Austrian Fashion Designer Says Girls Have Both the Genes and the Jeans for Mathematics

bridges vol. 25, April 2010 / Noteworthy Information

By Kathlyn Stone

Prof. Jonathan David Farley and Austrian Designer Peren Linn.

Fashion designer Peren Linn, from Natternbach, Austria, and her business partner Jonathan David Farley , a mathematician and guest professor at the Kepler Universität Linz, want girls to draw their own conclusions about math - and they're giving them an unlikely tool to help them do just that.

Linn created her line of girls' imprinted jeans - "The Math Jeans" - out of a desire "to bring math and forms into daily life," she explained. "It didn't take too much time because jeans are part of our daily life. So I worked on and brought out the imprinted girls' jeans."

Both the mathematician and the artist were taken aback by a comment made by former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, saying that girls lack the genetic means to do well in math and science.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} That remark reinforced prevailing assumptions about girls' math abilities and caused a stir in academic circles.

But it also gave them the impulse to do something that will encourage girls to think more favorably about math and counter the stereotype. "Maybe they're right," Linn commented. "It's not a female world, but let's see some proof after a few years, whether these assumptions still hold."

Linn and "The Math Jeans".

Linn didn't study math but said she started looking at it differently after watching the acclaimed 1996 BBC documentary about British mathematician Andrew Wiles of Princeton University, who solved Fermat's Last Theorem.

On his web site, Simon Singh, who co-produced the documentary while a director with the BBC TV Science Unit, said the documentary included the mathematician's "childhood dreams, ambition, obsession, passion, failure, and triumph."

The documentary "made me cry," Linn said. "This was the first time I realized how deeply feelings ran in math. I was shocked. It was amazing!" 

Further inspiration came from Austrian mathematical biologist Franziska Michor and books such as Math Doesn't Suck and Kiss My Math by US actor and math-education advocate Danica McKellar.

Math meets fashion (click image to enlarge).

Linn thought more people should see this other side of math, especially girls. So, backed by Farley, she used her creative skills to bring two seemingly disparate subjects together.

"I am an artist and have a special eye for things, materials, and situations, and how to connect them all into one," says Linn.

Watch for more math fashion from the Austrian-born artist who recently relocated to Hawaii. "I will continue to support all these girls on the way up with more stylish stuff."

For more information on Prof. Farley and Johannes Kepler University Linz, contact:

Andrea Mairhofer
Johannes Kepler Universität Linz

Tel.: +43 732 2468 - 9857
Fax: +43 732 2468 - 9839


The author, Kathlyn Stone, is a Twin Cities, Minnesota-based writer who has covered general news, and business, international trade, and health-care news and policies for public and professional audiences since 1980. {/access}