The future has become a kind of destination. We want to understand it, to succeed in it, and to arrive at it. We want to be first, we want to be the most innovative, the most disruptive, the biggest. And we want the answers now.
And so we’ve created a kind of awkward dilemma: The future is ahead of us. It is unknown. It is uncertain. And yet we give a lot of control to the future, as if we have to predict it so that we can plan for what will happen. When in fact, we create the future. The future is a product of our actions. What we do today, and what we’ve done in our days before determines our path for tomorrow. And even that can change if we choose for it to.
So in creating our visions for the future, why not imagine the ideal? Why not project the most positive outcome possible?
Science fiction’s visionary predictions are changing our world. Generations are divided by the rapid pace of technology. The job market is totally on its head. Product companies are trying to compete and innovate while creating devices that are inevitably obsolete — forget about planned obsolescence, even the most exploitative intentions can’t keep up with the pace of technology. It would outdate itself shortly thereafter anyway.
The point is, the world is changing. And we are largely so focused on our immediate needs that we don’t naturally take a step back and look at the big picture. The biggest? Outer space.
When more than one of the worlds most lauded entrepreneurs gets involved in any one endeavor, the public’s role and interest inevitably changes. And so we are seeing in rocket engineering and space exploration. The media loves to follow where they go. And wherever there is buzz, there is fashion.
Fashion in space is an aesthetic that has been explored and interpreted for decades. Ever since the notion of man traveling to the outer bounds of earth’s atmosphere was suggested. Since achieved and now advanced upon, these ideas become backed up by science, and technology. Since the idea of fashion in space is still largely science fiction, all kinds of creative licence is permitted. Space age fashion, for example, would never stand up to the demands of zero-gravity or pressurization. But they spoke to a moment in time, when the zeitgeist was to look towards the future.
However, as man’s endeavors into outer space normalize the activity, we will begin to see more people adopting the idea of commercial space travel. Traveling to space will be a viable alternative to Tulum for the New Year or Paris in the fall.
While the popularization of Fashion Tech (whatever that means, today) has made the average customer comfortable with the concept of wired textiles and general data collection associated with technology being on their person, we are still designing these functionalities based on preceding technology rather than starting the development process with the zeros rules process of creative freedom.
While the long game is to create products to serve people in orbit, and on other planets, the ground work is laid by people here and now, pushing limits in materials manufacturing and products terrestrially.
Fashion of the future
I’ve written about why fashion of the future will never be the fashion of the future. In the same way that this recent proposition of fashion and space will never be the relationship that fashion has with the space of space exploration and travel. Interestingly, in an editorial shot by Arthur Elgort in 1999 for Vogue Russia, the scenario presented was not only more believable, but also more desirable than the more recent attempt from — — in the Wall Street journal with Karlie Kloss.
To create a vision of what fashion + space looks like, we have to use our imaginations. Which means we can depict it in any way we wish. It’s a thing that does not exist yet, so the hypothetical scenario can be based as much or as little in reality as the director wishes. and in this case, it feels we went back lightyears in defining the role or technology in fashion, and also the role of women in that environment. (An issue for another day)
From the photo shoot for Russian Vogue in 1999
This interview in Wired magazine with photographer Arthur Elgort, it is evident that he wasn’t involved in this shoot to advance any agenda. It is a fashion editorial in its purest form: the exploration of fashion outside of its everyday setting, within a larger cultural context. Maybe it was because he had no agenda that the result was more authentic.
Wired: What led you to merge the worlds of fashion, science and technology for this shoot?
Arthur Elgort: I find it more interesting to put fashion in a setting that is different. Anywhere that the story can be about places that enhance the clothes.
Wired: The photos suggest you’re a huge fan of science and technology. Is that true?
Elgort: No, I’m not a huge fan of technology because I don’t know much about it. Even with my cameras I do use the newest ones, but I often prefer the old-fashioned ones like my Rolleiflex and Leica. This was a fun job but I’m more a fan of people and the cosmonauts were all very friendly.
To tell a story that overlaps the scientific world with the creative world, it is helpful to remember that science also involves creativity just as the best fashion involves engineering and math. Instead, the story speaks more to the disconnect between the two communities rather than to the opportunities in their conjunction.
For fun: Check out these photos, taken at the NASA space center between the years 1920–1950.
Space is exciting as a novelty. I’m learning that when you actually make choices to dedicate time to people’s adventures in space, you are met with a big “Why?” “Why do we need to spend money sending man to the moon?” “Why are we focusing any energy on outer space when we have so many problems to solve here on earth?”
Rather than explain that need, it’s best to use an innocent example. I would describe it as the exploration of an infant who is experiencing teething and growing pains, crawling ever faster, reaching ever higher, to see what’s on that next tier surface or inside of that bowl or beyond that doorway. It is a part of human nature. We have this in us for a reason, and it may be because bigger solutions reside behind those unturned corners. We have proven this again and again over time. Through accident and intention.
Mission statements of private rocket companies:
“SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”
“We are building Blue Origin to seed an enduring human presence in space, to help us move beyond this blue planet that is the origin of all we know. We are pursuing this vision patiently, step-by-step. Our fantastic team in Kent, Van Horn and Cape Canaveral is working hard not just to build space vehicles, but to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space.” — Jeff Bezos
“Explorers make great discoveries, find new places to settle, and identify resources that benefit their sisters and brothers who stayed at home. The explorers of the space frontier are doing the same thing. By sending humans to space, we as a species have learned incredible things about human ingenuity and human physiology. Space exploration has inspired generations of entrepreneurs, inventors, ordinary citizens, and entire new industries…Only through the exploration of the unknown can we continue to grow and evolve.”
“We believe that in the future, life on Earth will be made better by the exploration of space.”
So what does this have to do with fashion? Here are the updates from the last three months (as of 1/19/2016)
1) Y3, in collaboration with Virgin Galactic,
2) Blue Origin and
3) Falcon landing their rockets safely back on earth.
These advances in science and engineering, and also the foresight of involving commercial enterprise in the equation, are tangible indicators of that fact.
More companies now could take into consideration this expansive opportunity that is developing about our heads. It’s Hermes + Apple on steroids. This kind of practical cross branding is finally introducing to fashion a real, new explorative challenge.
Superficial doesn’t cut it at zero gravity. The same is true in the communication of this idea. Take it back for a second to the SpaceX editorial. This fashion story somehow managed to deemphasize the world-altering happenings of the facility while telling a fashion story that felt incredibly reactionary and contrived rather than defining and thought-provoking.
However, from another perspective, if this editorial direction chose to tell a space story, it must be generally within the zeitgeist. So I think it’s safe to admit and accept and believe that at least as a social undercurrent, we are collectively fascinated with space. And that is worth listening to. Space is not a trend that is going away. It’s an investment in the future.
Although our relationship with space is majorly abstract, that undeniable relationship is growing stronger. We see photos of stars and galaxies as stunningly beautiful, full of creative inspiration. We appreciate satellites for enabling communication at a speed and clarity that used to be the stuff of science fiction. But think about the potential. The unknown possibilities we’ll discover through design or accident. What is possible out there that isn’t possible terrestrially, that is the stuff of the future. The all-encompassing future. Science and commerce alike.
So to treat space like a costume, like Karlie Kloss did with SpaceX, is to ignore the value of that inter-disciplinary inevitability. People will go to space. Not just astronauts, but people. Those people will not need government uniforms or corporate uniforms, they will need space suits just like they need ski gear.
Fashion designers will be uniquely qualified to understand the aesthetic psyche of the customer, and the aerospace engineers will be uniquely qualified to inform them of certification guidelines and functional necessities. The industry will be collectively responsible for developing demand and supply for fabrics that answer to both of their standards, more and more completely, over time.
If anything, what we can learn about wanting the future now, is that we create the future one step at a time with each foot we put in front of the other. Being proactive instead of reactionary. And that is how history is made. No faster, than one moment at a time.
Whoever is out there reading this, looking forward to the next runway season, take a minute to get excited about fashion 30 years from now. Not aesthetically, forget about science fiction, silver and Lycra, but its inner workings: integration between engineers and fashion designers, textile producers thinking orbitally and towards the runway.
I feel slightly strange every time I use the word “terrestrial.” It implies there might be an alternative. But you know what? There is. We’ve been exploring it for centuries from earth. For decades from within it. And we will keep looking. And I, for one, want to be there when the public says “let’s gear up.”