The Oxford Handbook to Science Fiction defines retrofuturism as a byproduct of futurism: "Futurism is sometimes called a 'science' bent on anticipating what will come, retrofuturism is the remembering of that anticipation."
Rooted in both the idealism and anxiety about future technology in the 1950s atomic era and the 1960s space age, the futuristic fashion of the Populuxe era had people dressing simultaneously as fashionably as possible for the time (in mod fashions, mini skirts, and go-go boots) while styling themselves like streamlined mid-century modern appliances, astronauts, and aliens. Non-cloth materials like PVC and Perspex (also known as Lucite or Plexiglass) become common for clothing and accessories, as well as Spandex one-piece leotards and metallic lamé.
Science fiction meets high fashion
From the 2016 Met Gala's "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology," to the "Gucci and Beyond" Fall/Winter 2017 campaign, retrofuturism has been having a moment in high fashion.
"What are we going to do with all this future?" – Coco Capitán
Following Louis Vuitton, Opening Ceremony, and Prada, who have all shown retrofuturistic designs on the runway in the past two years, Gucci recently debuted "Gucci and Beyond." The trailer for the collection features music from the British television series Space: 1999, and features visual shout-outs to Star Trek and sixties B-movies like The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Their models are transported by movie magic to spaceships and distant planets, and while some of them are fully painted green or chrome, the clothing is very much of this world. The nods Gucci is making towards retro-futuristic fashion are all in the details (you can find the occasional UFO hidden under expanses of florals and brocade).
Strut the Holodeck
"Adorn your digital and physical self with customisable holograms"
But what is your average girl of the 21st century to wear?
Holographic materials give off a futuristic vibe and have been featured in fast fashion collections for the last few summers. From Instagrammable sandals to full-body holo ensembles, it's just one way the retrofuturistic trend has trickled down.
And how about actual holograms? Fashion mag W Magazine's September cover features a portrait of Katy Perry which, when viewed through their Beyond the Page app, becomes interactive. The colorful shapes projected onto her face move around, and short videos are launched when you touch different areas.
Augmented reality has also made its way to fashion accessories you can wear now. Metaverse Makeovers have created fun nail designs like "Neon Leopard," and "Princess Fantasy" which, when viewed through their app, launch holographic images and effects in augmented reality: "the only product in the WORLD that allows you to adorn your digital and physical self with customisable holograms. It’s glam wearable tech."
Kati Elizabeth, Metaverse Makeover's product manager, sat down with beauty writer and cyborg Arabelle Sicardi to talk about wearable tech and future femme fashion. She emphasizes the aspect of self-expression and how augmented and virtual reality technologies integrated with fashion allow for expansive identities that can play with gender and self-representation:
"We're Metaverse Makeovers because our whole vision is for all different products, accessories, apps where you can completely make yourself over. You can walk into the club and look one way but you hold your phone over you and you look completely different. We call it crystal camouflage."
If crystal camouflage sounds like the moon prism power makeup transformation of your dreams, read the full interview here.
Serving cyborg realness
Another sure-fire way to make any fashion trend look future forward is to sew some LEDs in it. Vogue's roundup of this eye-catching trend includes light-up shoes for adults by Karl Lagerfeld, Givenchy's 1999 ready-to-wear cyborg-inspired bustier, and Claire Danes' ethereal LED-riddled ball gown by Zac Posen.
For the rest of us future fashionistas, the great thing about LED is that it's easy to DIY. Berlin's Trafo Pop bicycle gang set a sparkling example. They make their projects accessible through workshops and maker fairs, and sell kits containing strips of LED lights and Arduino controllers so you can pimp out your own bike gear and ride with them through the night. They look like a gang from Mad Max, but way more colorful and friendly:
F.lashes - LED eyelashes - are not yet available but their Kickstarter campaign went viral and they have tripled their goal, so prepare to see them on the runways and in the clubs soon. They consist of a strip of tiny LEDs that attach above the eyelash line with normal lash glue and then connect to a controller that clips to the back of your head, underneath your hair. Most of the ads and tutorials show people concealing the controller, which looks like a circuit board (and some believe that in future iterations, the battery and circuitry will be encased in something so they aren't visible), but visible circuitry is definitely The Look.Artist Soomi Park prototyped a pair of LED eyelashes back in 2007 as a response to pressures in the Asian beauty and fashion world for women to have big eyes. The attention-grabbing LED lashes that she created are the original, a very similar prototype to the f.lashes, but attach to a controller and battery that looks like a pair of headphones, which is much more cyber chic.
Space is the place
Retrofuturistic runway looks, holo everything, LEDs, and augmented or virtual reality wearables are only the beginning. We've barely scratched the surface of bringing yesterday's vision of tomorrow to the styles of today.