Fitting a 3D-printed headpiece on a model before a live show
Paul Laubacher

PARISElegance is the watch word here, as a young model walks down the aisle, wearing a pair of astonishingly shaped stilettos, its complex patterns reminiscent of certain architectural constructions. The graceful shoes, created by French designer Pierre Renaux, were made entirely with a machine that is on the verge of changing the world, a 3D printer.

“Artists are constantly thinking about how they can use technology,” explains Kerry Hogarth, founder and president of 3DPrintshow, an exhibition hosted late last year in Paris. “And with 3D printers, the possibilities are infinite.”

In the cavernous room of Carrousel du Louvre, dozens of artists and fashion designers exhibited their creations. The show may be the best example of this advanced, but still widely unknown, technology. The Economist has characterized 3D printing as “the third industrial revolution.”

Manuel Vogel's 3D-printed shoes — Photo: 3D Printshow Facebook page

The way it works it pretty straightforward. First, you design a product on a computer. Then you click “Print.” The machine wakes up and starts creating the object, layer upon layer. It’s thus possible to create from scratch or reproduce bionic ears, jewelry, cinema costumes or even cars.

This revolutionary tool is well established in the industry, and it’s changing the way some artists approach their creations. “Many of them are starting to master it,” explains Cosmo Wenman, an adventurer and creator. “Some of the exhibitors used to be traditional sculptors who have now migrated to this technology. It's fascinating and very exciting, even though the cost is still rather prohibitive.”

Wenman’s collection, for example, includes Pericles’ helmet, a portrait of Alexander The Great, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo and even the Colossal bust of Ramesses II, and all sat imposingly in the middle of the exhibition. “With 3D printing, everything’s about the design. The raw material is not as important. What matters is what you create. Designing Pericles' helmet is a good way of showing the visitors what you can do.”

Photo: 3D Printshow Paris

Applied to fashion

Fashion designers are stretching the limits of imagination. A pioneer in the field, Iris van Herpen set the bar very high. For her creations, the Dutch designer prints in 3D the details of a shoulder, a bolero modeled in the shape of a shell or an armor-like corset, before adding one to the other to obtain a unique piece. The precision and the lightness of her dresses/sculptures are mind-blowing.

“I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by new technologies,” says Pierre Renaux, who studied in the Netherlands. “I quickly understood that the bold ‘architectony’ of the ultimate design was only possible with 3D printing. The printer can go deep into details smaller than a cubic millimeter, which allows us to create richer and more complex drawings. This ever-growing precision increases the field of possibilities exponentially.

The material is no longer a constraint, says Renaux. Soon it will be possible to create organic components and fabrics that will be worn like a second skin, elastic and transparent leathers that will protect from both the cold and heat. The possibilities for haute couture and ready-to-wear industries are attractive. The machine will enable young stylists to produce in small quantities, so as to avoid having unsold products and to personalize their creations ad infinitum.

For these designers, the goal today is to simplify the creation of 3D files. The software is still difficult to master, but smartphones and tablets could provide developers with good opportunities to offer simpler solutions. The objective is create apps that will one day enable a consumer to create her own made-to-measure dresses or shoes. Before that, all she’ll need to do is scan her body for exact measurements.

But with this small revolution also come some dangers: The files are very easy to copy. You would only need to scan a dress, a piece of art, or indeed any object to be able to reproduce it at home with your own 3D printer. And even though doing that is still costly, there will need to be a good way to protect artists’ creations. For now, the best way to do that is to make objects public.

“We absolutely must tell and show the world that we’re the first to have created a specific object,” says Merav Griguer, a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property. “And the more models designers create, the more difficult they will be to copy.”

Photo: 3D Printshow Paris

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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