Is fu­tur­is­tic fash­ion pre­scient or just play­ing make-be­lieve? Clara Young ex­plores.

ELLE (Canada) - - Content - By Clara Young

Why is fash­ion so ob­sessed with “the fu­ture”?

the fu­tur­is­tic trend in fash­ion is back this sea­son, with brands like Louis Vuit­ton, Loewe, Chanel, Mai­son Margiela and Edun stick­ing an ex­per­i­men­tal toe in the wa­ters of what may come. The hall­marks of the trend are not sub­tle: Prada em­barked on a space odyssey, with or­bital earrings dan­gling off the mod­els and wo­ven mesh lay­ered over tra­di­tional hound­stooth jack­ets, while Thomas Tait gave the ’60s-era de­signs he sent down the run­way a Jet­sons jolt, with crys­tal-ball em­broi­dery and oc­cult-look­ing port­holes. Tait em­braced the ex­trater­res­trial in­spi­ra­tion, ex­plain­ing that “the embroidered cir­cles with 3-D outer rings looked quite sharp and me­chan­i­cal, while the art­work sus­pended in­side the cir­cles [on the sheer back­ing] ap­peared to float in air like a cos­mic screen­shot of a con­stel­la­tion.”

Space-age de­tails on the cat­walk have be­come syn­ony­mous with the fu­tur­is­tic trend to­day, but the de­tails them­selves haven’t changed all that much since the ’60s, de­spite the fact that our grasp of the con­cept of “the fu­ture” it­self should be leaps and bounds ahead. Or should it? If the fu­tur­is­tic trend in fash­ion is so easy to rec­og­nize, can it re­ally be con­sid­ered clair­voy­ant?

To start, the ubiq­ui­tous over­lay of braided and knot­ted mesh and lat­tice that is a galac­tic leit­mo­tif of the col­lec­tions is ac­tu­ally a 21stcen­tury up­date of the chain-mail minidresses Paco Ra­banne con­structed with a pair of pli­ers in the years be­fore the 1969 moon land­ing. Ra­banne, along with Pierre Cardin and An­dré Cour­règes, pi­o­neered fu­tur­is­tic fash­ion in the ’60s. But, un­like his con­tem­po­raries, Ra­banne took no is­sue with the h

idea that the fu­ture is of­ten a ren­di­tion of the past. It is for this rea­son that his gar­ments of chain-link geo­met­ric leather, plas­tic and sheet-metal pieces are more Joan of Arc than they are robotic. In an in­ter­view in The New York Times over a decade ago, Ra­banne said: “It is im­pos­si­ble to­day to be a fu­tur­ist […] We can only be deca­dent—you copy the past or are con­tem­po­rary.”

True to Ra­banne’s word, there is a great deal of deca­dence in this sea­son’s take on fu­tur­ism. And the time travel we’re wit­ness­ing on the cat­walk to­day is still spin­ning us back­wards. At Mai­son Margiela, for in­stance, there was sil­ver eye makeup and match­ing gloves and hair rolled up like the repli­cant Rachael’s from Blade Run­ner, but the coats had a broad ’50s cut to them, and the geisha en­sem­bles read Ja­panese Edo pe­riod. And at Louis Vuit­ton, de­spite the stag­ing (the show opened with a colour-blocked dig­i­tal in­stal­la­tion rem­i­nis­cent of a video game’s al­ter­nate re­al­ity) and the minidresses embroidered with cel­lu­loid to look metal­lic, the New Ro­man­tic pirate shirts, peas­ant blouses and Romeo Gigli-like trousers were in­spi­ra­tions from a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago. The ev­i­dence that the past is al­ways for­warded into the fu­ture is in the de­tails, ex­cept this time around, the fu­ture is a mere ac­ces­sory. It is a bit player in a cos­tume drama: a cou­ple of dots un­der the eyes, a pair of smooth irides­cent sun­glasses, an ear­ring, a set of metal-rimmed eye­lets and a layer of trans­par­ent chif­fon. It’s cop-out fu­tur­ism—not a man­i­festo, just styling.

Fu­tur­ism was born in Italy in 1909 with the pub­li­ca­tion of Filippo Tom­maso Marinetti’s Fu­tur­ist Man­i­festo and em­pha­sized a to­tal break with the past as a means to an end: moder­nity. The move­ment evolved af­ter it emerged, find­ing a per­fect fit with Fas­cism and Mus­solini—its more vi­o­lent in­ter­pre­ta­tion—and in­flu­enced, how­ever di­rectly or in­di­rectly, de­sign­ers like Ra­banne, Cardin and Cour­règes, who set the tem­plate for fu­tur­ism in fash­ion. Cour­règes, for one, is cred­ited with in­vent­ing the miniskirt (he shares the hon­our with Mary Quant) and pi­o­neered a new geom­etry in gar­ments, such as trape­zoid- shaped dresses, cir­cle-shaped pock­ets and ar­chi­tec­tural cut-outs. At Cardin, hem­lines were some­times as oval as an egg, while fab­rics were PVC, plas­tic, wool crepe and jersey be­cause they kept sharp shapes best. Th­ese clothes were pro­duced at a time when economies were strong, tech­nol­ogy was boom­ing and the moon was about to be con­quered. “The clothes I pre­fer,” re­vealed Cardin, “are those I in­vent for a life that doesn’t ex­ist yet—the world of to­mor­row.” Fu­tur­ist fash­ion pre­dicted won­der­ful times ahead.

The tropes we now rec­og­nize in fash­ion as fu­tur­is­tic are a prod­uct of that hope­ful vi­sion of the fu­ture, which fu­tur­ism en­abled. “Look­ing at the work of Pierre Cardin dur­ing the mid- and late 1960s, I love the clean lines and the bold sil­hou­ettes and the daz­zling colour,” says Frances McSherry, fash­ion his­to­rian at Bos­ton’s North­east­ern Univer­sity. “When I look at what the de­sign­ers are com­ing up with in 2016, I don’t have the same vis­ceral feel­ing. It’s not clean and re­fresh­ing; it’s clunky and bulky. I won­der if it re­ally is a trend—al­though peo­ple are act­ing like it’s a trend—or if it’s a pass­ing fad and we’ll look back in a decade and see that it was just an idea that some de­sign­ers were grasp­ing at— call­ing their col­lec­tions ‘fu­tur­ism’ just for the sake of be­ing able to give it a name.”

Per­haps fu­tur­ism to­day re­sides not in sea­son-to-sea­son trend mak­ers but in de­sign­ers who are com­mit­ted to the idea of cre­at­ing pieces that are ahead of their time and who con­stantly re­think the func­tion­al­ity of cloth­ing, its dec­o­ra­tive­ness, what it’s made of and how it’s made. What once seemed gim­micky, like Pauline van Dongen’s so­lar-celled dresses, now seems prac­ti­cal: On a sunny day, a gar­ment that keeps your phone pow­ered up is con­ve­nient. Her ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with 3-D-printed cloth­ing and shoes, called “be­tween,” builds up cus­tom­ized clothes with puff ink us­ing com­puter soft­ware that maps the body’s shape to cre­ate a pat­tern with the per­fect fit. Three-di­men­sional fash­ion de­sign is the avant-garde in­ven­tion that not even h

Per­haps fu­tur­ism to­day re­sides not in sea­son-to-sea­son trend mak­ers but in de­sign­ers who are com­mit­ted to the idea of cre­at­ing pieces that are ahead of their time.

the space-age de­sign­ers, like Cardin, dreamed of in their hey­day.

A high-tech ap­proach is what makes Iris van Her­pen light years ahead in fash­ion. In 2008, two years out of school, she pro­duced a cou­ture col­lec­tion called “Chem­i­cal Crows” that was made up of wo­ven “hair,” leather and brass pins, work­ing in much the same way as Ra­banne did. “It’s all hand­made, with­out com­put­ers,” she said back then. “In all the brass pins, there are sev­eral lit­tle holes and one hinge. I sew metal threads by hand through the holes, which I fin­ish af­ter with leather. I do not even draw any­thing [...] but the de­signs strongly ex­ist in my head.”

The de­signs knock­ing around in van Her­pen’s head have al­tered lit­tle over the in­ter­ven­ing years. What has changed is that tech­nol­ogy has caught up with them. She now 3-D prints, weaves, laser cuts and laser sin­ters her ready-to-wear clothes us­ing or­ganic ma­te­ri­als and dif­fer­ent kinds of lace, some crys­tal stud­ded. Even bio­engi­neer­ing is an in­spi­ra­tion, lead­ing her to new ways of think­ing about gar­ments, in­clud­ing “grow­ing” dresses that mimic the way spi­ders build a cir­cu­lar web or us­ing mag­nets to shape iron-fil­ing-em­bed­de­dresin “fab­ric” into cloth­ing.

Fu­tur­ism to­day be­gins with en­vi­sion­ing the way things can be but us­ing old tech­niques to achieve that vi­sion as best we can. Then, the tech­nol­ogy catches up, rev­o­lu­tion­izes the process and frees our thoughts to leap ahead to the next big idea. “I like to find things I don’t un­der­stand,” says Tait. “It’s only when we don’t un­der­stand and want to dis­cover that we find new things and progress into the fu­ture. It’s a very op­ti­mistic way of liv­ing, which is cru­cial for cre­ative and per­sonal growth.”

This push and pull be­tween tech­nol­ogy and ideas makes fu­tur­ism a dif­fer­ent, more rig­or­ous kind of trend than, say, old­school ten­nis, Mad Max or ’20s colo­nial Bri­tain in the Middle East. You can’t just slap sil­ver tin­sel onto a dress and call it fu­tur­is­tic. It de­mands that some­thing truly new be brought to the ta­ble— some­thing that boldly goes where no woman has gone be­fore. n

Iris van Her­pen’s spring/sum­mer 2016 col­lec­tion

(right) is oth­er­worldly.

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