by Louise Burgers. It’s the narrative of countless sci-fi stories and movies – spray on fabrics and instant apparel. Well, it is a reality, as Paris-based fashion designers Sebastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillan from the Coperni fashion house, demonstrated live with supermodel Bella Hadid at their Spring Summer 2023 show last week, in a spectacular finale.
Was it a fad, a fashion extravaganza, performance art, a product demo, experiential marketing, entertainment, or a spectacular stunt? It was all those things and more. The ‘spray-on dress’ video immediately went viral and every single major news network, fashion and entertainment media, business media, and lifestyle publication ran with the story and video. Apart from the fact that it was jaw-dropping to watch a literal dress being sprayed on to the model, turning it into a wearable item which she then sashayed with down the catwalk to show it off; the science leading up to this moment is fascinating and strange, as it involves a kid’s favoured art product – a can of silly string – and a 20-year-journey.
The viral video shows the nearly-nude model’s body being ‘spray painted’ with a white paint-like substance that forms into a sheath from neck to knees; before a stylist comes and adjusts the now apparently dry ‘fabric’, creating drop cap sleeves and a thigh-high slit in the tight column ‘dress’. Then the supermodel walked the catwalk as the simple, but stunning white creation moved with her – as dresses do. It was an incredible fashion moment – and a video that broke the interwebs. But the impact of this innovation is far greater; and the story behind this new material is the stuff legends are made of – and Netflix docudramas.
WATCH the historic fashion moment here:
When high fashion combines with science
The technology is actually not new, but remains innovative and after the publicity generated from the fashion show, will no doubt increase the value of the company and the inventor behind it. According to The Cut, it all started 20 years ago with inventor and fashion consultant, Dr Manel Torres and a can of silly string! As the creator of the spray-on fabric technology process, through his company Fabrican Ltd, he became the first fashion designer to create an instant wearable fabric. He played around with the silly string product, trying to create a mist, finally coming up with the spray-on fabric with the help of scientists at the Imperial College in London, which allowed him to play around in their labs until he had perfected the process. All this while pursuing a Master’s degree in fashion design at the Royal College of Art in London, which happened to be next door.
As Dr Torres explains it all in a TEDx Talk in 2013 in Vienna, it took two years of experimentation before he was able to create Fabrican, way back in 2003 already. The composition is that of a liquid fibre, bound together with polymers, bio polymers and green solvents that evaporate when the spray touches a surface – in this case, supermodel Bella Hadid. The miracle fabric apparently feels like suede and can be shaped and adjusted like any other fabric. In addition, Wired magazine reports that the Coperni designers said the technology could be used to make innovative clothes that can be washed, re-worn, and integrated with diagnostic devices that could monitor the health of the wearer, for example.
Innovation of the year
The Fabrican website describes the technology as “groundbreaking” and it was awarded a “Best Invention of 2010” by Time magazine. The touch sensitive-nano transfer, sustainable and sterile application spray-on fabric has potential for numerous markets, including fashion, medical, hygiene, oil spill clean-up, automotive, design, and sports. The website describes it as such: “The fabric is formed by the cross linking of fibres which adhere to create an instant non-woven fabric that can be easily sprayed on to any surface. The liquid suspension product is applied via spray gun or aerosol to small projects.”
As Dr Torres details in his TEDx presentation: “We started in fashion, but my passion is to use it in the medical industry. The material is totally sterile, coming from an aerosol can; and you can use it for casts or wound dressings; as well as include nano-technology to deliver medicine. It sets in four minutes from a liquid to a hard material when needed. I’m also speaking to interior designers about making furniture and light fittings. And in the automotive industry, it can be used to make car seats. The material is non-flammable. I was even contacted by the oil companies after an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to develop the material to contain an oil spill or to absorb the oil.”
WATCH the TEDx Talk here:
It took the Coperni designers to envisage Fabrican and 3-D technology to create a bespoke design – and bring it to life in front of a live celebrity audience, elevating the product innovation to stratospheric heights as the world watched. “Fashion designers need new materials and fabrics to create products to address evolving lifestyles and consumer demands. In the 21st Century we should make it the first time that science and design really march together in close step, illustrating in this way, their interdependence,” wrote the designers in their show notes, as reported by The Cut.
Not only did the Coperni designers raise the bar for live fashion shows; they amplified exposure to a product which could revolutionise many other industries too, not just fashion. This is one of those defining moments which makes history.
Main image credit: Bella Hadid Insta.
Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.
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