Though futurist fashion has been done before, Tracy Nesdoly dives under the shiny fabrics and Barbarella shapes of the latest space-age looks to find a common, steely thread: strength. The spring 2010 collections had a distinctly back-to-the-future feel to them. Prada, often a harbinger of what will be the next big thing, showed a sleek and edgy collection, its steely modernism harking back to the label's Nineties heyday. Gareth Pugh, who is known for a hard-edged, super-structured look, showed a "post apocalyptic princess". In his style.com blog, Tim Blanks described Pugh's models dressed in floating, tone-on-tone shades of grey and looking as though they had walked through a cloud of ash. Alexander McQueen and Rodarte showed something equally futuristic and bleak, with nods to the post-apocalyptic visions of the films Mad Max and The Day After. Giles Deacon's spring 2010 collection, on the other hand, was straight out of the sunnily optimistic 1960s idea of "the future", with colours not found in nature and a distinctly Barbarella take on shape and form.
Though Deacon showed short, short skirts and shiny fabrics, there was something asexual about the clothes. "The 'futurist' look has definitely been done in the past," says Michelle Liberman, a Los Angeles-based former model and founder of the Shopping Friend, a wardrobe consulting service. "It is very costumey... and for the designer, an art form. To be wearable in everyday life you would have to tone it down." To do this, she suggests perhaps mixing a short, A-line shiny dress with leggings, or roping it in with a belt. "The thing about this look, in all its forms, is that it is not terribly flattering. It is an extreme style."
The good news, says Liberman, is that by the time these revolutionary clothes hit the shops, they will have morphed into something less exaggerated - more wearable, in other words - while maintaining their strong lines and structure. The first to jump on the futurist bandwagon was Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquière, whose spring 2007 collection included metal leggings, available by special order and reputed to cost US$100,000 (Dh367,000) and strict clothes suited to the crew of an interplanetary craft. "I was thinking of robotic articulation. Car parts. Droids," Ghesquière explained at the time, adding that he'd been influenced by The Terminator and the 1982 film, Tron.
For spring 2010, Balenciaga still looks galactic, but this time more athletic - what the crew of the space ship might wear on their days off. The wearable parts of the future, as envisioned in the spring 2010 collections, are colour - bright, happy, friendly - and an old-school attention to tailoring and detail. McQueen, for example, harks back to his Savile Row roots in the tailoring of some of his looks. Digitally perfect prints and innovative hi-tech fabrics offer a new dimension to how clothes will look on a real human body.
Interestingly, much of spring 2010's "future" had a distinctly 1960s retro vibe. Forty years ago, the fabulous André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin, not to mention the cartoon family the Jetsons (perhaps the most optimistic of them all), reflected an era when technology and science were going to save the world and anything seemed possible. Shiny plastic boots and impermeable dresses looked just right for intergalactic travel and cool, scientific perfection.
There was some reality to this vision. This was, after all, a time when space travel and a man on the moon became realities amid the white heat of a technological revolution. The other side of this season's "futurist" vision is less optimistic and scarier, resembling not so much the happy Jetsons as the inhabitants of a darker, dangerous world. "It's warrior women and the military, with a mix of different times and a touch of Mad Max," Balmain's creative director, Christophe Decarnin, explained to the fashion media backstage at his spring show in Paris.
The common thread found in all these futurist looks, whether in Giles Deacon's candy-coated, shiny-happy collection, or the more austere Gareth Pugh, or the wildly foreign Balmain, Rodarte or McQueen, is strength. Toughness. A Lara Croft discipline versus Laura Ashley's prettiness. Is it mere coincidence that on the heels of a worldwide economic debacle, daily reports of flu pandemics and climate crises that we are turning again to the future for inspiration? Hope, even?
Maybe the future is closer than we think. In September, the latest space tourist, Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, took flight with Russian cosmonauts. He wore a hi-tech space suit and a clown's nose. See? The future looks like a happier place already.