Brave new world

“The whole purpose of fashion is newness” – Coperni’s designer duo are merging technology with fantasy
By Bailey Slater | Fashion | 24 April 2023
Photographer Max Hoell

Coperni’s Spring-Summer 2023 show produced a moment. Bella Hadid stood on a platform wearing nude underwear and was delicately sprayed with a revolutionary fabric created by tech innovators Fabrican. Layer upon layer, this web-like substance formed an exquisite, asymmetrical, figure-hugging dress, live on stage. An assistant cut the fabric – creating a leg slit – and removed the straps from Hadid’s shoulders, before the model walked the runway, proving the dress’s incredible physicality.

This viral moment perfectly encapsulates the design magic of Coperni’s founders Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant who, since establishing the brand in 2013, have held innovation and reinvention at the forefront of their creative spirit. (Makes sense for a brand named after Prussian astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, whose discovery that the Earth circled the Sun redefined scientific thinking.)

Meyer and Vaillant met at Mod’art International in Paris in the late 2000s, striking up a kinship that would later include marriage and a three-year stint at the helm of Courrèges. There, they would toy with tech and the futurist glamour of the 1960s, blending razor-sharp tailoring with revolutionary fabrics. But a return to their passion project was on the cards and, following a swift relaunch, their Coperni woman has become a siren of contemporary French design: whether armouring up in athletic tropes against the global pandemic, embracing her dancefloor femininity, expanding her mind on psychedelic beach trips or, indeed, getting sprayed with pioneering wearable technology.


Bailey Slater: This year has been a total rollercoaster for you both, I wanted to take us back a bit and begin by talking about how you ended up working together.
Sébastien Meyer: We met at school a long time ago, fifteen years. Arnaud was more in the business part of the school and I was learning fashion design. We [started] working together very quickly, and it was very natural. Arnaud did a lot of internships in big houses like Balenciaga and Chanel, and I was more like, “I don’t want to go to a big house. I want to do my stuff.” I started creating Coperni (then called Coperni Femme) at home in our little studio apartment, we posted some pictures on Instagram and it became something. Arnaud stopped working at Balenciaga and we started to build a company, but it was very small at the beginning. After we won some prizes, like ANDAM’s [First Collection] Prize in 2014, we were finalists for the 2015 LVMH Prize, and we went to Courrèges for three years. It was an amazing experience because we learned so much about the industry. We met all the big journalists, we played the game. It was amazing, but quickly we wanted to find our freedom again. We recreated Coperni because we felt that there was a place for the brand and the community around it was still present. And voilà! We are here, four years later.
Arnaud Vaillant: It’s gone so fast. Fashion is a really beautiful industry, I’m really passionate about it and I love it, but it can be hard sometimes. It’s true that to have someone to rely on, to share the good and the bad news together, is really precious.

BS: What did those experiences working at Balenciaga, Chanel and Courrèges teach you about the industry and the way you both work?
AV: I’ve learned so much through my internships and jobs within these big houses, they open your eyes and you see how everything works. You don’t really learn that at school, it’s very different when you’re on the ground. You can see how the girl from the trims buys the zippers, and how the CEO works within the budget. In these houses we learned the rigour – the compromises as well. The fact it’s a very creative industry, but you also have to respect price and be aligned with your customer, the wearability, these kinds of things.
SM: I think the most important thing you learn when you’re in these kinds of houses is how the system works. It’s important because when you’re a young designer, your goal is to play with the system because you can’t compete with such big houses. So if you want to be – how do you say démarche?
AV: To shine a little bit?
SM: Yes. To share your message you have to play with all these codes and how the industry works. Then when you’ve learnt it and made it once, twice, three, four times, then you start being able to take a bit of distance. That’s actually what we are doing at Coperni – which we’re very happy about, I think it’s very healthy. When we relaunched four years ago we knew exactly what we wanted and what we didn’t want anymore, and we had a bit of distance. Even if we’re so involved in our brand, we also want to have some fun and take risks. We know how to better play with the rules – and it’s working [smiles].

BS: What exactly were you keen on doing differently this time around?
SM: Everything. The first Coperni was like a baby. We were students in our apartment and it was almost nothing. It was cute, but it was not a business. Then when we relaunched Coperni we did it with a partner and structure. It’s very important because when you’re a young designer you think you can create your dress in your little studio, put it on a runway and that’s it. But no, it’s an industry. You have to know the exact price, how you’ll produce it, you know? And also what we learned and discovered from the Courrèges experience was our passion for technology and innovation.
AV: I mean, you had it before.
SM: Yeah, a little bit. Coperni comes from the name of an astronomer [Nicolaus Copernicus] who revolutionised everything. Because André Courréges was an engineer, we discovered this passion to try and do something new and different in the tech approach.
AV: We had access to play with technology, which we didn’t have before.

BS: Going back to the collaborations you’ve worked on recently, how did the likes of Heven, Maisie Williams and Alan Crocetti find themselves in your world?
SM: We never do a collaboration when someone proposes it. It’s very organic, it can come from a meeting in a nightclub…
AV: One of my favourites was Heven, because Sébastien came up with the idea of doing a glass bag many seasons ago. It was working very well with the collection, and we contacted them to ask if they can use glass to make our shape. Originally, the idea was heavy, expensive and fragile, and that doesn’t really make sense. But in the end, it was such a good idea, because it’s a beautiful piece of art, of fashion. I told our partner that we would produce something like three of them, because it wasn’t really what we usually do, but we actually sold a few hundred. It’s amazing to see that people are still emotional about new ideas.

BS: Evolution is clearly an important part of the label, especially in the way you approach the future of what style could be. In the last ten years, how has your original vision of the Coperni woman evolved?
SM: The world ‘evolved’, ah!
AV: I feel that she’s the same person in the sense that, since the beginning, we have this techno-chic brand that is a mix of tailoring, embroideries and textile manipulation that we have always been very faithful to – and this notion of ‘Parisian’. I believe this woman is still fierce, independent, international and smart, they’re just slightly evolved through the seasons because of how the world is. Before we were doing lookbooks and now we’re doing shows, it’s like another practice, so you can go into different directions for your silhouette, your castings. I believe that now she’s exactly what she should be. There’s a bit more femininity, especially since the pandemic, and we left the confused-bossy style we cherished: we were bored of it because of the confinements, and went into slightly more feminine silhouettes.
SM: Sexy!
AV: …Which people love.
SM: But what we discovered during the pandemic is, each season we really want to bring the Coperni woman into a new world. I think it’s interesting today, because we’ve seen so many brands do the same thing every season.
AV: The whole purpose of fashion is newness.
SM: I think it’s important to always stay focused…
AV: But to keep evolving, taking the Coperni woman and keeping the same core values, but having this beautiful adventure with her. For SS21, she was very sporty because she was fighting against Covid, she was wearing this stretch suit that was anti-virus. Then she went into the night because she was missing partying and wanted more femininity. Then she went to the beach for summer, which was like a psychedelic trip. And then she grew up in our coming-of-age show for FW22. That was like the evolution of the woman and her sexual identity. Our last show was all about the woman’s body, [her] strength, and the next one will be different. It’s a beautiful challenge.

“When we relaunched four years ago we knew exactly what we wanted and what we didn’t want anymore.”

BS: That brings us to SS23’s liquid dress – a fashion moment that echoed around the world. Did you have any idea it would blow up in the way it did, even to the extent of reaching outside the bubble of the industry?
AV: It was the most exciting project of our lives – we didn’t expect such success at all – we were hoping we had a good idea and that it would work. We’d contacted a scientist, Dr Manel Torres, six months before the show and met him in London many times, rehearsing on several different models in London and Paris. We were hoping it would be a beautiful moment, and we were missing this idea of performance, celebrating beautiful strong fashion moments, celebrating the woman. So we contacted Bella very early and she said, “Yes,” in a minute. She has been so supportive and so incredibly inspiring.
SM: I turned to Arnaud and said, “You know, I only want to do this project with Bella,” because I was sure that she was the best to embrace the experience and to communicate.
AV: For us, she had these notions of femininity, the digital and also [of] innovation. She’s launched NFTs where she reminds me of either a top model or a robot. She was perfect for the moment. The day before we were pretty scared, actually, I was thinking it may be a shitshow, maybe it was going to be terrible and Bella would feel too cold, or maybe the printers would explode [laughs].

BS: I read that there was no practice time with Bella herself, how were you feeling when it was all happening?
SM: Backstage was very stressful.
AV: Just a mini-rehearsal with her.
SM: Yeah, but backstage, maybe only 30 minutes before the show, and only on her breasts. So she didn’t experience the whole idea. It was very long, which is something I loved. During the process I turned to everyone and said, “I want this performance to last a bit longer,” and everyone was telling me, “No, it’s impossible!” I was like, “No, let’s take some time to enjoy.”
AV: “It’s too long, people will be bored, you have to make it faster.” Like no, we wanted a long moment and it lasted fifteen minutes plus the show, which is ten minutes. It was almost a half-hour show – which is fun, actually.
SM: So the next one will be an hour!
AV: We were stressed about a lot of parameters, but in the end, we were watching backstage and Duffy, a very famous hairstylist we started collaborating with, I don’t know if he was crying or just emotional, but it was so beautiful.
SM: We were all emotional.
AV: It was like wow, if Duffy’s reacting like that, maybe it is something good.

BS: I loved the bio-scientific roots this collection had, is this a realm you’re keen on exploring with further collections?
AV: It’s very complicated because we’re still such a small structure. We’re only a team of fifteen, so we don’t have big budgets. We’re doing so many collections with such a small team that we can’t [afford to] spend on someone researching a new fabric for two years. Basically, we’re trying to do as much as we can through our suppliers, we’re trying to innovate and develop this new eco-tech fabric, so we try to nurture our inspiration in exhibitions or in the designs of our bags.
SM: I think it depends on the season and theme of the collection. But we try to put some tech innovation in different areas. Last season was on the clothes and Bella’s dress, and the next one will be somewhere else. I think it’s interesting because it’s always surprising.

“…we try to put some tech innovation in different areas. Last season was on the clothes and Bella’s dress, and the next one will be somewhere else.”

BS: After the show you explained that it’s your duty as designers to try new things and show a possible future; to create an experience that creates emotion. Where do you think this drive comes from?
SM: Why do we take so many risks and have this rebellious side? I think it’s normal.
AV: It all comes from you [laughs].
SM: Yeah, but I think it’s normal. We are young and if you don’t try these kinds of things… We are in Paris, and on the same day of our show, you have [Louis] Vuitton, Chanel, and Loewe. It’s impossible to compete with this kind of house, you have to take more risks than them.
AV: I have the answer. It all comes from Sébastien himself, he’s our creative director, and you know how fashion works. When we got Courréges, they didn’t have a creative director for three years – you can’t go anywhere if you don’t have a creative director. It’s like having a company without an accountant, it’s not healthy. You need direction, even if Séb’s the creative director and I’m CEO and we’re equal because we’re hand-in-hand working together, going in the same direction, it’s true that we all follow Sébastien’s laws – he’s our leader.
SM: But it’s also teamwork. As we said earlier, we work with our close friends and there is trust between all of us.
AV: And they all love to take risks, like Samuel [Ellis Scheinman] in the casting, Kevin [Tekinel], Charles [Levai] in the creative direction and Helena [Tejedor] in the styling, we are all fearless. I mean, we feel very free. And yeah, we’re all following Sébastien’s path into all these crazy ideas, you’ve always been rebellious, always. At school, you were always the last one to arrive, and you were always doing things in an extravagant but minimalistic way.
SM: Anyway…

BS: You’ve already utilised glass, apples and liquid paint in your work. What other unusual materials are you looking to bring into the fold?
AV: We’ve hired someone for fabrics and I can’t wait to develop more of this aspect. There is a beautiful recycled polyester in the tailoring next season, which I love. We actually have twenty references per season I’d say, so almost 100 different fabrics per year.
SM: One of my dreams would be to create our own fabric from scratch. It’s something nobody does because it’s impossible. You have just three months to develop your collection, so we all buy fabrics from the supplier. Sometimes we change it a little bit, like the colour, one thread, but even that is very difficult.

“Our last show was all about the woman’s body, [her] strength, and the next one will be different. It’s a beautiful challenge.”

BS: From fabric innovation down to your lookbooks, there’s a lot of appreciation for not only the digital but also that Apple-centric way of living with readily available technology. How do you find balancing the technical with these notions of traditional tailoring and classic French style?
AV: That’s the whole purpose of the brand. It’s this idea of all these beautiful movies like Gattaca with Uma Thurman or The Matrix and these strong women that are futuristic, minimal and chic. You can also mix that with something more tailored and young. We want them to feel strong and beautiful, we don’t want them to feel too naked… our main challenge is to find this balance. Like yesterday, we were trying a jacket from the new collection, it’s a mix of tailoring and motorcycle [material]. We tried it with underwear and some shoes and it was so beautiful. If you take it out of the silhouette, you have a beautiful jacket everyone can wear, but if you style it in a more sexy, stronger way for the show, it’s very cool.
SM: And also this idea of wearability – we are looking for every day, in every piece.
AV: We don’t want people to feel costumed. It’s true that even if we have embroidery or a very expensive fabric or something complicated, we always adapt it to a wearable volume because we don’t want the woman to have just one shoulder.

BS: I imagine you’ve thought long and hard about what the label’s future looks like, will you stay in the fashion realm or are you looking to branch out somewhere entirely new?
SM: The idea is to go slowly. I really hate brands that do a lot of things, like fragrance, candles – and a mug! I find it’s a little too much. I’m more into an Apple [strategy], which does like ten products, that’s it.
AV: I mean, you’re doing way more than ten products.
SM: You know what I mean: stay focused and be strong on what you’re good at. We are growing, evolving.

all clothing and accessories by COPERNI SS23


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