How science-fiction continues to influence the runway

Contributed by
May 3, 2018

Dragon puppies, alien conspiracy theories, robots. This is not the line-up for this summer’s hottest TV shows or movies, but a glimpse of the Fall/Winter 2018 Ready-to-Wear runway collections. Jeremy Scott, Gucci, Moschino and Philipp Plein weaved a science-fiction aesthetic into their theatrical presentations during Fashion Week, as well as into the fabric of the clothes.

An eclectic mix of influences were showcased during Fashion Week including The Fifth Element, B-movies, a 1984 essay on feminism, and ‘60s conspiracy theories. Designers embrace past, present and future with technology playing a vital role. This is also what science-fiction does; dreaming up other worlds or a version of the one we live in. It is easy to understand why this genre continues to impact sartorial visions on a grand scale. 

The relationship between science fiction and fashion goes back decades. It is a cycle that keeps feeding itself. Fritz Lang’s iconic 1927 silent film Metropolis has influenced filmmakers and designers alike, from The Fifth Element to Donatella Versace. The DNA of both these movies can be seen in Jeremy Scott’s recent kooky neon runway explosion.

Legendary designer Jean Paul Gaultier created over 1000 pieces costuming Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. The film turns 21 this month, but the costumes remain instantly recognizable. A barely-there white bandage bodysuit and orange suspenders paired with a white crop top and gold leggings, all beneath Milla Jovovich’s iconic orange-dyed bob, are the defining looks of this movie.

So when Gigi Hadid opened the Jeremy Scott’s New York Fashion Week Fall 2018 show in February, wearing a bubblegum pink bobbed wig, silver cut-off overalls and a stomach-baring sweater, it was impossible to ignore the Fifth Element reference. Orange wigs paired with see-through plastic skirts and suspender/bandage hybrid detailing would fit right in to the Fifth Element landscape, and the cut of her sweater, along with several other pieces in the collection, read like candy-colored interpretations of the Metropolis 'Machinenmensch' silhouette, taking us full circle.

Paco Rabanne’s Barbarella costumes are another defining sci-fi sartorial moment, and Gigi Hadid closed out the show looking 1960s B-movie ready. The mod-style mini-skirt and matching crop top is covered in jewel-tone embellishments that look like rocks from another planet. Maybe this is the secret weapon needed to defeat these invaders? Colorful tights up the kitsch factor, and this accessory is also one of the most wearable aspects of a lot of these looks. Just give her a laser gun.

Science-fiction imagery with a retro twist also had a big visual impact on Jeremy Scott’s fall 2018 Moschino collection, which debuted at Milan Fashion Week earlier this year. Scott mixed alien conspiracy theories and space capes that would fit right in at the Canto casino, all with a colorful ‘60s pop palette combined with Jackie Kennedy styling references.

The latter relates to one of the more out there JFK cover-ups stories, that Marilyn Monroe was killed because JFK had divulged top secret information about Roswell and the existence of extraterrestrial life. (Where is that X-Files episode?) Scott took this to the next level, suggesting Jackie Kennedy was an alien from outer space. This is why some of the models are sporting skin color in a range of pastel shades; a pillbox hat, perfect hair and bold gloves can’t distract from the alien appearance.

Backstage, Scott talked to WWD about the questions he asked that led to this narrative. “Was Jackie an alien? Was she an android? How did she endure the pain and grieving of the assassination? All the ridicule about her being such a haute, snotty Bouvier too good to be an American icon? How did she do that if she was actually human?”

Androids and robots—particularly ones that look like humans—are concepts designers return to time and time again. The word "Replicants" was lit up in neon at the Raf Simons spring 2018 show, an overt reference to Blade Runner—a franchise likely to spawn even more style inspiration thanks to Ryan Gosling’s highly covetable shearling jacket from Blade Runner 2049. Now that Westworld is back for Season 2, fusing past with present including iconic Western clothing with modern minimalism depending on whether a character resides in the park or not, the two are colliding in a major way in the new season.

Philosopher Donna Haraway explored the boundaries between humans, animals and machines in the 1984 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Alessandro Michele used this commentary as the jumping off point for the Gucci fall 2018 collection, which took place in operating theater setting during Milan Fashion Week. “We are the Dr. Frankenstein of our lives,” explained Michele when discussing how clothes are used to present an image to the world. We all experiment.

Some of the models looked like they had borrowed a prop or two from Game of Thrones, with dragon pups and replicas of their own heads instead of purses.

This isn’t Michele’s first foray into science-fiction. Gucci’s fall 2017 campaign was heavily inspired by classic movies and TV shows such as Star Trek, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Androids passing as humans was not the subtle take delivered by Philipp Plein at New York Fashion Week, where giant robots and UFOs pulled focus. Model Irina Shayk walked the runway (after exiting the UFO) holding hands with a robot—that looked like a #sponcon extra from Transformers—bearing the name of the designer.

Science-fiction and fashion go hand in hand, just like Shayk and the robot. And while retailers probably won’t go for the full Milla Jovovich from The Fifth Element look by way of Jeremy Scott, aspects such as colorful tights and mod silhouettes are workable into everyday wardrobes. And, unlike Dr. Frankenstein, you don’t have to worry about creating a monster out of your closet.