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High Fashion and High Tech: The Rising Role of Technology in Fashion

By Courtesy of Raden Prasetya
By Sean Wang Zi-Ming, Contributing Writer

Depending on who you ask, high fashion might mean classic Parisian ateliers like Chanel or Bode’s one-of-a-kind bespoke up-cycled pieces. The same focuses pop up: high-quality materials, immaculate tailoring, and of course, hours and hours of handmade craftsmanship that elevates garment-making from a skill to an art form. This work can include intricate patterns of embroidered sequins, layers of fluffy tulle, or even a sleek little black dress; what matters is that it draws on years of human expertise and developed techniques. The spray-on dress at Coperni’s recent Spring/Summer 2023 show poses a new and interesting question: Can the use of technology be considered “craftsmanship” as well?

10 minutes: That’s how long it took for Bella Hadid to go from nude underwear to fully dressed. She strutted down the runway in a dress made on the spot with synthetic fibers sprayed onto her body and swiftly tailored by Coperni’s head of design, Charlotte Raymond, to include a draped neckline and thigh-high slit. It was sleek, chic, and a little sexy. It also defied any notion of traditional dress-making — a bold reimagination of what it means to make a garment.

While Coperni’s founders Meyer and Vaillant insist the showcase is not an homage, it finds its clear visual predecessor in Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 1999. In a flashy display, supermodel Shalom Harlow stood in a white dress on a rotating platform as two robotic arms sprayed her with yellow and black paint. Crucially, this show added nuance to the idea of artistic creation. In a piece technically created by robots, attributing it to Alexander McQueen required viewers to recognize that artistic conception was just as important as the act of making itself. Coperni’s latest show builds on this heritage — in a sprayed-on dress there is no need for stitching or weaving textiles, the inventiveness of the idea is part of its genius. Even as Charlotte Raymond altered it on stage, all eyes were on the futuristic fabric molding itself to the body rather than the tailoring.

Moreover, Coperni’s dress also brings up an interesting perspective on the materials fashion can make use of. The liquid sprayed onto Bella Hadid is composed of short natural fibers bound together with natural and synthetic polymers and then mixed with liquid solvents, an invention of Fabrican, the British company behind the technology. The material is a plant-based alternative, reflecting a recent push in the fashion industry, where designers utilize technology to find sustainable solutions to fashion’s longstanding problems with environmental pollution. For example, up-and-coming fashion designers like Grace Ling use technology to approach sustainability in a less obvious but equally impactful way. Incorporating 3D software in the design process, her brand manages to create pieces with zero waste by calculating exact quantities and 3D rendering. They also make use of infinitely recyclable 3D-printed aero aluminum. As consumers become more aware of sustainability and brands try to present themselves as environmentally-conscious, one could say that embracing technology is necessary for fashion to remain relevant in the future.

Furthermore, these technological innovations suggest that rather than infringing on age-old techniques, the use of computers, synthetic fabrics, and experimental methods are in fact part of the bold creativeness and constant reinvention that has driven high fashion forward. In Loewe Spring/Summer 2023, the brand collaborated with Spanish bio-designer Paula Ulargui Escalona, making fabric that grew plants like chia and catswort. The resulting garments were a marvelous fusion of nature, technology, and fashion, with long green sprouts that hung off coats like luxurious ostrich feathers. Much like Coco Chanel’s transgressive appropriation of menswear to redefine womenswear with sleek pants and well-tailored jackets, the use of materials in new and surprising ways shows just how crucial technology can be to fashion’s progress.

With the buzz that Coperni’s recent showcase generated, it is expected that other fashion houses will soon follow suit with bigger and bolder incorporations of technology into their collections. Brands like GCDS have even held entire fashion shows in virtual reality. Tech, as it seems, is not only a tool but also an inspiration for creators. Defined by heritage and tradition, fashion’s embrace of technology provides a microcosmic model for society at large, showing how newfangled tech could in fact provide opportunities for artistic creativity that could never exist in the past. The future of fashion remains excitingly unpredictable, in most part thanks to the exponential development of technology in tandem. The issue that remains in question is not whether technology will be featured, but just in what ways.

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