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Dissolving fabrics are the last thing you’d look for in a raincoat. That is, unless you’re Hussein Chalayan, who parlayed science (and solubility) into spectacle at the Musée des Beaux-Arts at Paris Fashion Week on Sunday. Dressed in white trenches, Chalayan’s models remained rooted in place as simulated showers sloughed off the clothing off their bodies in sheets to reveal glittery dresses, studded with tributary-like appliqués of Swarovski crystals. Of his unconventional staging, the Cyprus-born British designer had but one thing to say. “If you don’t take risks in the world, nothing happens, you just stay static.”

VANISHING ACT

Chalayan wasn’t the first to design clothes that disappear right before your eyes.

In 2007, Helen Storey and Tony Ryan, the brain trust behind the pollution-scrubbing “Catalytic Clothing”, made a dissolvable dress using polyvinyl alcohol, the same nontoxic polymer found in single-serving laundry pods.

“People aren’t aware of how many things they throw”, Ryan, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Sheffield, said, “and we destroy the dress to make them think about what you do with all the things we throw away.”

Three years later, a multidisciplinary team from Sheffield Hallam University used polyvinyl alcohol to make a wedding gown that melted away to reveal hidden layers.

RELATED | Eco-Friendly Wedding Gown Dissolves in Water After Being Worn

“The wedding gown is perhaps one of the most iconic and symbolic garments in humanity’s wardrobe and represents the challenges of ‘throwaway fashion’,” Jane Blohm, a lecturer on fashion design at the university, said back then. “The students wanted to challenge the notion that a wedding dress should only be used once and aimed to explore modern society’s attitudes towards throwaway fashion.”

Abdul Hoque, associate lecturer and researcher, envisioned a new generation of clothing, one that paired water-soluble polymers with special coatings that prevented them from self-destructing in inclement weather.

The result, he said, could help cut down on the millions of tons of textiles that enter landfills every year.

“In order to reduce fashion’s impact on the environment, the fashion industry must begin to challenge conventional attitudes and practices,” Blohm added.

+ Hussein Chalayan