ELLE (UK) - - Mood Board -

Con­sider, for a mo­ment, the im­pos­si­bly sexy al­lure of a ‘what if?’ As in: with the present, and all its bor­ing, pre­dictably un­pre­dictable dis­rup­tion, what if you could imag­ine a dif­fer­ent, more per­fect-look­ing fu­ture?

There is some­thing in­her­ently op­ti­mistic about fash­ion’s longheld soft spot for the fu­tur­is­tic, from the Six­ties-era con­cep­tual de­signs of Cour­règes and Paco Ra­banne to Hus­sein Cha­layan’s wear­able tech of the Nineties and the im­mer­sive, space-age utopia Alexan­der McQueen cre­ated for his fi­nal show, Plato’s At­lantis, in 2009. And, this year, the love for sci-fi is grow­ing.

For proof, just take a scroll through the AW17 run­way photo gal­leries on­line. There were bul­bous ‘crea­tures’, scoot­ing down the run­way like foil-cov­ered Tele­tub­bies, at Comme des Garçons. While at Gucci, Alessan­dro Michele cov­ered mod­els in face-to-toe glit­ter body­suits, like disco dia­manté ver­sions of the ro­bot Maria from Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi film, Metropo­lis. And at Chanel, Karl Lager­feld cre­ated high-fash­ion takes on space suits, with a life-size rocket ship as a back­drop. Space is big.

On a more nu­anced note, sci-fi metallics were also in abun­dance, ap­pear­ing at Paco Ra­banne, J.W. An­der­son and Ba­len­ci­aga, while Christo- pher Kane mixed them with holo­graphic knits. And on the cou­ture side, Iris van Her­pen, known for her avant-garde sar­to­rial science ex­per­i­ments, took her cre­ativ­ity to new lev­els by turn­ing her mod­els into aquatic ex­trater­res­tri­als in dresses made of laser-cut metal lace.

Usu­ally, when one thinks of fu­tur­is­tic fash­ion, it’s the fab­rics and tex­tiles that come to mind. A lit­tle PVC here, some Per­spex there, and pos­si­bly a lit­tle neo­prene mixed in. But fash­ion’s lat­est space age – at ELLE, we’re call­ing it the ‘New Fu­ture’ – is less of a nod (al­though you can pull it off in small doses, too) and more a bold state­ment. For ex­am­ples, see the dress made of slinky, techy chain­mail at Paco Ra­banne, dra­matic metal­lic dol­man sleeves at Loewe and the spacey, sil­ver skirt made from a car mat at Ba­len­ci­aga. This is the po­lar op­po­site of the un­der­stated ease of last year’s sports­wear. And it’s a look that re­quires the com­mit­ment of a stormtrooper.

The New Fu­ture is also a state of mind. As fash­ion grap­ples with what lies ahead (How will the in­dus­try look? Are fash­ion weeks still rel­e­vant? Do brick and mor­tar shops still matter? Will mil­len­ni­als spend on lux­ury? Will Vete­ments still be a thing?), there’s a school of de­sign­ers who are reimag­in­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of fu­ture al­to­gether – one that re­fresh­ingly ig­nores all the usual anx­i­eties and de­bates in favour of a dif­fer­ent space and era.

‘Maybe, in this dig­i­tal time, fu­tur­ism is a way to ex­press a cer­tain as­pect of moder­nity and ad­dress the ques­tion of what will hap­pen next in th­ese fast times,’ says Julien Dossena, who has spent his past four years as the cre­ative direc­tor of Paco Ra­banne grap­pling with the sub­ject. ‘We are liv­ing in an ex­treme ex­is­tence, which is al­ready a fu­tur­is­tic life.’

This is all hap­pen­ing in the same cul­tural cos­mos that gave us the cur­rent boom in sci-fi films. In 2017 alone, we’ve watched a space crew travel to a dif­fer­ent galaxy in search of a new planet in the long-awaited pre­quel Alien: Covenant, and saw as­tro­naut Jake Gyl­len­haal try to doc­u­ment life on Mars in Life. Later this year, big-bud­get block­busters, Blade Run­ner 2049 and Geostorm, hit the­atres, followed by the lat­est from the fran­chise that birthed them all, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in De­cem­ber. Speak­ing of Jedis, last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens had the big­gest open­ing week­end in movie his­tory*. And next Fe­bru­ary’s Afro­fu­tur­is­tic su­per­hero film from Marvel, Black Pan­ther, is pre­dicted to be one of the year’s big­gest re­leases.

Fash­ion doesn’t hap­pen in a vac­uum. And as the world inches closer to the fan­tas­ti­cal fu­ture we once read about in old nov­els, it’s bound to im­pact the clothes. Just like in the film world, space and fu­tur­ism have al­ways had a place in fash­ion, an in­dus­try that prides it­self on look­ing for­ward. ‘We [de­sign­ers] are al­ready one year ahead when we are sketch­ing col­lec­tions; it comes in­stinc­tively,’ says Dossena. But lately, the ref­er­ences seem to have taken on a new es­capist tenor. ‘In this age of global un­cer­tainty, “feel-good fash­ion” is on the rise,’ says Ida Peters­son, buy­ing direc­tor at Browns. ‘We’ve seen lots of it­er­a­tions of this theme for AW17, as de­sign­ers look to in­spire a sense of fun and ad­ven­ture. What bet­ter way to find es­capism in fash­ion than with galac­tic prints and modern metallics?’

It’s about dar­ing to dream at a time when the fu­ture re­ally does feel like it’s equally at stake and up for grabs in the midst of global de­bates around cli­mate change and rapid tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion. Noth­ing il­lus­trates this idea more than the ex­is­ten­tial slo­gans that ac­com­pa­nied Alessan­dro Michele’s dia­manté disco-bots at Gucci: ‘What are we go­ing to do with all this fu­ture?’ and ‘To­mor­row is now yes­ter­day’.

Adam Roberts, Royal Hol­loway Univer­sity of London pro­fes­sor and au­thor of The His­tory of Science Fic­tion, says the idea gen­er­ally tends to boom dur­ing pe­ri­ods of tur­bu­lence: ‘Many crit­ics date the rise of

science fic­tion ei­ther to the time of the French Revolution – Mary Shel­ley’s Franken­stein in 1818 is seen by many as the first dis­tinctly science-fic­tion novel – or the end of the 19th cen­tury to the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, with Jules Verne, H G Wells and Pulp magazine, dur­ing an­other pe­riod of up­heaval: the first world war. [Un­cer­tain times] make peo­ple anx­ious about the fu­ture, and science fic­tion is a way of ex­trap­o­lat­ing cur­rent trends into that fu­ture.’ Dossena agrees: ‘It feels like we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a turn­ing point in our civil­i­sa­tion. Space ref­er­ences can feel like an es­cape, a pro­jec­tion of what we could be liv­ing like in the fu­ture, a chance to cor­rect or im­prove what we are do­ing now.’

Fu­tur­ism and space re­quire a dif­fer­ent level of imag­i­na­tion be­cause so much of it is unknown and un­seen. With that comes a vis­ual bom­bast that Roberts says is ap­peal­ing right now: ‘Science fic­tion pro­vides res­o­nant sto­ries for the modern con­di­tion. Spe­cial ef­fects have be­come so so­phis­ti­cated and beau­ti­ful, they’re al­most an art form in their own right. And sci­encefic­tion film and tele­vi­sion pro­vides us with the most im­pres­sive, mind-blow­ing and “sense of won­der” vis­ual spe­cial ef­fects of any mode.’

One could say the same idea ap­plies to fash­ion, where fu­tur­ism usu­ally goes hand in hand with cut­ting-edge, tech­ni­cal feats that can’t eas­ily be knocked off. When Paco Ra­banne be­gan cre­at­ing space-age dresses out of alu­minium chain­mail in the Six­ties, it was rev­o­lu­tion­ary, just as it was when Iris van Her­pen showed dresses made from 3D print­ers in 2009.

Ly­dia King, direc­tor of wom­enswear at Sel­fridges, says: ‘We saw a re­turn to the fu­tur­is­tic aes­thetic high­lighted in the in­crease in metal­lic fin­ishes and dra­matic, struc­tural shapes on the run­ways. Toni Mat­icevski and Mu­gler are great ex­am­ples of de­sign­ers do­ing this.’ King sees the idea hav­ing the big­gest ap­peal in the evening­wear cat­e­gory: ‘Our cus­tomers’ de­mand for beau­ti­ful, un­usual oc­ca­sion wear has in­creased in the past sea­sons.’ Peters­son chalks it up to the mood: ‘Space-age fab­rics and modern fin­ishes can pro­vide just the up­lift we need when the world around us has gone a lit­tle bit mad.’ Af­ter see­ing the col­lec­tions, she counts Sprwmn’s sec­ond-skin sil­ver, leather trousers and ‘those di­vine crys­tal Saint Lau­rent boots’ among her big re­tail buys for AW17.

Ul­ti­mately, though, it’s the ideas that trans­late to the day-to-day that will stick and have longevity. ‘At the end of the day, it’s al­ways about ex­press­ing the idea of in­no­va­tion by be­ing tech­ni­cal, but at the same time try­ing to ground it in the oc­cur­rences of a woman’s life now,’ Dossena says. ‘It’s about what feels de­sir­able in terms of com­fort, light­ness and style.’

‘Space feels like an es­cape, a pro­jec­tion of what we could be liv­ing like, a chance to cor­rect what we’re do­ing now’

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