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Cyprus-designed bag really is ‘light as air’

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The Air Swipe Bag – ‘a piece of sky you can hold’ made its way to Paris Fashion Week in just 90 days. SARA DOUEDARI meets the Larnaca-based scientist behind it

 When science fiction becomes fashion’s new reality, the result is groundbreaking. This was vividly showcased at Coperni’s Fall/Winter 2024 runway show during Paris Fashion Week, where the Air Swipe Bag, a collaboration with founding dean at the American University of Cyprus, Professor Ioannis Michaloudis, made its stunning debut. This isn’t just any fashion accessory; it’s a testament to the limitless possibilities at the intersection of science, art and couture.

Crafted from NASA-produced silica aerogel, the Air Swipe Bag is a marvel of modern design and engineering. Silica aerogel, developed initially to capture stardust, is known as the lightest solid material on Earth. Michaloudis has been at the forefront of integrating this extraordinary material into the fine arts and now, high fashion.

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Ioannis Michaloudis

He embarked on a remarkable challenge when Coperni approached him with an ambitious request: to create the Air Swipe Bag for their upcoming fashion week show and to do it in just 90 days. Recognised for his work with silica aerogel, a material he characterises as “99 per cent air and one per cent glass, yet strong enough to bear the pressure of 4,000 times its weight,” Michaloudis was ready to redefine the limits of fashion design.

“The journey began with a fascination for aerogel’s ethereal qualities almost 21 years ago,” he explains. “Working with Coperni on the Air Swipe Bag, we aimed to create something beautiful, functional and utterly unique – akin to crafting a piece of the sky you can hold.” His initial suggestion to put the bag in plexiglass for runway protection was set aside by Coperni, who favoured showcasing the bag’s standalone allure, and underscoring its potential to revolutionise perceptions of materiality and design.

Michaloudis faced significant logistical challenges, notably in acquiring the specialised chemicals mainly from Germany required for working with aerogel that can not be transported by plane. Overcoming these obstacles in such a short timeframe underscored the innovative spirit and dedication of his team.

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The bag on the runway, photo by Romylia Michaloudi

Michaloudis says aerogel offers a “a new medium for artistic expression.” Its ability to withstand extreme temperatures (1,200C) and pressure not only makes it ideal for space missions but also introduces a novel material into the realm of high fashion and beyond. “Why stop at the stars? We’re bringing this space-age material down to Earth, infusing it into everyday life,” Michaloudis enthuses.

The egg-shaped, nearly transparent clutch produced marks a significant milestone in redefining the boundaries of design and material science. The bag’s lightweight nature (weighing about 33g) belies its robustness. Michaloudis says aerogel is capable of withstanding “three times the speed of a bullet,” underscoring why NASA chose it for collecting stardust. The light-blue colour, reminiscent of the sky, is the result of light refracting through the material’s nanopores, adding an ethereal quality to the bag.

This bag symbolises more than an innovative use of material; it reflects a sustainable future beyond fashion. With the world increasingly focused on environmental sustainability, the use of materials like silica aerogel in everyday life could signify a shift towards more eco-friendly practices. The Air Swipe Bag, despite its lightness and seemingly delicate nature, is durable and reusable, challenging the disposable culture that pervades much of the fashion industry.

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the bag, photo and courtesy Michaloudis

Michaloudis’ collaboration with Coperni on this project bridges the gap between science and art. “The material is between something that does and something that does not exist. It too is in this in-between state, like an angelic state.” This ‘in-between space’, as he calls it, emphasises the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in driving innovation. “Artists and scientists approach problems differently, but when we collaborate, we unlock new potentials. My role is to navigate these worlds, to find a harmony between beauty and truth, aesthetics and functionality,” Michaloudis says.

The Air Swipe Bag also poses questions about the functionality of fashion accessories. While some may wonder about the practical aspects of such an innovative item, Coperni reassures that it can indeed hold the essentials, and is similar to other bags in the brand’s line. In the end, Michaloudis’ work and Coperni’s vision offer a compelling narrative: that the future of fashion lies not just in the materials we use but in how we reimagine their potential. The Air Swipe Bag is a prime example of this future, one where fashion, science, and sustainability come together into something truly extraordinary.

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