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  • Pretty in optical fibers

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2009
Margaret W. Bushee,

Attention, contemporary Cinderellas: Lighting up the dance floor may no longer be merely a figure of speech. LumiGram SRL, an haute couture design and manufacturing company based in Paris, makes special-occasion clothing from woven optical fibers that literally glow in the dark.

The synthetic strands are lit along their entire length by an LED module powered by a battery pack. (The material is distinct from the glow-in-the-dark reflective products of the 1980s, the company’s Web site emphasizes.) A garment’s luminescent color or colors – white, blue, green or red – are determined by the built-in LED module. The hue contrasts with the clothing’s nonbattery-powered fabric colors of, mostly, white or black, or, for some items, an option of blue, red, pink, green or gold.

LumiGram’s “Butterfly,” which is made of fabric woven from optical fibers and features an optical fiber “tail,” is illuminated by an LED module powered by 1.5-V AAA batteries.

Most of LumiGram’s sartorial offerings would not have met with the approval of Prince Charming’s parents. Neither the minimalist tops, including the “Butterfly” with its tummy-tickling optical fiber tail, nor the T-shirts with their scrolling programmable messages promote the image of the damsel next door. Nonetheless, with the help of two or three 1.5-V AAA batteries, included with the garment, the clothing does provide a modern knight or lady with 12 hours of party fun. As puts it, “Your nights will never be the same.”

Beneath the illusion

But just in case your fairy godmother’s dress-conjuring powers are on the fritz, what does this glamorous moment in the spotlight cost? The T-shirts range from €69 to €129, or $90 to $168, depending on the complexity of the technology; party shirts are €139 to €199, or $180 to $259. The long, flowing – and notably more modest – dress dubbed “Sophia” is a pricier €1599 (just under $2100).

This dress, named “Sophia,” is made of patented Luminex fabric and comes in gold, white or black with a contrasting belt. The LEDs that make it glow have a lifetime of 50,000 hours.

And what about common-folk matters such as laundering instructions and possible electrocution from spilled punch? The power required to illuminate the garments is low: 3 to 4.5 V from two or three AAA batteries. According to the company, the fabric does not heat up, and it cannot create an electrical shock. No mention is made of spilled liquid as a hazard. As for washing and handling instructions, water temperature no higher than 70 °C (158 °F) is advised, as is avoiding immersion of the battery box. The garment should be drip-dried, not ironed, and must be folded correctly so as not to break the optical fibers. A nod to eco-friendliness is that, when the original disposable batteries have expired, they can be replaced with 1.2-V AAA rechargeables.

This woman’s T-shirt has a 256-character LED display that can be programmed with up to eight messages that scroll at various speeds and brightness levels.

A warning to you, Cinderella – and this caveat may or may not contain a universal truth – at midnight, your gown will still have that magic glow, but once dawn breaks, it will look like any ordinary dress, no matter how fresh the batteries. At that point, you might want to show your fairy godmother where the switch is.

optical fiber
A thin filament of drawn or extruded glass or plastic having a central core and a cladding of lower index material to promote total internal reflection (TIR). It may be used singly to transmit pulsed optical signals (communications fiber) or in bundles to transmit light or images.  
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