The London sci-fi fest is in town – get in the mood with models vacuum-packed in plastic, runway lightning and cyborg bodysuits
Given fashion’s forward-looking nature, it’s unsurprising that designers have often turned to science fiction and its associated futurism for inspiration. The distinctive costumes from cult sci-fi flicks have proved lasting influences – from Jean Paul Gaultier’s looks in The Fifth Element to the punk-rock garb in Blade Runner and the robot from 1927 silent film Metropolis (which has been embraced by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Thierry Mugler). To mark the start of London’s sci-fi film festival, which kicks off today, we’ve compiled a list of fashion’s standout science fiction moments: get ready for LED lights, animatronic dresses and out-of-this-world couture.
PACO RABANNE KICKSTARTS SPACE AGE FASHION
Way before wearable tech, designer Paco Rabanne was at the helm of the 60s Space Age fashion movement thanks to his use of unconventional materials, making clothes from plastics and metals. Indeed, his inaugural 1966 collection was titled ‘12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials’, his signature dresses comprising of plastic discs or aluminium plates strung in a way that was reminiscent of chainmail. Rabanne extended his popular sci-fi reach when he designed the costumes for 1968 cult classic Barbarella, which is set in the 41st century. As for today, under the direction of Julien Dossena, the fashion house has been returning to its futuristic roots – AW15 featured chainmail skirts, sheer nylon and perspex wedge boots.
HUSSEIN CHALAYAN’S TRANSFORMING DRESS
British-Cypriot designer Hussein Chalayan is the master of metamorphosis. The designer views technology as “a way of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” and his dedication to tech-savvy sartorialism was particularly evident in his SS07 show: ‘transformer dresses’ changed shape as models stood on the runway, the micro-motor-powered garments creeping across their wearers’ bodies as sleeves shortened and hems lifted. In a poetic paradox, the actual aesthetics of these über-modern pieces were old-fashioned, with Victorian styles morphing into flapper silhouettes. For AW07 Chalayan paid homage to the digital era with his ‘video’ dress, which was made from 15,000 LED lights and played pixelated cityscape scenes.
GIVENCHY’S AW99 CYBORGS
British fashion’s enfant terrible Alexander McQueen has caused a stir when reflecting on the past (see his Highland Rape show for AW95) and when prophesying about the future. Some of his standout moments in the latter category came in the AW99 season, during his time at the helm of Givenchy. Held on the brink of the millennium, his show saw models channel robots, their bodysuits covered in neat configurations of LED lights which conjured visions of a human circuit board. McQueen stuck to the non-human theme for that season’s haute couture collection, where glowing automaton figures rose from the ground and proceeded to rotate on the spot.
IRIS VAN HERPEN’S RUNWAY EXPERIMENTS
Iris Van Herpen, the celebrated ‘fashion alchemist’ who was the first designer to create a 3D printed dress, has long explored our dynamic relationship with science and the digital world. Her visionary brand of sartorialism reached a climax with her human installation for AW14, titled ‘Biopiracy.’ In an uncomfortable voyeuristic display, mannequin-like models were vacuum-packed in plastic – similar to a piece of sous-vide supermarket meat – and suspended several feet above the ground. It wasn’t the first time the Dutch designer had turned fashion show into larger-than-life science experiment: her SS13 Haute Couture show, ‘Voltage’ began with lightning-like electrical flashes emanating from a model standing on a pedestal.
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN: PLATO’S ATLANTIS
It wasn’t just at Givenchy that McQueen felt futuristic – he was back on the sci-fi trail with his outlandish SS10 show, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ – simultaneously his final finished collection and the first fashion show to ever be live-streamed online. Suzy Menkes called it a “techno revolution”, although the show’s high demand temporarily broke the internet, or rather SHOWstudio, who were behind the stream. McQueen imagined a post-apocalyptic world where global warming and melting icecaps condemned humans to a life under water: models stalked the luminous blue runway wearing reptilian dresses and clawlike shoes, their hair styled into towering, alien shapes. It was an extraterrestrial extravaganza.
Sci-fi London runs from the 29th May - 7th June across selected London cinemas. For information visit sci-fi-london.com