How do you top the most viral moment of last fashion season: Bella Hadid being spray-painted into a dress?

Coperni designers Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant sought to create more buzzy images by sending robot dogs onto the runway, leading to a standoff between model Rianne Van Rompaey and a quadruped machine that created a palpable sense of unease.

It was one of five eerily lifelike Spot robots built by U.S. firm Boston Dynamics, using a form of AI called “athletic intelligence” that allows it to climb stairs, avoid obstacles and cross difficult terrain with little or no input from users, according to the company’s web site.

While Boston Dynamics pledges it won’t allow the robots to be used as weapons, they’ve been employed in military training exercises in France, namely to help with reconnaissance.  

Meyer and Vaillant based the interaction on “The Wolf and the Lamb,” a fable by 17th-century French author Jean de la Fontaine on the survival of the strongest. Guess who was the lamb? 

The automated creature leaned into Van Rompaey’s face before clutching her jacket in its mechanical jaw and tearing it off. Turning her back, she casually took back the proferred jacket before walking away – a rewrite of the original ending. “We want to show with this show that at the end, we can all live in harmony,” Meyer explained backstage.

Once again, the performance – recalling Alexander McQueen’s 1998 show featuring Shalom Harlow and a spray-painting robot – overshadowed the collection, which was peppered with other mini viral moments.

These included the presence of Eden Dambrine, star of the Oscar-nominated Belgian drama “Close,” who opened the show; Deva Cassel, daughter of Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, as a Goth version of Little Red Riding Hood; and a new rendition of the brand’s signature Swipe bag made with a 55,000-year-old meteorite.

Somewhere in between, there were draped dresses fastened with oversized silver brooches shaped like emojis, and outfits featuring prints generated with AI software DALL-E that were subsequently repainted by hand. Vaillant is confident the technology won’t make them jobless.

“It’s like when we were younger: internet, the iPhone, all those things were scary for some people, but we do believe it’s the future,” he said. “It will never replace the emotion of the things we can create as humans, but it can actually help to go faster. We played so much with this AI thing, we went into so many different worlds, it actually really excited our creativity.”

Clearly, the show failed to reassure the audience about the benign nature of machine learning. After the designers took their bow, guests sat in silence as the robot dogs, flanked by their human operators, remained in the center of the room. Nobody wanted to make the first move. 

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