Moving from yesterday’s post and the pessimism/optimism surrounding futuristic fashion designs, I'll try to have a brief look today at some shapes and silhouettes inspired by the futuristic scenes from H.G. Wells’ Things to Come (1936 - you will find the entire film embedded at the end of this post, but you can also download it here), produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies.
The film starts in 1940 when a global war breaks out. Mankind keeps on fighting for decades, forgetting the purpose of the war, and eventually civilisation goes back to a sort of barbaric Medieval state.
Yet, on the eve of man's first flight to the moon, an opponent of the progress raises the population against the system.
From an architecture and fashion point of view the second part of the film is obviously more exciting than the first.
The long sequences showing the technological progresses and human achievements (roughly from 01:06:00) culminate with images of minimalist Art Deco buildings crisscrossed by transparent tube-shaped lifts.
The 2036 architectures shown in Things to Come reappeared in their darker and gothic incarnations in modern films that often presented us with a dystopic vision of the future, from Blade Runner to the more recent Metropia.
From a fashion design point of view the first interesting costume appears on the screen when pilot John Cabal lands in 1970 in Everytown.
Cabal wears one of the first examples of futuristic uniforms that incorporates a rigid armour-like breastplate and is characterised by some interesting details around the shoulders (you can see it rather well around 40:30 - in this point of the film it allows you to make comparisons also with the costumes of the other characters, in particular Roxanna's, a mix of witch, gypsy and vestal look, and the Boss' militarist-meets-shepherd attire).
When the story moves to 2036, costume designers John Armstrong, René Hubert and painter Cathleen Mann (credited in the film as the Marchioness of Queensberry) opted for a mix of classic and futuristic inspirations.
The technologically advanced inhabitants of Everytown wear classic togas complete of traditional Roman garments such as the stola (a rather awkward feature especially if you are supposed to dynamically drive a spaceship wearing it...). Women also wear a sort of tiara-shaped headband in the fashion of Roman ladies.
The costumes feature two modern elements, a metallic belt that cinches the waist and oversized shoulders.
These features are also integrated in kids’ clothes, though the latter seem to be characterised by less exaggerated shoulder shapes.
The reasons behind the designers opting for such classic references are almost easy to spot: costume designer Cathleen Mann was a painter, and therefore well versed in the world of classic art (she was the daughter of painter Harrington Mann and her works are held in different museums all over Europe) and the film also features classic statues (favoured by Art Deco trends) made by one of the characters who opposes progress, Theotocopulos.
For what regards the shoulder shapes and silhouettes we have instead to turn to fashion history. The latter teaches us that emphasis on the shoulders always meant one main thing, giving a certain empowerment and superiority to a garment and to its wearer.
In the 80s, the age of power dressing, shoulders were huge, almost to indicate the wearer was in charge of a situation.
In the last few years, and in particular from the Spring/Summer 2006 season, quite a few designers focused again on the shoulders.
The shape of the shoulders became of fundamental importance in collections such as Martin Margiela and Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga's. Both the maisons opted for structured pushed-out or built-up shoulders in their designs.
The final sharp silhouette that resulted was quite striking, and further contrasts were created through clashing colour combinations such as black/white and fluorescent shades.
Terminator and Tron may have been behind the double-layered shoulder line of the Balenciaga's Spring/Summer 2007 collection (reminiscent for some of its shoulder details of Cabal's uniform in Things to Come), but the high-tech inspirations in this collection were somehow infused of classicism (remember the drapey toga looking shirtdresses from this collection?).
Well-structured shoulders also reappeared in the silicon and latex pieces designed by Rachael Barrett and favoured by Lady Gaga, rather interesting examples of where the shoulder obsession can take a fashion designer when and if it is combined with modern materials.
So here’s a little exercise for the fashion students out there reading this blog (all the other readers please free to go and enjoy the film in the meantime...): wonder what would it look like a world led by Technocrats in 3036 and try to create designs that show particular attention on the shoulders.
Play with tailoring techniques, embroideries (why not using with bits and pieces of the script and of the final speech by Oswald Cabal who ponders about mankind conquering the entire universe or nothing...) and embellishments; combine Medieval armours with elements stolen from robots and droids and think about what kind of devices a new breed of Technocrats may incorporate in the shoulders of their suits.
Try to go for an extreme appearance but don't forget experimenting a bit with materials while making sure the final result is wearable (most of us do not have Lady Gaga's lifestyle...). To get further inspirations, watch again the Things to Come scenes showing the architectures characterising Everytown in 2036.