For millennia humanity has turned its face to the night sky and wondered what more lies out there, among the stars. Thirty years after his successful Apollo II mission to the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong reflected that: “The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet…our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.”
As an expression of future ideas, fashion invites those with a creative mind to contemplate the sheer possibilities offered by the indefinable reaches of the universe. Fascinated with the promises of space travel and technology, the iconography of space has seeped into the fashion consciousness since the 1960s, becoming synonymous with hope, progress and, ultimately, the challenging of boundaries. This has become more relevant than ever in 2017, as designers explore their visions of the future through the prism of space.
The 1960s were a decade embodied by freedom and innovation, when culture and art embraced the explosion of technology and looked ahead to what the future might be. While Armstrong and his fellow astronauts raced to be the first to reach the moon, cult space films Barbarella and 2001: A Space Odyssey were released, each showcasing exciting future worlds and wonderful new technologies for humanity to discover.
At the same time, fashion designers Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne and André Courrèges débuted collections inspired by space. Searching to offer an answer to the idea of dressing for the future, they worked with striking metallic palettes, geometric silhouettes and cutting-edge synthetic fabrics to offer a utopian vision of what the coming years promised. Mini-skirts, vinyl dresses and graphic patterns further signalled a revolt against the past, bringing a modernist touch to wardrobes and a complete dismissal of old gender norms and sartorial rules.
In recent years space has returned to the fashion consciousness, proposing a unique vision of the future while referencing the iconoclastic imagery of the 1960s. Declaring that “the ultimate expression of the future is space”, Donatella Versace offered an out-of-this-world menswear collection for Autumn/Winter 16. Riffing on classic NASA jackets and Star Trek-inspired uniforms, she presented a vision of a future enriched with the potential offered by 21st century space travel. The fascination with futuristic fashion continued into Spring/Summer 17, with Fyodar Golan presenting spliced metallic dresses alongside ultramodern hair and makeup, and Chanel showcasing uber-chic space robots complete with Stormtrooper-esque helmets.
The trend thrived in the Autumn/Winter 17 shows too, with designers offering everything from galaxy and spaceman prints to shiny metallics and futuristic silhouettes. Christopher Kane showed flying saucer prints, iridescent fabrics and space ship-worthy boots, while at Mugler there were distended shoulder pads and dresses reminiscent of classic sci-fi costumes. The final frontier was reached at the Chanel Autumn/Winter 17 show in the Grand Palais in Paris, where the set featured a live rocket launch complete with a Chanel-logoed rocket.
Image from Hollywood Reporter
Fashion’s return to the iconography of space can be traced to a number of factors. Similarities between the present and the 1960s, the decade of the original space race, can be seen across the political and scientific spheres. The toxic relationship between America and Russia dominates our news stories, while nuclear arms are as contentious as ever. The new 21st century space race is on to land the first manned mission on Mars, which is predicted to occur within our lifetime. China is also battling to launch their first space station into orbit and Virgin Galactic promises to create the world’s first commercial “spaceline” within the next few decades.
In cultural terms, David Bowie’s passing in early 2016 triggered a wave of Starman-era nostalgia across the creative industries, with tributes appearing in fashion collections as diverse as Burberry and Katie Eary’s men’s Autumn/Winter 17 collections.
This nostalgia for Bowie and 1960’s iconography is tempered with something more akin to hope. With melancholy and introspection a modern day symptom of the horrors that humanity is currently experiencing, is it any wonder that fashion has started looking to space for inspiration for the future? As Karl Lagerfeld succinctly said at the Chanel Autumn/Winter 17 show: “It’s not that great down here at the moment, so we go somewhere else.”
Both the need to escape and a hope for a new, more improved future is grounded in the human experience. With the current explosion of futuristic fashion and space-themed collections, we can see that fashion, and the rest of the world, is once again turning its faces to the skies and wondering what more the stars hold. “Leave the future to your imagination and not to your fears,” Lagerfeld encouraged after his recent rocket launch.