Last week at the Star Wars: Force 4 Charity auction, actress Lupita Nyong’o stepped onto the red carpet in a dress that put on a light show to rival the nearby Rockefeller Center tree. The dress–designed by Zac Posen and coded by teen girls nationwide–featured 500 LED lights sewn into the fabric, programmed to twinkle in sequence.
To create the dress, Posen joined with Google’s Made with Code, a nonprofit that inspires girls to pursue careers in coding. Young women from organizations like Black Girls Code, the Flatiron School, Girls Who Code, and the Lower East Side Girls Club coded the changing patterns for an LED dress using an introductory coding project online. The circuit was designed and physically built into Posen’s dress fabric by fashion engineer and Made with Code mentor, Maddy Maxey, who worked alongside Zac as he designed the silhouette.
“[Maxey] handled the technology and then we needed to aesthetically place it,” says Posen, who worked with his team to build a grid system into the dress that would hold the LED lights and a small battery pack. Posen first sent the dress down the runway during his Spring ’16 show, where it was worn by model Coco Rocha, as 50 girls who helped program it watched from the front row. “It’s an entire circuit on a textile, so if one connection had come loose, the dress wouldn’t have worked,” Maxey told People during the event.
That futuristic nature of the dress made it a perfect choice for Nyong’o’s outfit to the Star Wars charity event. Posen, a friend of Nyong’o, suggested the actress wear it to further promote Google’s Made With Code. “This wasn’t about the celeb ego, or the design ego, this was about women getting on their computers and flexing their coding muscles,” says Posen. “And you know what? May the force be with them.”