Opening Saturday in London, a blockbuster fashion exhibition at The Design Museum is transporting visitors backstage at London Fashion Week via augmented reality (AR) in an experience powered by Snapchat maker Snap. 

Sponsored by fashion house Alexander McQueen, “Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion” celebrates London’s fashion talent of the last three decades. Looks on show at the multimedia exhibition include Marjan Pejoski’s “swan dress” worn by Icelandic musician Björk at the 2001 Oscars, Harry Styles’ Steven Stokey-Daley outfit from his “Golden” music video, and the inflatable latex suit by HARRI that Sam Smith wore for this year’s BRIT Awards.

Visitors can interact with Snap’s technology in the exhibition’s “Backstage Pass” area, where it brings to life that all-important pre-show prep via AR. 

The London Design Museum's "Backstage Pass" exhibit. Image: Snap

Augmented reality lenses developed exclusively for the exhibition are deployed on a bank of AR vanity mirrors, letting visitors try on hair and makeup looks that are featured in the shows of London Fashion Week designers.

Each lens replicates one of nine hair and makeup looks from their respective designers. These include the extreme face paint showcased by Charles Jeffrey Loverboy for spring 2018, the Klein blue hair and makeup that newcomer Chet Lo sent out for spring 2023, and the Richard Quinn floral motorcycle helmet that walked his fall 2018 runway—which was attended by the late Queen Elizabeth II.

The lenses use machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to create photorealistic AR hair styles. Meanwhile, the makeup looks have been created using facial tracking technology to understand the construct of different faces.

Looks that feature jewelry, or Richard Quinn’s helmet for example, employ ray tracing technology which more accurately simulates how light interacts with reflective surfaces. Snap introduced its ray tracing functionality last year with Tiffany & Co. at the luxury brand’s London exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, where visitors could wear the famous 128.54 yellow-carat Tiffany Diamond in AR.

Augmented reality looks from the exhibit. Image: Snap

The mirrors combine Snap’s technology with Apple’s iPad Pro tablet hardware, as devised by Snap’s Paris AR studio. Visitors can trigger each different lens experience via hand-tracking technology, swiping their hand across their face after selecting their chosen look via the vanity mirror’s touchscreen.

Snap’s AR tech was most recently deployed at the US Open tennis tournament, where visitors to the Tiffany & Co. booth could take virtual swings with a diamond-encrusted tennis racquet.

All of the designers featured in the exhibition, including household names Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Erdem, Kim Jones, J.W. Anderson, Molly Goddard, and Grace Wales Bonner, are alumni of NEWGEN. The initiative was established by the British Fashion Council in 1993 to support the UK’s emerging fashion design talent.

The Design Museum show, co-curated by BFC Ambassador for Emerging Talent Sarah Mower MBE and the Design Museum’s Senior Curator Rebecca Lewin, runs until February 11, 2024.

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