The story of 21st century fashion portrays the human desire to overcome the limits of the body by designing clothes for ‘new’ bodies and bodies for ‘new’ clothes. Fashion designers have a predisposition to search their inspirations in future, and cyberpunk gives them a hint of how future could look like. Today, in the 21st century, we live in the projected future from the 1970s cyberpunk, and the fashion designers tend to discover how cyberpunk serves as inspiration for futuristic fashion and how it empowers and transforms the human body.
One reason to reinitiate the cyberpunk talk is the long expected sequel of ‘Blade Runner’ that was released just few days ago. As fashion was an integral part for the creation of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, its successor ‘Blade Runner 2049’ relies on costume design as an essential future inspiration for fashion designers….it could be perceived something like ‘tears in the rain’.
But even prior the sequel premiere, Raf Simons reinitiated the cyberpunk buzz when he showed us that this movement is far from ‘dead’. In his Blade Runner-esque spring/summer 2018 collection, Simons’ dystopian imagination was depicted on stage by neon lights, transparent umbrellas, and models wearing genderless anti-uniforms.
With collections featuring deconstructed suits and dresses that acknowledge the effect of ‘Tron’ alike beings, the hints of cyberpunk influence on 21st century fashion are evident in the collections of Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Rick Owens, Haider Ackermann, Ann Demeulemeester, Christopher Kane, Helmut Lang, Versace, Junya Watanabe and Alexander Wang to name a few.
In blurring the dividing lines between the natural and the artificial, cyberpunk also triggers the question of alteration of the human body due to 21st century technological advancements in the fashion photographs of Steven Klein, Mert&Marcus, Nick Knight and Steven Meisel.
Nonetheless, the origins of cyber fashion can be traced back to the superheroes in comic books of the late 1930’s Superman, and later in the 1960’s space travel as depicted in films like ‘Barbarella’ (1967) or the ‘Star Trek’ series of a year earlier.
In the 80’s and 90’s the fashion labelled as cyberpunk was either related to punk rebelliousness (Vivienne Westwood’s 1983 Nostalgia of Mud collection) or to futuristic expressions of the utopian cyber world (Thierry Mugler, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto late 1980’s and early 1990’s collections).
Fashion has historically loved to play with light, sequins, beads, and small pieces of mirror that use many ways of catching and reflecting light as ornamentation. There are also examples of computation as an expressive element of fashion. The computer revolution has already influenced fashion and it can be clearly read as cyberpunk influence.
Computer-generated graphics, including fractals, manipulated imagery, and 3D graphic landscapes, appear on t-shirts, accessories, and textiles.
Cyberpunk increasingly found its way into 21st century fashion due to the intriguing refinement of the industry tendency to exploit technological advancements. In one-way cyberpunk influence on fashion today changes due to the need for redefining aesthetics of this movement and the urge for new transformation within a more developed techno – social context.
The transit of the cyberpunk impact on the 21st century fashion stage adds a new element of attraction, like the 2008 Comme des Garçons autumn/winter collection that evoked strong responses and reactions from the loyal followers of Rei Kawakubo’s work. Gareth Pugh’s autumn/winter 2011 collection continued the chain of cyberpunk inspired fashion. The avant-garde British designer is a master artist when it comes to presentation of articulated and body-conscious appealing.
This collection contained a variety of cyberpunk inspired razor-sharp black and leather designs, crossed with golden zips, and tremendous wedge-sole boots. The bright blue ‘eye shades’ created the effect of cyber-age creatures from a distant planet. Ann Demeulemeester with her gloomy yet passionate autumn/winter 2012 collection showed that ‘beauty can be frightening’, which can be interpreted as cyberpunk inspired attitude.
The models indicated the rebellious outlook with their punky feathered hair, wearing black belted coats and jackets with collars that collapsed and interlinked. Walking with wader black boots contributed to the impression that these women were creatures from another universe.
Cyberpunk draws on a rich history of images associated with dystopian architecture and robots in order to create a version of virtual reality in which anything can happen. Lately, many collections depict cyberpunk items on the runways like Chanel, Ann Demeulemeester, Christopher Kane, Fendi, Haider Ackermann, Gareth Pugh, Versace, Vivienne Westwood… they all look further into the future and show dark, edgy collections that re-evoke the cyberpunk sensation. Though this inspiration has been played on by the fashion industry for decades, and cyberpunk is described as ‘passé’ trend, it is clearly visible and present on the fashion stage now.
Cyberpunk fashion can be regarded as the perfect mode to bridge the gap between now and the future. In 2013 it was the revival of the Blade Runner mood, with inspiration from Rachel, the replicant who became style icon for the cyberpunk costumes galore. Her leather mini dresses and the whole futuristic surrounding have become key inspiration for Versace, Gareth Pugh and Chanel.
Cultivating the idea of cyberpunk as recyclable commodity and cyberpunks as revivable characters in fashion is a valuable base for understanding upcoming developments due to the possibility of simultaneously reanimating them in a new context.
The flow of images with cyberpunk motives these days, are proof of the way we inscribe our bodies and narrate our identities, due to the high technology that now includes cyberspace, information technology, virtual imagining, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and biomedical methods of body reconstruction.
In the coming years ‘Blade Runner 2049’ could be the ultimate inspiration for fashion designers to produce other iconic garments. Can cyberpunk external features and virtual commodities be re-inscribed in the fashion vocabulary? Well, we might need another 35 years to witness that.