Gold nanoparticle research and... Versace

Antwerp electron microscope images featured in Versace campaign

Fashion brand links new collection to gold nanoparticle research by Prof. Sara Bals (UAntwerp)

Most people wouldn't suspect there's a link between supermodel Claudia Schiffer and the powerful electron microscopes at the University of Antwerp. And yet: the latest campaign from fashion house Versace features images of gold nanoparticles, partly made in Antwerp.

The Electron Microscopy for Materials Science (EMAT) research group at the University of Antwerp specialises in studying nanomaterials down to the scale of individual atoms. The scientists do this with the help of very powerful electron microscopes. Detailed mapping of the properties of nanoparticles is crucial, especially for medical and industrial applications.

World class

The Antwerp researchers are among the finest in the world, having published various papers in top journals such as Nature and Science. Several of them receive funding through a prestigious European Research Grant. PhD students from all over the world come to Campus Groenenborger, where the electron microscopes work almost 24/7 to give everyone the opportunity to conduct research.

The patterns of the gold nanoparticles are reflected in the Versace collection.

It's safe to say the EMAT team have been around the block, but when they learned the iconic Versace fashion house was interested in a collaboration, they were perplexed. 'That wasn't a request we were expecting at all', laughs Prof. Sara Bals. 'Versace came to us through the CIC BiomaGUNE laboratory in San Sebastian, Spain, led by Luis Liz-Marzán. We've been working together with our Spanish colleagues for many years now. They send us nanomaterials, and we then characterise the structure and composition of those materials in great detail.'

Like a chameleon

Versace became intrigued by the changing properties of gold nanoparticles. Bals: 'Gold at the macro level, as we know it, is a very stable material. But at the nano level it's a different story: the gold particles change colour, a bit like a chameleon, depending on their shape and size. It's amazing how accurately different shapes can be made. And particles that have the same shape will tend to arrange themselves, a bit like an antique mosaic.'

‘A question from Versace, we didn't expect that right away,’ says Prof. Sara Bals.

The fashion house developed a campaign titled 'Gold: Versace to the last atom', which was launched on 29 April 2024. The campaign emphasises the similarities between the patterns of the gold nanoparticles and those in the fashion brand's clothing and accessories. Supermodel Claudia Schiffer is one of the models showing an ensemble adorned with a 'nanoprint'.

'We love seeing our images used this way', says Sara Bals. 'Obviously fashion isn't exactly our core business as scientists, but we're certainly very proud of this collaboration with Versace.'