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Collina Strada AW21
Collina Strada AW21Courtesy of Collina Strada

Why is the runway so trippy right now?

A side effect of lockdown, a psychedelic renaissance, or just a sign of the times? We explore why hallucinogenic looks are hot right now

It would be something of an understatement to suggest that reality feels pretty strange right now. By day, we stare at the same four walls, slobbing out in front of Netflix and endlessly doomscrolling through social media, before night rolls around and we drop off into our freaky lockdown dreams. Then we wake up and do it all over again. It’s all a bit much, tbh – so it’s no wonder that fashion, like the rest of us, is looking for an escape. Turning its back on the face masks, government-mandated exercise, and national lockdowns that rule our daily lives, the industry has gotten big into psychedelia for 2021. 

With pyschedelia first sweeping across the western world in the 1960s when hippie culture collided with LSD in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, the trend was further fuelled in London as the Beatles opened their Apple Boutique in 1967 – serving up handwoven kaleidoscopic printed silks, satins and velvets to the capital’s cool young things. By the time the 70s rolled around, designers including Halston and Yves Saint Laurent were getting in on it too, experimenting with tie-dye, fringing, and crazy-quilting on the catwalk. 

This season, however, the runway felt more hallucinogenic than ever, as eyeball-trembling details sprang up among collections by Raf Simons, Collina Strada, Maisie Wilen, Matty Bovan, and more. More specifically, psilocybin crept in too, with shrooms punctuating Jonathan Anderson, Marc Jacobs, and Ashish’s recent offerings. It’s certainly not the first time the runway has rolled under its models feet, but this time, the trend feels even more pervasive – seeping into our lives as well as our wardrobes. Trippy fashion feels like an apt response to the world right now. Here, we unpack the reasons why.


When you consider our waking hours are plagued with anxiety about the fact that we are living through a literal plague it’s no surprise we’re tossing and turning our way through some crazy dreams night after night. If you had freaky nightmares before the pandemic, lord only knows what they look like right now. 

Capturing the curious sense of unease that comes from these dreams for AW21 was Collina Strada, who (with a little help from OG Animorphs artist David Mattingly) transformed her model cast into frogs, lizards, and dinosaurs in a series of Kafkaesque gifs. Sure, the clothes were cute – all clashing prints and hallucinogenic florals, forming a contemporary take on the classic hippie lewk – but more importantly, the show gave way to daydreams of how nice it would be to actually evolve into another life form and hop off into your pond, blissfully unaware of the shitshow going on around you. 

Meanwhile, at Raf Simons’ SS21 show, the Belgian designer went out-and-out nightmarish, sending Children of the Corn-esque models through a sinister, dimly-lit house. With the vacant, wide-eyed troupe crawling out from the walls and lingering in dark corners dripping in swirling, 60s-indebted prints, it was as if he’d invited us into his own unsettling fever dream or LSD trip gone awry. 


To cope with the aforementioned sense of doom that comes with living through this pandemic, countless people are turning to psychedelics like magic mushrooms, truffles, and acid to take the edge off. Sure, you might physically be trapped in your dingy house share in zone four – but that doesn’t mean your mind has to be. Historically, psychedelic fashion trends have coincided with the popularity of psychedelic substances – think the LSD boom in the 60s.

Some have suggested lockdown triggered a ‘psychedelic renaissance’ as more young people experimented with everything from acid trips to microdosing mushrooms to escape the monotony of their heavily restricted daily lives. It seems like they’re on to something. A study published last summer suggests that psychedelic drug users are more accepting of distressing situations – which tbh, sounds like a pretty useful skill to have right now.


Love them or loathe them, digital fashion weeks are a pandemic mainstay. What they lack in free popcorn, Fiji water, and awkward filler conversations on the frow, digital shows make up for in imagination. Without the physical restrictions of the traditional runway show, otherworldly visuals can run riot, taking psychedelic fashion to a universe it’s never reached before.

Take Matty Bovan, for example. The London designer’s crazed, glitchy fashion film – which told of technicolour sailors lost at sea – offered up giant sequins and glittering beads that flashed hypnotically under strobe-lighting. We might still be far from returning to sweaty basement clubs that reverberate with chest-churning techno, but Bovan’s short offered a blurry, visceral reminder of times past, as well as a glinting beacon of the wild nights – and even wilder comedowns – that are yet to come.


From the global Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020, to the Kill The Bill outcry that recently swept the UK, lockdown has galvanised us into some of the greatest political movements in modern history – both online and off. 

Psychedelic fashion has typically been associated with eras of socio-political change; the youth movements of the 60s and the anti-Vietnam War dissent of the 70s, for example. This season’s trippy fashions spoke to the atmosphere as well as the aesthetics of the 60s, when the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Lib were in full swing. The bright colours and crazy prints that define psychedelic fashion are bursting with contagious joy and optimism, and allowing yourself to feel optimistic and hopeful about the future is vital when it comes to pushing for change. Perhaps it’s time to slip some on.