same effect.

Where did your fascination with the colour black come from? 

Phoebe Heess: I’ve always been attracted to the colour black and particularly after working with Limi Feu, I realised that’s what I want to do because I was really impressed with how she worked. And of course Yōhji Yamamoto – I really like him and what he’s doing. He works mainly with black, just to bring the focus onto the cut. I find it so much more challenging to create something interesting in itself and I think black is such a strong, elegant colour.

Does your current work with Adidas and Stella McCartney influence Viperblack?

Phoebe Heess: No, I’ve tried it but they’re such completely different stories. I’m always the one saying “We need to add black here, we need to add black here”. And they're like “No”. I’ve learnt a lot about performance pieces and concepts and also about bringing together fashion and performance, but in terms of style it's completely different. One is very feminine – what we're doing with Stella – and my line is super strong, like, super heroes. Adidas asked me to exhibit my newest collection at work because they wanted me to show them what I do besides my work with them. They loved it. They said “We should do this with Y-3”.

Where did the idea for creating the darkest, blackest t-shirt in the world come from? 

Phoebe Heess: Because of my love for the colour black, I started to do research to see what else is out there and what we could do next. I came across this Belgian artist Frederik de Wilde and he had started to work on creating the blackest of black. I actually checked with Vantablack and said like “Can we do something together?” but they said there was no chance to create a fabric out of it, for the same reasons Gabriel explained earlier. But I really wanted to do this, so we started researching and then we came across our fabric supplier and they were really good, so then we got started. 

Gabriel Platt: I was like the digital marketing guy here and I came across a meme of Wednesday Addams saying "I will stop wearing black when they invent a darker colour”. I researched it and saw there were millions of likes and shares for this meme, so I showed it to our fabric supplier and said “This is someone saying they would buy that and millions agreed, so there must be a market for this, wouldn’t you do that for us?” I think that’s very interesting in terms of how trends are made – because it's not like some company says like the colour of the season for the next five years is pink or something, trends are really being created on the internet right now. On the one hand we had this technology part like “There’s stuff, which is blacker than black” and then on the other hand this meme gave us a push to do it.

You refer to yourselves as a high tech brand, what do you mean by that? 

Phoebe Heess: ’s mainly about the materials we use. For example, in the last collection I used rubber neoprene, which you normally use for wetsuits, then these protection fabrics you normally use for ski jackets to protect your arms and I used it to make an entire garment, then Kevlar, which is knife proof or like 3D mesh. The technology is probably what the high tech part is about, that we only use these kinds of materials.

Gabriel Platt: Other than Phoebe using tech fabrics, we are also looking into wearable technology. We've done a jacket that inflates when your blood pressure’s rising and we’ve done a cap, which flashes back when you're being photographed. There’s going to be flashes in the visor, so if you’re getting photographed it flashes back and destroys the picture. We’re planning on sending it to celebrities.

Where does your interest in reflection and contrasting materials come from? Is it about making the material seem darker?

Phoebe Heess: Yeah, it basically came from an artist who inspires me a lot, Pierre Soulages. He works with different surfaces on his paintings and only uses black. I tried to translate this into my garments and to use materials that have completely different surfaces and react differently to light and create, let’s say, a kind of colour palette within black to make it interesting and even darker. In my new collection, I mainly used a fabric called Coldblack. This is a black fabric, which reacts like a white fabric, so it doesn’t heat up if the sun shines on it.

Last year we wrote about a kind of ‘arms race’ going on for the blackest material between Vantablack and Frederik de Wilde, who said he was the one who designed the darkest material – do you feel any of that pressure?

Phoebe Heess: No, not really. I feel very separate from what they are doing. As far as I know they aren’t as far along as we are and they don't have a fashion brand behind them. When the fabric is done, I would love to do a complete collection, which I could do straight after the fabric is analysed. I don’t see this for the others as they don’t have a fashion brand behind them, and I’m in it for the fashion aspect only.