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Why the fashion of The Matrix feels really relevant right now

Plug us in, please

A few weeks ago, I was in my Paris hotel room after a long day of menswear shows, when there was a knock at the door. I opened it, and the porter handed me a white padded envelope with my name on. I tore it open and turned it upside down – out fell a black mobile phone, which immediately started ringing. No, it wasn’t Morpheus, patriarch of The Matrix, calling to urge me to jump out of a window to escape the arrival of identical suit-wearing agents (as he does to protagonist Neo in one of the 1999 film’s pivotal scenes), but a text from a brand inviting me to their show the next day.

I don’t know whether the nod to the Wachowski sisters’ film was intentional, but The Matrix had been on my mind for a while – only a few weeks earlier, I’d invited myself over to a friend’s house to watch it super-sized on his projector. I’d then had my dark hair cut short, parted to the side, and started slicking it with gel, with Trinity’s signature crop very firmly in mind. I finally got around to replacing the button on the leather trousers I’ve had in my wardrobe for years, and started trawling eBay for PVC.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of rewatching The Matrix lately, here’s a quick refresher. Hacker protagonist Neo is pulled out of the tedium of his daily life by the mysterious Morpheus and offered a choice: to take a red pill to see the world as it really is, or take a blue pill to go back to the monotony of his office-cubicle day job. The reality? That humans aren’t living in the real world – they’re a race enslaved by the robots they created, farmed for their energy. Their minds are plugged in to a simulation that shows them acting out their lives, when in reality they’re dreaming. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you know its aesthetic – lots of black, leather, billowing coats and tiny shades.

So what does this have to do with fashion today? Hear me out. Bella Hadid stepped out this week in black leather trousers and a blazer, topped off with super-skinny dark glasses. Kim Kardashian, too, was out and about in LA in a leather duster and shades. Black vinyl is #trending (a quick search on ASOS brings up over 100 items), and on the runway, slimline sunnies are definitely a thing – see Balenciaga AW17 womenswear, and Prada’s SS18 shades – which bear an uncanny resemblance to Trinity’s. Admittedly there hasn’t been an abundance of shiny trenchcoats, but more than one coolly futuristic SS18 Louis Vuitton look was very Trinity 2018 (see here and here). Not to mention the fact there’s something extremely Yeezy about the ripped, neutral-toned knits the red-pillers wear on-board their hovercraft when they aren’t plugged into the Matrix.

The Matrix feels relevant right now because we’re living in times of extreme unreality”

You’d need to have been hidden under a rock the size of a football pitch not to know that the late 90s/early 00s are back, but there’s more to it than that. The Matrix feels relevant right now because we’re living in times of extreme unreality. Nevermind Donald Trump’s habit of insisting lies are truth – this is the era of celebrity AI porn, Sophia the Robot being given a passport, and Kanye West creating an army of Kim Kardashian clones. Instead of Agent Smiths tracing our every move, we have memes about the FBI guys who watch us from our webcams. Even Instagram influencers are 3D generated avatars, and in old people’s homes, virtual reality headsets are being given to residents so they can turn on, tune in, and drop out.

And without sounding too much like that stoned dog meme, there’s also the glaring fact that we are all constantly plugged into the matrix of social media – its manipulated landscape of performative happiness stretches into infinity, and the only thing to do is scroll. Like in the film, which was inspired by (and makes direct reference to) Jean Bauldrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, we’re used to the lines between simulation and reality being indeterminable, the fake landscape of Instagram appearing more perfect and more real than real life itself. The chance of unplugging from all that? Slim to zero. So what’s left to do but don some skinny shades, black leathers, and try and tear it down from inside?