Fashion’s magic designs for futuristic clothing

It is a wish for immortality, the outcome of a deep existential worry: Man has always dreamed of becoming strong and indomitable, of acquiring supernatural and magical powers. This quest for omniscent strength could be why the world of fashion has often approximated science fiction. Interestingly, futuristic style is not just a fabulist construct of the high-tech realm of science fiction. Radical technological advances in the world of fashion and the related garment industry have helped produce some of the most unusual and futuristic clothing. A selection of designs that highlight the mingling between technology and the fashion industry will be shown at an exhibition scheduled for 2007, organized by ATOPOS and curated by its artistic director Vassilis Zidianakis. Contrary to what one may expect out of an exhibition on this subject, the show will not narrow itself to technology-derived garments but will also include clothing ranging from haute couture to gadget-like clothing. Zidianakis, whose curatorial work follows a multidisciplinary and conceptual approach (the «Ptychoseis» exhibition is an example), has designed an exhibition that is not strictly «technocratic» but which addresses «future clothing» as an idea, a broad concept with diverse applications from pure design to clothing with «robotic» properties. This is where the exhibition differs from similar exhibitions held recently, such as the exhibition at the Smithsonian in Washington DC or the Musee de la Mode Galliera in Paris. Zidianakis will stretch the idea of futuristic clothing to the fullest. Cutting-edge creations by designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake or Alexander McQueen will be seen next to non-designer items such as a C.P. company multipurpose garment which can be used as a vest, coat or armchair. The exhibition touches on one of the most high-tech aspects of contemporary fashion. It highlights how at the present moment fashion encounters disparate fields and adapts developments made in aerospace, genetics, pharmaceuticals, defense and sport for its own purposes. Those developments – which usually originate from companies such as Sony, Philips, France Telecom or athletic wear – provide fresh material and inspiration that are so necessary in fashion’s constant quest for the new. The technology and scientific fields also benefit by testing their experiments and turning them to profit-making commercial products. The merging of fashion with technology manifests itself in various ways. It has produced the so-called hardware or software style, which is clothing that either functions like a gadget or incorporates within it a technological aspect, such as optical fibers. Technological know-how has also produced new textiles and has also transformed the actual dress-making techniques. Issey Miyake, for example, is one of the pioneers in experimenting with new techniques in patterning and laser-cutting. The range of fashions that technological developments have made available is impressive. Examples include UVA-protection clothing, chameleon-like fabric which changes color, stain-resistant textiles and garments with aromatherapy properties. In hardcore fashion, designers are working with scientists to produce eccentric artificial intelligence designs. Martin Margiela has collaborated on living-tissue material with biologists, Viktor & Rolf have produced clothes which function as moving projections of changing images, and Manel Torres has introduced spray-on clothing. Futuristic clothing follows one of the latest trends in fashion, but the style has always had a place in fashion and art. Back in the 1920s the famous Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer produced his futuristic kinetic sculptures (which will also be included in the exhibition) and in the 1960s designers such as Andre Courreges and Paco Rabanne introduced space-age styles. The exhibition by ATOPOS will bring together all of these diverse manifestations of futuristic style. It will show that futuristic thinking has always found a way into people’s «second skin» – into the way they have dressed or dreamed of dressing in the quest for the supernatural. Paper dresses from the space-age 1960s In the late 1960s, a fad for dresses made out of paper spread across the United States. The fashion fad lasted two years and drew in women across the social stratum. Paper dresses are perhaps one of the most democratic and liberating moments in the course of fashion during the second half of the 20th century. Although disposable (they could only be worn a few times), they gave women the opportunity to experiment with different styles and dress in the latest designs. With a little over one dollar, women could be trendy during the days of psychedelic op-art designs, Andy Warhol’s «Campbell Soup» logo and hundreds of other pop-inspired designs. Much more than a fun phenomenon, paper designs actually derive from the experiments with new textiles and modes of production that spread through the fashion world during the 1960s. They were actually born out of NASA’s experiments with single-use clothing that could be worn by its astronauts. An integral part of the futuristic theme of the decade, paper dresses will, for that reason, be included in the exhibition on the garments of the future that ATOPOS is working on. Paper dresses were also an expression of the 1960s sexual revolution. They were flirty and young and because of their easily torn material were also daring. In the early 1970s, the emphasis on recycling and the time’s ecological concerns put an end to the fad of paper dresses. But women had already enjoyed the pleasure of being in fashion with dresses that cost almost nothing but were worn by celebrities and ordinary women alike. Some four decades later, paper dresses have become collectible items that, in certain cases, cost almost a thousand times more than their original price. Yet their disposable quality is of concern no longer. They were fun back then and are now a sign of a 1960s futuristic utopia. Original curating by ATOPOS Vassilis Zidianakis, a costume designer and curator with a background in the study of ethnology, anthropology and the history of civilization, is the artistic director of ATOPOS, a non-profit cultural organization that he co-founded (together with Stamos Fafalios, Marianna Kavalieratou, Giorgos Giorgakopoulos and Dimitris Papanikolaou) back in 2003 with the purpose of organizing cutting-edge projects (atopos is an Ancient Greek word that means the uncanny, alternative and eccentric) that merge contemporary arts, fashion and design. ATOPOS commissioned Marcus Tomlinson’s short film «Infusion,» a contemporary take on the fustanella that was shown at the successful «Ptychoseis» exhibition in 2004 (Zidianakis was curator of the exhibition). Other ATOPOS projects include the video «Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,» Tomlinson’s artistic interpretation of a rare post-Byzantine dress that is housed at the Mystras Museum and Jackie Nickerson’s video «Issey Miyake Fete: Constellation.» ATOPOS has also been involved in the costume design for the production of Yiannis Xenakis’s «Oresteia» (directed by Spyros Sakkas) and has worked with the dance theater group of Natassa Zouka. Although active for only the past few years, ATOPOS has already made an international splash. Zidianakis, whose past international exposure includes collaboration with the famous director Robert Wilson, was one of the main participants at the sixth International Shibori Symposium and he has been invited to be part of the committee at the upcoming Hyere 21st fashion festival in southern France. Another international side to ATOPOS is its advisory committee, which includes names such as Jun Kanai (the US representative of Isssey Miyake), Marie-Claude Beaude (director of the Musee d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean in Luxembourg), independent fashion curator Lydia Kamitsis and C. Raman Schlemmer, head of the Oskar Schlemmer Archives. ATOPOS has also built a substantial collection of garments and contemporary fashion with a focus on radical creations by such radical designers as Yohji Yamamoto, Christophe Broich and Bernard Willhelm. ATOPOS actually owns the richest and most comprehensive collection of 1960s paper dresses internationally. A selection of those will be presented in an upcoming exhibition at the Benaki Museum. The exhibition will also travel to museums and fashion institutes abroad. A dynamic organization, ATOPOS has introduced new aspects of fashion to this country through original projects and well-researched projects.