- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2013

If you’ve ever wanted to evade overhead surveillance drones — and, of course, look stylish while doing so — then Adam Harvey has you covered.


A New York-based artist who first generated headlines by creating an anti-paparazzi handbag while in graduate school, Mr. Harvey has released a collection of garments and accessories he calls “Stealth Wear,” including an “anti-drone” hoodie that renders wearers less visible to infrared imaging cameras.

The idea behind the project? In part, it’s an artistic statement on the increasing prevalence of high-tech, military-style surveillance in everyday life; in part, it’s a practical acknowledgment that fashion eventually may reflect that prevalence, perhaps out of sheer necessity.

London reportedly has one security camera for every 14 residents. American police are experimenting with drones.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group, recently obtained FBI documents showing that the agency has been using a controversial portable cellphone tracking device called “Stingray” that collects data not only from the phones of targeted individuals but also from other devices in the surrounding area.

“The concept is that we are in an era where a lot of military technology is coming home,” Mr. Harvey said. “There’s not only a need for this kind of garment on a battlefield, but also domestically. When those technologies trickle to the mainstream, how do we adapt to them? Are they used against us, or used in a way that helps us?

“I try to imagine a future where countersurveillance isn’t a fringe activity, where people see the practical benefits of dressing in line with our current environment. An environment where you are being surveilled a lot.”

Surveillance and its discontents are a recurring theme in Mr. Harvey’s work, which blends cultural commentary and useable, real-world gear.

Two years ago, Mr. Harvey unveiled “CV Dazzle,” a project using wigs, makeup, black-and-white triangles taped to one’s cheekbones and other simple techniques designed to foil the facial recognition software used by airport security cameras and social networking websites alike.

As a student in New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, he created “Camoflash,” a snapshot-thwarting purse equipped with a photocell that detects surrounding camera flashes and three small LED lights that flash in response, washing out unwanted photographs.

“Stealth Wear was actually a very emergent concept, developed out of research for previous projects,” Mr. Harvey said. “I was following trends in surveillance, and I started to realize that people were now concerning themselves with drones and the repercussions of drone surveillance.”

In 2011, Mr. Harvey was working on a mobile phone sleeve that blocks all incoming and outgoing electromagnetic signals when he realized the metallic fabric he was using had heat-reflecting properties.

Around the same time, an overseas war correspondent told him that Taliban fighters were using “space blankets” — Mylar blankets originally invented by NASA that trap heat and often are included in first aid and survival kits — to hide from drones.

Inspired, Mr. Harvey enlisted fashion designer Johanna Bloomfield to help him create anti-drone garments out of similar material.

The two tested dozens of fabrics against a body-heat detecting infrared camera, and through trial and error they ultimately created hoodies, burqas and scarves.

“The scarf is meant to be worn as a hijab,” Mr. Harvey said. “It would have been easy to just design a shirt and a pair of pants. But we wanted to show that maybe the fashions, styles, traditions and cultures of where the war is taking place are coming home, too.”

Ms. Bloomfield, who also works as a consultant for performance outerwear companies, said that the flip-top hoodie also was a deliberate choice.

“We could have made a quilt, but we wanted to make a garment that would address the idea of protection and safety,” she said. “We wanted to illustrate the difference between the areas that are open and those that are concealed.”

Launched in London last week, Stealth Wear can be purchased online — the burqa goes for almost $2,400, while the scarf and hoodie are less than $600 each.

Ms. Bloomfield said reaction to the project has been largely positive, and it has come from unexpected sources.

“We thought most of the response would be from the art and design world,” she said. “It was surprising for us to hear from people on the tactical side, people who are truly interested in using this in the field.”

Mr. Harvey added: “We’ve been receiving a lot of emails. A lot of people who think it’s a great fashion project, but also people very interested in using the material, people working for security companies and people carrying out missions in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Harvey said his next project likely will be a T-shirt that will display a crossed-out graphic over the wearer’s heart when viewed through a body-scanning machine.

“The things I’m doing are targeted at different aspects of surveillance,” he said. “It’s really a large set of problems to work against. There’s probably less happening in public than in your house, which has surveillance taking place online and through mobile phones.

“I don’t see this work so much as a protest against surveillance. I don’t think we will decide not to use the technology. It’s more a mater of adapting to it.”

• Patrick Hruby can be reached at phruby@washingtontimes.com.

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