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Fashion's Space Race

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Space travel has long been a source of inspiration to the fashion industry. When the space race between the Soviet Union and the US was underway in the 1960s, it influenced designers including Paco Rabanne, Courrèges and Pierre Cardin into all manner of both sculptural and streamlined looks.

High fashion houses since have regularly referenced everything and anything related to the galaxy, the fantasy of its contents and the way in which we could navigate it.

One giant leap to modern day and little has changed. This time around it’s the likes of Chanel and Gucci taking their cues directly from exploring our solar system and beyond.

In March 2017, the former went so far as to showcase a rocket (as above) complete with mock launch during Paris Fashion Week, while astronaut prints and lashings of metallic looks took to the runway alongside. The latter then followed up on its otherworldly Milan show with a campaign film featuring everything from UFOs to multiple Star Trek references just last month.

Accessories brand Coach, meanwhile, recently unveiled a limited edition capsule collection of NASA-themed pieces, including handbags, purses and sweatshirts. Said creative director, Stuart Vevers, at the time: “The collection is very nostalgic. There’s something about the time of the space program that just gives this feeling of possibility. The space references, rockets, and planets are symbolic of a moment of ultimate American optimism and togetherness.”

In today’s political environment, that feeling of hope may be particularly sought after once more, but the renewed interest in space goes beyond just nostalgia.

For the first time in a generation, the possibility of space exploration is on the horizon again, this time supported by private companies including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Beyond returning to the moon, the aim is both to enable space tourism on the one hand, and to work towards reaching Mars, on the other. As soon as 2018, we’ll see these businesses launching crewed missions to the International Space Station initially, before dabbling with the civilian side of things too. SpaceX for instance is planning to send two tourists on a flight around the moon, also next year.

While a trip on a rocket has been the preserve of very few to date, this 21st Century version of the space race will see it eventually becoming more consumer facing than ever.

What this means is outer space become a genuine branding opportunity for the fashion industry, rather that just a source of inspiration.

“Public access to space is just beginning, and so this notion of dressing for space that was so often science fiction is going to become a reality,” Nicholas de Monchaux, author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, recently told Quartz.

His book tells the tale of underwear manufacturer Playtex designing the spacesuits for the Apollo 11 space mission – the ones worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they walked on the moon. It’s a story of technical triumph, above all else, which is where enormous amounts of work continues today in terms of both the new materials and the engineering needed to support the demands of such attire.

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