The finale of Coperni’s Spring/Summer 2023 runway presentation at Paris Fashion Week at the beginning of October was one of the most talked about moments of the season.
Dr Manel Torres
The show concluded with model Bella Hadid appearing on the runway wearing only her underwear before she was sprayed all over with unique formula coming from an aerosol can. This spray would almost immediately turn into a spray-on fabric to create a fully-fledged dress. This innovative technology was developed by the London-based company Fabrican.
Founded by Dr Manel Torres, Fabrican is a research company that has developed a unique spray-on technique that produces an instantaneous non-woven fabric that can be worn on the skin. It creates seamless garments that can be worn as regular pieces of clothing and can be custom-designed to each wearer’s needs and preferences. The process has also been used in other industries such as cosmetics, medicine, automotive and more. But the journey has only just begun for Dr Manel Torres and his team who see this invention as a way to change the world’s manufacturing industries forever.
Originally from Barcelona, Torres moved went to London to study for a Masters in Womenswear Design at the Royal College of Art. Upon graduating he was always concerned with the future of fashion and he had a vision of creating materials of the future. He embarked on a journey to develop a spray-on material which saw him found his company Fabrican. Today alongside his team, Torres plans to develop his concept further to take it across the world and make it available for consumers to understand its benefits both as an innovation and as a sustainable alternative to regular textiles. Here we find out more about this special technology and how far into the future it can take us.
Can you give us a brief overview of Fabrication and how it came to be?
My vision started when I was studying for a Masters in Womenswear Design in London. I was lucky to meet some of the world’s most iconic designers including Karl Lagerfeld and Gianfranco Ferré and to be able to meet these Gods of fashion was unbelievable. While I was studying, my interest was always on the future of fashion and I started to imagine a world where we could create fibres that would instantly produce garments. I had this vision of using an aerosol can to create fashion garments and that’s really where the story began.
Once I finished my Masters I applied to do a PhD in research because I wanted to take this idea further and explore the notion of developing a spray-on fabric. At that time, there was no position available on the course so I went to work in the fashion industry in India for several years before I was offered a place at The Royal College of Art to proceed with the PhD. At this point, I went back to London and the rest is history!
Can you explain a little about the spray-on fabric and how it works in terms of science?
Our formulations consist of liquid fabric. We take materials and dissolve them into a liquid form through various processes. This liquid is then sprayed from an aerosol can directly onto the skin or another surface. As the formula reacts with air, the fibres bind together to form a solid material. We have a number of different formulas, each one producing a different type of fabric, suitable for many different uses.
What are some of the ingredients used to make the fabrics?
We use a variety of materials, from natural to synthetic. We are a research company so we are still trying out new and different materials to see how they work. We have fabrics made from corn, seaweed, keratin, the list goes on. We are moving towards using mostly bio-materials as we want this to be a sustainable product. We also have fabrics made from water-based materials. We still don’t know yet where the possibilities end and how they will evolve but the idea is to create a new way of manufacturing.
How does the fabric feel to touch?
Honestly, it’s magical. When the fabric touches the skin it reacts with the oils in our body to ensure it’s not sticky. By the time it reaches the skin it is semi-dry and it can be taken on and off much like a regular T-Shirt. Depending on the formula the fabric can be very soft, or we have harder fabrics that are much more durable, we have fabrics that feel like rubber, ones that feel like suede – there are limitless options. The amazing thing is that you can also redissolve the fabric and respray it after use. With gives an incredible sustainability element to it. From the beginning, this was something that I wanted to focus on, to reduce waste in the fashion industry. So yes there is a circular economy.
We of course saw the amazing performance with Coperni and Bella Hadid at Paris Fashion Week – tell us about how this partnership came about.
The team from Coperni came to visit my lab in July 2022 and we created a dress for them. I immediately saw the look on their faces and they were amazed! They went back to Paris and I told them if they did want to go ahead I would just need some time to create the correct formulation. On 5th September 2022, they confirmed that they would go for it which was incredible, but I already had a strong feeling they would say yes!
So after that, we set to work on finding the right materials and creating the perfect formula. I travelled to Paris to do a test run two weeks before the show and then on the day, it was truly done live on the catwalk. The particular formula we used for this show reacts with the air and becomes almost dry, then by the time it reaches the skin it is already semi-dry and is almost immediately a solid fabric. It took around six or seven minutes to make the dress in total.
How did you feel when you found out it would be Bella Hadid wearing the dress and how was the process of working with her?
We found out it would be Bella Hadid wearing the dress around a week before the show. It was magical because Bella was very interested and she really understood the technology and science behind the fabric. She embraced the idea and didn’t say no to anything. She thought it was really exciting and that created great chemistry between us.
Before the show, we tested a small patch of fabric on her skin and she couldn’t believe how the fabric was coming from the aerosol can. And then the next step was to go live on the runway. Bella has this perfect shape that embodied the dress and she gave it her all with the way she wore it on the runway. She is a great ambassador for this technology and you can see she embraced and enjoyed the process. The biggest compliment that we can get from a model that has been sprayed with the fabric is that they feel naked but dressed and this is exactly how she felt.
What is your vision for Fabrican moving forward?
It is early days to say but I know already that there is so much we can do. Fabrican is ultimately a technology and the beauty of this technology is that we can create applications for use in the medical industry, automotive processes, cosmetics, and many different fields as well as fashion which provides a great opportunity for us to collaborate with different sectors. It is a new way of manufacturing in any industry that requires textiles.
We understand you are already working with medical institutions, and on projects in other industries, can you tell us about that?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were very busy developing products for global companies in the medical and cosmetics industries. Of course, due to the pandemic, much of this was put on hold but we are now back to business working on several projects and we are looking for companies to take on some of our formulas and help us develop them to the next stage.
In 2019 we launched an interesting product with Schwarzkopf. It was a hair product that used the spray on fabric technology and I think this will soon be launching in the United States. So slowly we are making progress and seeing great interest in what we do, but like all industries, we have suffered from two years of slowing down because of COVID-19. So now it’s time to get back to work and we feel very blessed to be able to show that this technology is still relevant and we are thrilled to see the reaction and the media coverage that we have had so far. We are especially inspired by the reaction of the younger generation because this is a project of the future and ultimately it is for them.
In terms of the fashion industry, how do you think this technology can be transferred to something as customers we can use and experience ourselves?
The way I imagine it is that fashion houses or sportswear brands could have different moulds that could be sprayed with the material and then peeled off to create a seamless garment. Another way could be for fashion brands to use it in their stores. I can imagine stores having a booth where customers can go inside to be sprayed by a professional and take away their unique dress. Another way could be for couture houses to combine tradition with this new technology. It would be very nice to collaborate with embroiderers and designers, to print the material, embroider it etc. It’s not something that we have done yet and it could be very interesting. I think we are at a moment where we need to link traditional textiles and futuristic textiles to create even more beautiful things.
What would you say to the historical houses and couture designers who might argue that luxury design should be a slower, or handmade process?
Fabrican is a way to bring together those two worlds and a way of enhancing something that already exists. It is an alternative way of creating textiles and another way of dressing, but we want to combine tradition and innovation because this is when the magic happens.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
I always like Japanese influences, this is something you’ll see even in the décor of my house. I like to travel to Japan for inspiration, I love the work of Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto. I also love European designers such as Balenciaga. I have received some comments saying my work could be likened to that of Lee (Alexander) McQueen which is, of course, a great honour and he was someone who was a great inspiration and one of my favourite designers.
What is the motto that you live by?
I am all about spray! What I do motivates me to get up in the morning and I always want to explore, discover and go for more. It’s a big commitment but I am dedicated to my vision.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
The biggest challenge is probably understanding how we can bring this technology to the market. How can we scale it up and how can we make it available to everyone? We need to find partners and investors who share our vision and are prepared to join us on this journey.
What else is in the pipeline in the near future?
We have many projects in the pipeline, we are working on a sportswear project, we are working on something for the automotive industry, and something for the cosmetic industry and we hope to have many more projects coming up soon. We are still developing and it’s a very exciting time.
What is a message you would send to our readers in the Middle East?
We have already had some interesting requests from the Middle East so I believe people there are aware of Fabrican and I think it is a region that is very interested in innovation. We would be delighted to collaborate with designers or companies in the Middle East and we are very open to ideas. I have been invited to come over to Dubai for an event next year so I hope to see them then!