Steeling the limelight in world of fashion

Daring design: a collaboration between a Swedish fashion designer and an innovative steel manufacturer creates steel thinner than silk

By Abi Grogan

Steel dresses catwalk
Swedish Fashion Council / Jernkontoret

CHOOSING the right outfit for the red carpet has become even more difficult as sustainability, local manufacturing and innovative materials are being championed.

This new approach to fashion ethics has been showcased at the most visible spotlight on fashion, the Oscars ceremony, where steel took an unexpected starring role.

Swedish fashion designer Naim Josefi’s haute couture creation used rolled steel embellishment in his design for film star Bahar Pars to wear to the Academy Awards.

The actress was convinced by the designer’s use of innovative materials, saying, “an established fashion house would have given me a very nice dress, but I want to make a statement; to be on the creative forefront”.

Known for daring use of technical materials in his collections, this isn’t the first time Josefi has clothed celebrities in pieces made from or inspired by the properties of metal – Lady Gaga wore a 3D-printed plastic version of a line of shoes Josefi originally crafted from steel.

Josefi’s dress for the Oscars is made from around 6,000 ultra-thin, rolled steel sequins, produced by manufacturer voestalpine Precision Strip AB in Sweden. Environmental impact is very important to the designer’s ethos, with pure aesthetics only informing part of the decision on what to use when choosing materials.

“I want to surprise,” says Josefi, “show the unexpected, move creativity forward. Sustainability is also very important to me, and – as it is 100 percent recyclable – steel is an obvious choice.”

Ian Jones, head of sales and vice-managing director of voestalpine Precision Strip AB, said the voestalpine researchers in Munkfors were approached via Jernkontoret, the Swedish steel industry’s special interest group, and asked to provide some particularly thin strip steel for the designer.

“He was so enthralled with the material that he expanded his concept and decided to use several shades of blue. Through a series of oxidation experiments, researchers were able to colour the 0.022mm-thick steel strip in different shades of blue.”

The dress, which features 18,000 sequins, was the centerpiece of Josefi’s Stockholm Fashion Week collection, with its delicate construction and colouring catching the eye. Ian Jones, whose company more traditionally sees their ultra-thin product used in scalpels, razors and small valves, jokes that the material for the dress was made using “black magic, like all the rest of our steel”.

steel sequins naim josefi
Each of the 6,000 razor-thin steel sequins was sewn on by hand  –  Swedish Fashion Council / Jernkontoret

Jones highlights the “complicated series of cycles of high precision cold rolling and annealing down to these ultra-thin gauges” that is required to produce this kind of steel, which is thinner than silkworm silk.

In a world where fast-fashion has led to the lifecycle of some clothing lines being extremely short, Josefi’s approach is to create enduring outfits that can help to combat the perception that the fashion industry creates and disposes of products too quickly.

For Josefi, putting thought into the processes and materials behind fashion masterpieces can be just as important as the conception of the design itself. Collaborating with teams like the researchers at voestalpine has helped deepen his understanding of this aspect.

“All my collections are built on scientific research. Technology helps me realize complex ideas and thoughts,” he says.

* This story first appeared on the World Steel Association website