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These amazing Met Gala looks took more than a thousand hours of 3D printing

Designer Zac Posen used additive manufacturing to create wearable sculptures for partygoers.
Animated gif of Zac Posen's 3D printed dress design
Animated gif of Zac Posen's 3D printed dress designZac Posen/Protolabs/GE Additive

Last night, 3D printing made an appearance in an area you might not expect: the Met Gala.

The fund-raising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is famous  for the impressive, wild, and avant-garde looks worn by some of the biggest celebrities. This year, five of the outfits flaunted massive 3D-printed components, all created by designer Zac Posen in collaboration with GE Additive and Protolabs. The four gowns and one headdress, worn by the likes of Jourdan Dunn and Katie Holmes, took six months to put together.

Each of the women wearing the 3D-printed outfits was scanned in advance to ensure that the pieces could be modeled with design software to perfectly fit her body.

The pieces were primarily created using stereolithography (SLA) to get the high-quality finishes Posen was seeking. This method of 3D printing uses an ultraviolet laser to slowly cure a pool of resin. One layer at a time, the laser fires into the resin in a pattern dictated by a computer in which the 3D model has been loaded. The result is a hardened, smooth sculpture that is then painted or polished.

The most intensive look, modeled after rose petals and worn by British model Jourdan Dunn, took more than 1,100 hours to create. “We never intended for these parts to be easy, and we wanted to push the limit a bit,” says Eric Utley, an applications engineer at Protolabs.

An image of actresses at the Met Gala wearing 3D printed Zac Posen desings
Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff / Getty

This isn’t the first time Posen has used 3D printing or incorporated technology on the Met Gala red carpet. His iconic look for actress Claire Danes incorporated hundreds of fiber-optic lights interwoven into organza to create a glowing dress. Posen has also made a backpack incorporating 3D-printed elements.

These looks are beautiful artistic creations, but they do emphasize why 3D printing hasn’t yet moved off the runways and into your closet. While I would absolutely be willing to suffer under the weight of a 30-pound dress for the Met Gala, sitting at your desk in a rigid plastic structure is far from ideal.

“Those dresses can get expensive and heavy, and hundreds of hours of work went into making those designs and printing,” says Amie Danielle Dansby, a cosplayer and software developer who has 3D-printed her own outfits before. “I would love to see more approaches of clothing being 3D-printed that you could wear or sit down in it. Or even actually wash in the washer.”

Designer Danit Peleg has created more wearable 3D-printed garments using a more flexible material called Filaflex. Her 3D-printed textiles allow for greater movement, but they require a fabric lining underneath. Her custom-printed jacket is hardly cheap: you can grab one for $1,500. 

But the Met Gala is not about practicality and wearability. It’s about making a statement. “I don’t think 3D printing will ever replace traditional fabrics, but when you are talking custom one-off items, things meant for one person for an event, 3D printing is an excellent option,” says Mara Hitner, director of business development for the 3D-printing company MatterHackers.

Posen’s work does show a greater shift into increased use of 3D printing by high-level fashion designers. As the technology improves in terms of detail, finish, and ease of use, it’s moving out of niche runway shows and into some of fashion’s biggest events.

Check out the looks and the details about them below:

An image of Jourdann Dunn in a 3D printed dress
Getty | Highwire Public Relations

Jourdan Dunn

Each of the 21 petals on the dress weighs a pound and cost $3,000 to create. The petals were connected to an interior 3D-printed frame that brought the total weight up to 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms). That’s even after the engineers worked to reduce the weight of the petals after the first one was too heavy. The dress took more than 1,100 hours to put together.

An image of Nina Dobrev in a 3D printed dress
Getty | Highwire Public Relations

Nina Dobrev

The dress is created from four connecting pieces and took 200 hours to create.

An image of Katie Holmes in a 3D printed collar
Getty | Highwire Public Relations

Katie Holmes

While most of this look is made of fabric, the palm leaf collar was 3D-printed. It took 56 hours to manufacture.

An image of Julia Garner in a 3D printed headdress
Getty | Highwire Public Relations

Julia Garner

The quickest print on the red carpet last night was this headpiece. It was created in one complete piece in 22 hours. This was the only look created on a multi-jet fusion machine rather than a stereolithography printer. MJF lays down powder one layer at a time, fusing it together into an object.

An image of Deepika Padukone in a dress adorned with 3D printed embellishments
Getty | Highwire Public Relations

Deepika Padukone

This look took a different approach. The 3D prints were sewn onto the completed garment as embellishments. The 408 decorations took 160 hours to print.

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