Is Fashion Landing Into A Second Space Age?


During 1950s, the Space Race was vrooming its celestial engines – the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, a satellite that orbited for three weeks, while the United States launched Apollo 11, where the Moon became man’s stage. In the sartorial atmosphere, clothing became experimental and futuristic, becoming increasingly galactic as history was unfolding.

The importance of space discovery has persisted since the first revolution 60 years ago, yet 2021 is ushering in the prospect of space tourism that is well indicating a definitive Space Age 2.0. Within the past month Richard Branson took off into space to trial privatized exploration while Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos took off with the same mission shortly after, both ready to uncover a new meaning of jet-setting. With a new era of space innovation in front of us, will fashion take a ride into another dimension once again? CR looks at the history of Space Age fashion and where it can go from here.

Fashion’s first space epiphany was a mirror of the exploratory attitude the 20th century movement. At the time, astronauts suits were heavy and bulky, built with safety precautions and space utilities in mind. This facet could been found in the crevices of space fashion, particularly when it came to unconventional materials and metallic aesthetics. Yet the bigger picture captured an avant-garde movement that was literally out of this world.

A circle of designers including Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne, André Courrèges pioneered fashion’s spacial looks and heavily influenced the way fashion wrapped itself around the world’s latest discoveries. Cardin’s designs were voguish space uniforms that centered around mini-length cuts compromised by thigh high go-go boots and gloves and made of vinyl and metallic fabrics; Rabanne’s chain mail dresses took on many forms from hooded and bell-sleeved to classic slip silhouettes and even bulbous, dimensional creations; and and Courrèges’ constructed hemlines merged with his favor for unconventional materials like PVC (polyvinyl chloride), plastic, and metals. Also among the bunch was Giancarlo Zannata, the designer who championed the “Moon Boot”; modeled after the astronautic technologies featured on the Apollo 11 space suits, Zannata turned the uniform piece into a fashionable yet utilitarian shoe for the slopes. It skyrocketed during the space age and continues to circulate through today’s luxury brands including Fendi, Dior, Prada, Moschino, and Ana Sui and in the celebrity style circle.

The competitive aura surrounding space was exhilarating and of course fashion had to take a stab at it. But while the movement’s fashion was a reflection of the famed revolution that was taking place (one that couldn’t be ignored by anyone, designer or not), it signaled independent attitudes that were free of conformity – 1960s liberation could be found everywhere, above and on the ground. Mary Quant, a British designer of the mod movement, pioneered the mini skirt which became a favorable piece for sci-fi movies (which reigned during the space age) while Rudi Gernriech broke boundaries with his unisex clothing and his minimal space designs.

Elsewhere, space fashion has shown itself on the big screen, especially when it comes to costume designs. Already an established presence in the niche, Rabanne took his runway skills to the silver screen when he co-designed the closet for 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella. Alongside French costume designer Jacques Fonteray, the film’s wardrobe creations took on a “galactic babe” aura. The titular character’s outfits (worn by Jane Fonda) mostly consisted of metallic bras adjusted with a petite cape and a variety of unitards (sequined, strapped, or layered with a rigid plastic bustier) paired with coordinating go-go boots.

The fascination around the other world has never died down, often needling its way back into the fashion world. By the ’80s and the ’90s, designers like Thierry Mugler and Alexander McQueen for Givenchy embedded space into their Fall/Winter 1979 and 1999 collections respectively. Despite being 20 years in fashion history apart, both Mugler and McQueen curated experiemental cyborg collections.

Rabanne’s chain dresses re-emerged as a party staple in the ’90s, worn by It models Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, for 2000s celebrities like Hilton, and again in recent years worn by Bella Hadid. On the runway, collections and over the top presentations have meddled with outer space too. The Hussein Chalayan 2007 Spring/Summer collection sent model-UFO’s down the runway (because who wouldn’t want to personify a flying saucer?). Following the same grandiose thread, Karl Lagerfeld planted a Chanel rocket in the middle of the Grand Palais as models walked the catwalk almost as if tweed-clad astronauts for the Chanel galaxy for the Chanel Fall/Winter Haute Couture 2017 show. More recently, Virgil Abloh’s debut for Louis Vuitton saw a model clad in an iridescent cape resembling a 21st century space explorer.

Aside from seasonal collections, fashion has launched itself into outer space through campaigns too. Take Alessandro Michele’s 2017 Fall/Winter campaign “Gucci and Beyond”. Not unexpected of Michele’s usual psychedelic antics and motioning towards space’s evergreen impact, the campaign melded the house’s ’70s dressing mentality –campy florals, prairie dresses, suits, and all – with a 1950s and 1960s sci-fi aesthetic (you can say dinosaurs, robots, and aliens oh, my!) partly inspired by the Star Trek.

Branson and Bezos’ mission, combined with the tourist aesthetic that’s taken over fashion heads recently, has us asking: how will fashion cope with a weekend trip to the orbit and are designers ready to tackle society’s new venture into space?

Maybe new designs for space suits are an indication of the direction it’s going in. Last year, Elon Musk and NASA collaborated on the SpaceX Spacesuits, a collection of form-fitting, sleek, and technologically functional (applauds to the touch-screen compatible gloves) astronaut uniforms definitely suited to be the modern, older sibling of past suits. Branson and his crew donned compact royal blue and gold suits made by Under Armor that featured a blood-enhacing layer, personalized touches, and even a sick bag. Meanwhile Bezos and his team sported a slightly chunkier suit splashed in bright blue and patched up with country origins.

And of course collaborations starring space are seldom once in a blue moon. For Fall/Winter 2021, Balenciaga collaborated NASA on a collection of branded merchandise encapsulating the space juggernaut and the French house. But will technology make room for designers to get down to the space fashion nitty gritty? Perhaps utilitarian jackets equipped with space safety buckles or luxury lenses to block out universal rays will be the new hype.

Yes, fashion is undergoing a little blast from the past, as seen with the grasp Y2K has on trends and celebrities’ obsession with archival red carpet looks, but a glimpse at the future isn’t far ahead. Space vacation may be inching its way into our plans soon – designers and fashion-philes alike, be ready for the take off.


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