Forever 21 Unveils a Giant, Crazy Machine That Re-creates Your Instagram Photos in Thread

Breakfast's latest feat of engineering

If you want to see your next selfie brought to life as a real-time mosaic of moving thread, Forever 21 and Breakfast are happy to help—and the results are pretty stunning.

About a year and half ago, the Los Angeles-based clothing retailer hired the Brooklyn agency to build from scratch a giant, digitally synced adjustable billboard made of cloth, wood and aluminum, to name a few materials—the contraption includes some 200,000 parts, with 6.7 miles of fabric. And now, it's ready to launch.

Now through next Tuesday, the machine will be up and running 24 hours a day, rendering versions of Instagram photos hashtagged #F21ThreadScreen while cameras stream it live at—and send users auto-edited clips of their photos being re-created.

Here's the live stream:

The mechanics alone are wildly inventive, if not borderline insane—6,400 wooden spools feature rainbow ribbons that spin to change among 36 colors, according to computerized directions, with each spool ultimately serving as a single pixel in an 80-by-80 "pixel" image. Ultimately, the renderings themselves are just shy of hypnotizing, with the shifting palettes creating an iridescent effect as the images morph.

"Forever 21 was looking to experiment with something quite different than what they've done in the past," says Breakfast co-founder and chief creative officer Andrew Zolty. "They gave us a rather open brief, and from the start we knew we wanted to build a Web-connected experience that anyone could try from anywhere in the world."

He adds: "We focused on thread, with it being the most basic element of fashion and quite versatile. We also focused on Instagram, as it's the most artistic/creative of social networks, and Forever 21 has a massive following on there. [With 7.5 million followers, it's the 45th most followed account.] The idea developed from there."

Here's the behind-the-scenes video:

In broad terms, it's familiar territory for Breakfast. Three years ago, the shop built a black-and-white pixel-based street billboard that silhouetted passersby for TNT. It's also no stranger to building unique hardware with social media tie-ins—it created Instaprint, an event photo booth business that prints Polaroid-style images based off Instagram hashtags, and offers to handcraft bigger mosaics out of the individual prints. And in 2014, the shop picked up an Innovation Lion at Cannes for Points, its Internet-smart street sign.

But the F21 machine—11 feet high, 9 feet wide and 3 feet deep, with several times the number of parts in a modern automobile, all custom designed—is its biggest build yet.

"If we designed a car, we could redesign a single part and replace it if necessary," says Zolty. "With this screen, when a part didn't turn out quite right, we'd be sitting on 10,000-plus of them most often. You also may not know there is a problem until 5,000 have been installed. Re-creating and installing that part isn't really an option, so you have to figure out a way​ to keep moving forward while also solving the problem."

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