Janet Cooke Hansen is a rocket-scientist-turned-fashion- designer who describes her aesthetic as "a little like Liberace meets Tron." She has "turned on" the clothing of performers like Pink, Incubus and Korn. She's illuminated Kanye West's glasses and R. Kelly's Hat. She turned Daft Punk into robots and lit sweat-suits for MIA.
Hansen created her job title, "fashion engineer," when she founded Encinitas-based Enlighted Designs, Inc.
With a PhD in bioengineering, she is one of the few people working today with the scientific background to design lighted clothing of this complexity.
"I had dabbled in lots of types of engineering and had been exploring different kinds of art," she says, "so when I was able to combine them in a wearable technology fashion show, that was an 'a-ha moment.'"
Hansen learned to sew at age seven; and while many of her peers were off playing with dolls, she installed miniature lights in her own dollhouse. Over the years, her artwork and clothing designs began to incorporate various intricate electronic patterns.
For her LED designs, Hansen mounts individual lights and creates electrical connections between them. "It can be tedious, but this way I can control the twinkling of each light," she says. "For the light patterns, I have a small driver that controls different groups of lights and makes them turn on at different speeds." Her creations are surprisingly flexible and durable, and most can be hand-washed (just remember to remove the battery pack first). "A lot of my clients are still using items five or 10 years later," she says.
In this shaky economy, Hansen's company is fairing unusually well. Since most of her pieces are custom-made, the prices vary widely-from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each.
"The concept of lighted clothing is really taking off," she says.
The Daft Punk project she completed in 2007 stands out as one of Hansen's favorites.
"They had a pretty specific idea of what they wanted and I was able to steer them toward what was technically feasible," she says. "When the band came out in the lighted suits, the crowd went wild."
See the light at enlighted.com.