Document looks back in time to some of the most visionary presentations in fashion history

Bella Hadid closing Coperni’s Spring/Summer 2023 presentation with a spray-on dress was a show-stopping moment that has rippled across the internet, so much so that even my extremely offline boyfriend knew about it. It’s been spoofed on TikTok, memed on Instagram pages, and reposted liberally by just about anyone with a passing interest in fashion. The now-viral moment marked the brand’s ascension to the ranks of runway history, joining the likes of Alexander McQueen, Virgil Abloh, Hussein Chalayan, and other such designers whose visionary presentations have been said (beyond press releases) to walk the line between fashion and art.

Here, Document takes you inside some of the most mesmerizing, surprising, and unexpected moments to occur on the runway, from Coperni’s latest presentation to the visionary shows that preceded it.

Coperni Spring/Summer 2023

Taking after its namesake, the Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, the Parisian brand aims to fuse science, craft, and fashion—values that were embodied by the spectacle of the spray-on dress. As audiences watched, a cobweb-like substance transformed into fabric on Hadid’s skin; after several minutes, newly-formed straps clung to shoulders that had been bare just a moment before. The viral garment was created in collaboration with the inventor of Fabrican, Spanish designer and scientist Manel Torres.

Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 1999

While Coperni claims that the concept was not an homage, it echoed another, equally monumental runway moment: the finale of Alexander McQueen’s iconic Spring 1999 show, which saw model Shalom Harlow move in tandem with two spray-painting robots as they adorned her previously blank dress with color. It was a captivating and delicate dance: At first the robots appeared to be attackers, with Harlow shielding herself from each shot of paint as though it were a blow; but by the time she stepped off the slowly rotating platform to take a victory lap, it was clear she’d been transformed.

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2006

Known for merging art, technology, and performance, McQueen was responsible for the vast majority of fashion’s most celebrated (and immersive) presentations. In his 2006 Widows of Culloden show, a ghostly hologram of Kate Moss graced the stage, floating inside a giant pyramid as a blue dress unfurled like smoke around her. It was a haunting performance, meant to cast Moss as a phoenix ‘rising from the ashes’ in the wake of a cocaine scandal that had caused brands like Chanel and Burberry to drop her.

Hussein Chalayan Fall/Winter 2000

For his Fall 2000 presentation, Turkish designer Hussein Chalayan transformed furniture into garments. In his presentation After Words, which centered on the theme of displacement, the voices of Bulgarian throat singers produced a disconcerting atmosphere as models strolled in and out of a room furnished with ’60s-style suburban furniture. Toward the end of the show, four models began to unsheathe the furniture’s slipcovers, which were revealed to be avant-garde garments; a final model, Natalia Semanova, walked onstage and stepped gingerly into the hole at the center of a wooden coffee table, which unfurled into a sculptural wooden crinoline as she lifted it to her waist.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring/Summer 1989

During Maison Martin Margiela’s runway debut, Margiela unveiled his signature Tabi boot. To emphasize their unique shape, models walked the runway with their soles dipped in red paint, so as to leave behind striking, split-toed footprints. Though popularized by McQueen, the boot’s divisive silhouette drew inspiration from Japanese workers’ shoes, called jika-tabi; now, there are countless modern versions of the Tabi in production, though none have attracted the attention and acclaim of Margiela’s. “My clothes appeal to women of a certain mindset rather than of a specific age or physique,” the designer said in 1992.

Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2019

In 2018, the late Virgil Abloh showcased his inaugural collection for Louis Vuitton on a 200-meter-long rainbow runway inspired by The Wizard of Oz. Models from nearly every continent strutted down the multicolored catwalk in all-white technical gear, mohair suit jackets, and crocodile leather. Intended to emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusivity, the presentation’s rainbow motif, inclusive casting, and particular vocabulary set the stage for Abloh’s celebrated contributions at the helm of Louis Vuitton. To accompany the collection’s release, the designer released The vocabulary according to Virgil Abloh, a glossary of terms relating to the collection. In it, rainbow is described as a “kaleidoscopic palette evolving from off-white to polychromatic, synchronously forming a holographic archway known to represent dreams.”