Twenty four years after the Alexander McQueen spring/summer 1999 show, and people still talk about that final moment when Shalom Harlow, wearing a voluminous strapless white dress held up by a leather belt, stood on a spinning platform and was doused in spray paint by robots. In real time, art was being created and the audience had a front row seat. Technology has advanced over the past twenty years, but no one has come close to the iconic moment created on that stage—nor have many tried—until now. At the Coperni spring/summer 2022 show on Friday, designers Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant paid homage to McQueen by updating the moment for the 21st century and making it their own.
Harlow was swapped out with Bella Hadid, a fellow W 50th anniversary cover star, and a woman arguably following in Harlow’s celebrated footsteps. The robots were subbed out for actual men, and while that may initially seem like less of a technological feat, what they were able to create was likely impossible when McQueen thought twenty four years ago. The men immediately started spraying Hadid, who wore just a nude thong to start, working around her as she stayed put, posing as a dress formed on her body.
A foamy substance started emerging from the devices as Hadid’s body became covered in a white, cobweb-like material. When the men were done spraying, a woman stepped on stage and took over, finessing the garment so it would be runway ready. She peeled the newly created straps off Hadid’s body and placed them to fall off her shoulders before pulling out scissors and cutting a slit up the side. The white substance seemed to congeal together and form more of a fabric that moved as Hadid walked, like it was created in a work room and not just minutes earlier on the runway.
The technique is courtesy of Fabrican, a material-science company founded by Spanish fashion designer and scientist Manel Torres. According to Vogue Business, the sprayed liquid contains cotton or synthetic fibers in a polymer solution, which evaporate when they make contact with the skin. Meyer and Vaillant have been planning this finale with Torres and his team for over six months, and it seems the result made it all worth it. Though Meyer admitted the dress won’t be profitable, he feels it’s his and Vaillant’s “duty as designers to try new things and show a possible future.” He told Vogue, “It’s a beautiful moment—an experience that creates emotion.”
When the dress was completed, Hadid modeled it for the audience to great applause before Meyer and Vaillant joined her to soak in the moment. It is one that could very well join the fashion pantheon, and add Meyer and Vaillant’s names to a list of innovative and conceptual designers like McQueen and Hussein Chalayan, who pushed the boundaries of creation and runway presentations. Hadid’s contribution will also likely aid in her path to supermodel-dom, though that status already seemed very much a given.