In the last few posts I have focused on the connection between fashion and an Italian comic book, Diabolik.
Moving from comics, I would like to ponder a bit today on the blurred divide between “geek” and “chic”.
It is somehow undeniable that, while fashion continuously borrows from what are often wrongly considered as “lower” forms of art such as comics, mangas, or sci-fi novels and B-movies, there has always been a rather ambivalent relation with these products and the fashion industry.
The ‘80s, a decade in which good and bad taste often mixed and combined producing some of the most iconic but also some of the most embarrassing looks in the lives of many of us, proved to be the perfect grounds for the best contaminations between fashion and comics.
American artist Suzan Pitt mixed in 1985 Pop Art, DC Comics characters and superheroes and American logos on military garments and trench coats, creating unique pieces that could still be considered as some of the first fashionable examples of the currently terribly hip upcycling trend.
Yet wearing a T-shirt with a print of a comic character, of Yoda spelling “May the force be with you” or of a Dalek sreeching “Exterminate!” at a fashion show of a prominent label was deemed in some circles as a form of social hara-kiri, constituting enough grounds for anathema (especially if the above-mentioned T-shirt wasn’t created by some kind of pretentious designer or wasn’t the result of a cool collaboration between an acceptable high street retailer and a hip label/brand/designer).
Unfortunately for nerds and geeks, prompted also by the film industry, fashion has suddenly realised that it is perfectly fine to declare one’s allegiance to or get inspired by specific characters or by sci-fi films usually considered by hordes of critics simply as cringingly “nerdish”.
The trend is widespread: Australian design duo Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales showcased their label Romance Was Born’s latest collection last week during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Sydney, ending up on the news and sending bloggers to visual paradise with garments featuring images of Marvel heroes, including Thor, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, The Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Warlock, Dr Doom, Black Panther and random members of The Badoons.
In some cases sections of specific costumes (Sunfire’s for example View this photo) or blown up graphics borrowed from the pages of '70s comic books were used to create bold motifs on dresses, tops and skirts.
Funnily enough, a while back, low-cost Italian retailer Oviesse did (authorised) Marvel T-shirts for young women using prints of romance comics from the late ‘50s-early '60s with quite pleasant Pop Art results, but getting absolutely no press coverage about them.
That probably happened because the trend for officially turning geek into chic subtly appeared here and there in the last few years, before becoming one of the current fashion obsessions only in the last few months.
There were symptoms of this trendy at Versace’s S/S 12 Haute Couture catwalk show: oozing the same kitsch of Danilo Donati’s costumes for Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon sadly minus Donati’s Art Deco references, Atelier Versace’s gowns with their strapless bodices and corsets, beads and sequins and hourglass silhouettes highlighted by curving gold metal insets around the shoulder area or the hips, were reminiscent of the attire of the maids populating Emperor Ming's bedroom.
In a palette mainly based on orangey red, gold, green and acid yellow, the gowns also evoked the elaborate costumes (often in red and gold) that - donned by Ornella Muti in Hodges’ film - proved traumatically fatal on many adolescent boys when the movie was first released.
You could argue that in this collection there was a certain derivation from Thierry Mugler, but Planet Mugler was always an exotic land, inspired by comic strips, science fiction, futurism and, well, Flash Gordon.
While this Atelier Versace's collection was still in the realm of chic/kitsch rather than mere geek, Balenciaga’s A/W 2012-13 collection stepped over the dark side of the force, blurring the divide between chic with geek.
Since he arrived at the label in 1997, Nicolas Ghesquière always displayed a fascination with sci-fi: fans will definitely remember the S/S 2007 collection with its robotic leggings or the rigid shoulder line of its coats and jackets. More recently, Ghesquière created for the S/S 12 collection, dynamic footwear that called to mind the pumps/boots that Alita wears in Leslie Selander’s Flight to Mars.
Using a palette comprising metallic greys, electric blue and fuchsia, he came up with dresses with sheer inserts, jumpsuits in hi-tech parachute-like materials, and (rigid almost robotic in fact) coats and jackets.
A-line skirts or high-waist pants were matched with tops characterised by rounded or exaggerated silhouettes and with embossed or padded lamé jersey appliquéd motifs that seemed to recreate the surface of some distant planet in a galaxy far, far away.
The most nerdish items, though, were definitely the sweatshirts with supposedly ironic though absolutely lame messages and slogans such as “Join a Weird Trip”, “Special Presentation” or “Out of the Blue”, and spaced out graphics, combining random images of Tutankhamun's mummy mask (for that random Sun Ra touch…), space aged kids (probably forged from the badly photocopied cover of a pirated third rate sci-fi DVD...), deformed space villains and characters reminiscent of the protagonists of Liquid Sky.
Obviously in the fashion industry you would be a fool to dismiss such items as geeky and nerdish: if you’d do so you’d be accused of not having any sense of humour.
So maybe now that geek is chic and not shit because Balenciaga and Co. say so, your inner nerd is finally free to roam about the fashion streets and, who knows, you may (note: I said ‘may’) even be able to take that embarrassing Hulk T-shirt from the bottom of your wardrobe and wear it.
Believe it or not, you may even boast you learnt how to hatch sea monkeys successfully at the tender age of 6 and that you once owned (and still hide it in your attic/garage...) a Sinclair ZX80, currently rehabilitated by the "British Design" exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum (celebrating furniture, architecture, industrial products and fashion from 1948 to 2012).
There is a tremendously funny aspect in all this, though: by following their own passions and obsessions rather than the herd, nerds and geeks were traditionally despised by the hip and cool ones who are now turning to them now for inspiration. The fashion élite? As Emperor Ming would say, "Pathetic earthlings!"
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