future perfect

The Future of Fashion Never Looks How We Imagine It Will

<i>Le Sortie de l’Opéra en l’An 2000</i>, by Albert Robida, circa 1882, predicts the year 2000.
Le Sortie de l’Opéra en l’An 2000, by Albert Robida, circa 1882, predicts the year 2000.

“The clothes that I prefer are those that I invent for a life that doesn’t exist yet — the world of tomorrow,” said Pierre Cardin, the designer whose ’70s-designed, futuristic Bubble Palace on the French Riviera served as the setting for Dior’s resort collection this spring. But fashion has a funny way of predicting a world of tomorrow that never actually comes to pass.

Sixties designers like Cardin, along with André Courrèges and Paco Rabanne, thought we’d be dressing like kicky astronauts come the 21st century, when in reality our space shuttles have been grounded and we’re all wearing jersey separates from Uniqlo. Courrèges went further: A room above his studio was called his “secret laboratory,” and his wife designed bubble-shaped electric cars to accessorize his Jetsons dresses.

By the time the much-heralded year 2000 rolled around, things were even more muddled. That year, downtown Minneapolis played host to the “Brave New Unwired World” fashion show. While the mock gadgetry correctly predicted the wearable-tech side of things — people would, in fact, spend the ensuing decade and a half edging closer and closer to the handheld internet — they got the fashion angle all wrong. Shiny silver Star Trek vests, orblike belts, and the rest of the Web 1.0 cyberchic on display have been supplanted by our beloved athleisure.

But in the end, it’s not about being right. Fashion predictions tell us a lot more about our present than our future — about our hopes and fears for the world to come, not just what we’ll wear in it. And there’s a certain pleasure in our utter unpredictability.

Perhaps the only designer to tackle the past and the future in one garment is Hussein Chalayan. For his spring-summer 2007 collection, he created animatronic dresses that cycled through every permutation of 20th-century silhouettes with the precision of a gavotte. An arch wink at our ongoing obsession with the next next thing, the dresses mutated from corseted Gibson Girl to flapper, through Dior’s New Look and Rabanne’s Barbarella moment, and ended, finally, with nudity.

*This article appears in the September 7, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

Photo: Library of Congress

The Year: 2000

Le Sortie de l’Opéra en l’An 2000, by Albert Robida, circa 1882. A futuristic view of post-opera air travel over Paris.

The Year: 1902–1993

In 1893, W. Cade Gall gave readers a satirical look at the “future dictates of fashion” in The Strand magazine.

The Year: 1902–1993

In 1893, W. Cade Gall gave readers a satirical look at the “future dictates of fashion” in The Strand magazine.

Photo: Anton Bruehl/Conde Nast

The Year: 2000

“Designs for a 2000 AD doll,” Vogue, February 1939. Dress by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss.

The Year: 1952

An illustration from the 1880s depicting how we will dress in 1952. 

Photo: Daily Capital News

The Year: 2000

A clipping from Daily Capital News, 1949, Jefferson, MO.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Predicted in 1959: Fast Fashion

Though we’re not all wearing paper dresses, as this Chicago Tribune article imagined, disposable fashion has certainly become a global phenomenon.

Photo: Courtesy of Hussein Chalayan/Catwalking

On the Runway in the Real Year 2000

For his spring-summer 2000 collection, Hussein Chalayan created the Airplane Dress, with a fiberglass-and-resin shell that could be operated via remote control to reveal a retro tulle underskirt. The designer would go on to experiment with animatronic clothing and LED on the runway.

Photo: Imaxtree

Meanwhile … 2015 Looks Back

This season’s clothes modernize what came before. From left: Alberta Ferrett, Alexander McQueen, Marchesa, Miu Miu, Chloé, Rodarte, J. W. Anderson, Rag & Bone.

Fashion Never Looks How We Imagine It Will