Damon Winter/The New York Times

Bella Hadid pictured at the 2022 Met Gala in New York City.

November 16, 2022

Human Centered Design Students, Professors Discuss Spray-on Fabric Behind Bella Hadid’s Coperni Dress

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After Bella Hadid walked the October 2022 Coperni runway in a sprayed-on slit dress, videos of the outfit garnered millions of views as the moment reached a media impact value of $26.3 million.

Hadid’s viral dress employed Fabrican’s spray-on fabric technology, an invention created by Manel Torres in 2003. Fabrican is just one of many new innovative fabrics that have the potential to revolutionize the fashion industry, which now has a heightened focus on sustainability. 

“I think Bella Hadid’s viral dress, made by designers Sebastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillan, speaks volumes to the future of fashion and the future of technology in general,” Devin Schneider ’23, president of the Cornell Fashion Collective, wrote in an email to The Sun.

“I thought it was definitely something new that the industry hasn’t really seen, which is always refreshing to see,” Anna Paaske ’24, CFC Creative Director, wrote. 

These innovative textiles embrace the fields of chemistry, fashion design and fiber science — a degree unique to the Human Centered Design program under Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

“Our program focuses on many aspects of fibers and fabrics, from creating fabrics that can serve as sensors, to unique finishes to create sustainable textiles, to fashion design,” Prof. Hinestroza, fiber science and apparel design, wrote in an email to The Sun.

Hinestroza’s research group, the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory, is working on transforming waste textiles into valuable molecules, such as anti-bacterial compounds. 

According to Hinestroza, Fabrican’s technology appears to involve the spraying of an elastomeric solution, a material which has elastic properties. 

“A dissolved elastomer is forced through a small nozzle creating a jet that upon contact with the air, dries,” Hinestroza wrote.

Composed of polymer-bounded short fibers, the technology is mixed with solvents that keep the formula in liquid form. When it reaches skin or other surfaces, these solvents evaporate.

These spray-on fabrics can vary in texture if chemical compositions are altered. Users can also add additional materials to the fabric, including pigments and perfumes. 

Hinestroza believed that Bella Hadid’s skin was most likely covered in an oily substance to keep the fiber from sticking to the skin, forming a nonwoven fabric. Nonwoven fabrics are distinct in that they are not composed of interwoven or knitted strands, instead relying on the thermal, chemical or mechanical binding of fibers. 

Fabrican has started applying this technology to additional sectors like healthcare and design. Nonwoven fabrics are already being used in products like napkins, toilet paper, hygiene products and masks.

But there are many challenges obstructing the every-day use of Fabrican. The properties of polymer may be altered due to human sweat and body temperature changes.

Spray-on fabric like Fabrican is promising for sustainability due to its recyclability and enabling of synthetic leather creation. However, Paaske would not pinpoint this as a top solution. 

“The spray can use either natural or synthetic fibers, both of which have their own caveats, and there are most likely microplastics in the spray as well,” Paaske wrote.

The fashion industry currently accounts for 8-10 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, producing 60 million tons of plastic each year. 

“I think the main developments are now focused on reducing the amount of microplastics created by synthetic fibers as well as the repurposing and recovery of chemical compounds from waste textiles,” Hinestroza wrote.

Microplastics, up to five millimeters long, have severe impacts on the environment and marine wildlife. 

“Textiles and fashion need very talented engineers and scientists too as we face a major challenge with textile waste and massive pollution created by the fashion industry,” Hinestroza wrote.

Hinestroza’s Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory hopes for further development, much like Fabrican, to find alternatives to solve the problem of textile waste and pollution.