In preparation for her head-turning appearance at the 2019 Met Gala, Kim Kardashian met with the fashion designer Thierry Mugler to conceptualize her look. “Who are you, actually?” the designer asked her, according to Mr. Mugler’s manager at the time. “How would you define yourself?”
When she responded, “I’m just a California girl,” Mr. Mugler decided he was going to make her just that, the manager, Jean-Baptiste Rougeot, recalled.
“He said: ‘Yes, this is it! She is going to be directly out of the ocean, out of Malibu, directly onto the red carpet in New York,’” Mr. Rougeot said.
Inspired by Sophia Loren’s turn as a Greek sponge diver in the 1957 film “Boy on a Dolphin,” which features a scene in which the actress emerges from the waters of the Aegean, a sopping-wet shirt dress clinging to her chest like a second skin, Mr. Mugler, who died in 2022, wanted to use “wetness” to celebrate Ms. Kardashian’s curvaceous figure.
“The idea of the dress was really it has to look very simple, dangerous and just with a nip around the waist,” Mr. Rougeot said, “but completely dripping.”
Trompe l’oeil effects have long been a mainstay of fashion, like Elsa Schiaparelli’s bow-that-wasn’t-a-bow sweater in the 1920s and the false fingers and toes that reliably appear in her house’s more recent runway presentations. Designers often turn to the natural world for inspiration, mimicking organic matter with the more traditional materials of the fashion world (or the reverse: Karl Lagerfeld memorably made sequins out of wood for Chanel).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, water itself — the one constant of life as we know it — has been a durable favorite of fashion designers. By studying water droplets, they have developed different techniques to craft the illusion that their garments are soaked in, splashed with or simply accented by water. The effect has no shortage of fans, attracting attention in luxury as well as more-affordable fashion. After all, water can never go fully out of style.
For Ms. Kardashian, the drenched effect was achieved in several steps. First, to make the body of the dress look wet, silk organza — a fabric that wrinkles naturally — was layered over liquid silicone. Some 100,000 translucent sequins in three nude shades were then embroidered to accentuate the shadows that would be present in a genuinely wet dress.
Finally, to create the illusion of having just emerged from water, Mr. Rougeot visited a vintage store in Paris to scout for crystals.
“Some of them are glass beads; some of them are crystals,” he said. “They were sewed with fishing thread to be completely transparent.”
Replicating the visual effect of a water droplet, of course, is easier said than done. Graham Cooks, a professor of analytical chemistry at Purdue University, pointed to the specific strengths of using crystals for that purpose.
“Crystals have got facets: That gives you this light effect, it gives you this multiple reflection effect,” Professor Cooks said. “So it also breaks up light and gives you some of the rainbow patterns.”
Olina Bak, the founder of Drool jewelry, began creating her brand’s signature water-droplet jewelry out of homesickness for her native Greece, while she was abroad in London and it was raining.
“It just came to me while I was looking at the raindrops falling on my windows,” Ms. Bak said. “I was like, OK, I would like to try and imitate that somehow.”
To mimic the shape of water drops, which by nature vary in size, Ms. Bak makes all her necklaces by hand, drip by drip, using UV resin, a viscous substance that cures only under ultraviolet light.
At the London premiere of “Barbie” last month, the Irish actress Nicola Coughlan may not have looked as if she came directly out of the water, but the crystals on her custom look by Wiederhoeft created an impression that wasn’t too far-off.
The brand’s founder, Jackson Wiederhoeft, said the effect was achieved using a combination of two styles of beading.
“There’s one that’s become kind of a signature for us that we do with these glass, faceted beads, where it has this almost liquid metal effect,” the designer said. “Then we also have been really kind of getting into this chandelier crystal embroidery, where we’re using actual chandelier crystals to create these larger-than-life effects of light.”
The influencer Isabelle Allain (known to her followers as IzziPoopi), who cultivated a substantial following on TikTok in large part because of her style instincts, recently demonstrated the creation of what she calls a “dry wet dress” for her 1.3 million followers on the platform.
“On TikTok, I find quirky pieces are interesting,” Ms. Allain said during a video call, holding up pieces of her small collection to the camera. Her favorites, she added, are usually wet-looking clothes, because they have “so much texture, so much illusion, and it can be done in so many different ways.”
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