five archival fashion tech moments, from andré courrèges to alexander mcqueen
From the space age 60s to a spray paint robot ballet, here’s how a few of fashion’s visionaries interacted with tech of their own time and imagined a brave, new, binary-coded world.
Tonight is the Met Gala, the Met Museum Costume Institute's annual fundraiser meets red carpet on steroids, where the mega famous are joined by fashion industry elite to celebrate the opening of the Institute's newest blockbuster show. This exhibition's theme is Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology. And while attendees aren't required to dress in theme, many of them definitely do (see Miley Cyrus' Sex Pistols-inspired punk hair, or Rihanna's majorly meme-able Chinese couture dress). Given the gala's cyber leanings — and the fact that one of fashion's chicest tech nerds, Nicolas Ghesquière, is its co chair — expect to see a fair amount of Louis Vuitton in the mix (we're hoping the creative director somehow brings his campaign star, Final Fantasy's Lightning, as his date). To celebrate the evening, we thought we'd take a look back at some designers inspired by technology before it became so seamlessly wearable and instantly 'grammable.
Thierry Mugler autumn/winter 95: Mugler's strong, structured silhouettes have always swerved a bit towards the mechanical (think 1989's Cadillac-inspired bustier, or 1992's iconic motorcycle corset, later resurrected by Beyonce), but one fall/winter 95 showstopper was possibly his most cyber chic: a robotic suit. Though the look was created during the same year Microsoft launched a massive marketing campaign around its most user-friendly operating system, Windows 95, Mugler looked a bit further back — to Fritz Lang's iconic 1927 film Metropolis — to play with intersections between technology, sex, and power.
Courrèges spring/summer 64: Is it really any wonder that the atomic 60s pioneer cut his teeth at Balenciaga — the luxury house perhaps most focused on innovation? After splitting in 1961, André Courrèges left the Spanish giant to pursue his own vision of the fledgeling decade's fashion future. Courrèges spring 64 collection remains one of his most radical: super short, angular dresses and slim pants suits were paired with astronaut-inspired boots, goggles and helmets, all rendered in silver and white. Courrèges stark shapes and sparse color scheme earned the collection its "Space Age" nickname. Years later, in 1969, he'd try his hand at innovating outside the fashion industry, when he designed his own electric car, La Bulle.
Alexander McQueen spring/summer 99: Though McQueen often cast his critical eye on the past (remember his Jack the Ripper-inspired Central Saint Martins graduate collection, and his politically charged 1995 outing "Highland Rape"), he also found ways to fold technological advancements within these worlds. It seems the advent of the new millennium had him weaving wires, as two of the master's 1999 collections wrestled with the humanity of artificial intelligence. In what remains one of the most moving performance pieces to grace his runway, Shalom Harlow spun between two spray painting robots — her classical ballerina training an interesting foil to the poetry of the machine's own movements. The following season, McQueen created clear sculptural pieces hard-wired with neon light up circuits.
Hussein Chalayan spring/summer 07: The British-Turkish Cypriot designer has long made materials do what we never imagined possible, whether the Tyvek paper jacket Bjork rocked on her Post album cover in 1995 or the delicate dresses we watched dissolve on his spring/summer 16 runway. But in 2007, Chalayan showed a series of dresses that literally morphed shapes on the runway using hidden mechanisms. Though 2007 wasn't exactly the dark ages, Chalayan's creations long predated 3D printing or readily adaptable fiber optic wovens that more frequently appear on today's runways. You can hear his showgoers send up thunderous applause with each twist and turn.
Raf Simons autumn/winter 98: The Belgian designer has long lifted inspiration from musical youth subcultures, such as his 2003 New Order-inspired collection, or his riotous ode to the Manic Street Preachers in 2001. Yet one of Simons' earliest collections didn't draw from his well documented love for new wave or post punk, but for prog. In 1998, Raf riffed on German techno pioneers Kraftwerk, and their 1978 album Man Machine. Simons' army marched down the runway in sleek red shirts and skinny black ties, his boys' hair slicked back to match the band's retrofuturistic appearance.
Text Emily Manning