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Space age

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Space age fashion: Paco Rabanne - André Courrèges - Pierre Cardin

The world was jettisoned into the lead of the Space Age Race when, on July 20, 1969, the first astronauts to walk the moon were America’s very own Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. The allure of outer space has inspired fashion since the dawn of man’s understanding of the world beyond.

Dress by Pierre Cardin, photocredit unidentified

Space age

The Space Age Design Era 1957-1972
I define the Space Age era as the 15 year period between the 1957 launching of Sputnik and the last manned moon mission in 1972. During that time the public remained fixated on space exploration. The 1973 energy crisis halted and even reversed the forward thinking futuristc mindset that had dominated the culture prior to it.


Fashion of the future has always been as important as the technical hardware in science fiction filmmaking. From Metropolis to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the overall look can make or break a movie. In time, the set designs, costumes and special effects would show their age and sometimes look outrageously ridiculous. But as long as both the premise of the film and message are strong, everything else is a non-issue. This is the case for 2001: A Space Odyssey and many other films before or after 2001. Fashion design in science fiction film and television has always been minimalist which reflects how our society sees itself in the future. American designer Rudi Gernriech was one of many fashion designers that explored these ideas in the 1960s. Fabric was important to the look as well with French designer Paco Rabanne. Rabanne dressed young Jane Fonda in the erotic romp Barbarella in 1968.

In the book Sixties Design (Taschen, 1996), space-age styles soon became the height of fashionable design. Perhaps the most dramatic impact was in the world of Parisian couture. Paris fashion had thrived on change, yet always within traditional parameters. In the mid-sixties, Andre Courreges staged a revolution with far-reaching effects. His crisply cut clothes with plenty of white (sometimes striped in black), short skirts, short white boots and white slit-aperture sunglasses were clothes for movement, for the young. Their context was the bright new world in which science fiction was being transformed by technology's progress into science fact.

Rudi Gernriech, famous for the topless swimsuit in the sixties and thong in the seventies, predicted in Life magazine (Vol. 68, #1 Jan. 9, 1970) that, "Clothing will not be identified as either male or female... women and men will wear skirts interchangeably... the aesthetics of fashion are going to involve the body." Rudi's bold new unisex concept was tested on the 1975 British television show Space: 1999. Production designer Keith Wilson recalls how he hated the moon uniform worn by the scientific community living on the moonbase. "I hated them because they weren't flattering to any of the artists, they were so restricting... As soon as we did the second series, we altered it."

According to The Making of Star Trek—The Motion Picture, (Wallaby, 1980), Gene Roddenberry believed throwaway clothes were the future of the clothing industry, and the idea was incorporated into Star Trek—The Motion Picture. All costumes were designed by American costume designer Robert Fletcher.

In 2001, the standard attire was a business-as-usual approach to the corporate world of fashion. There were no ties for men's suits since they were not needed in zero gravity. The Russian women scientists wore dark conservative clothing, reflecting their own conservative values. Although Kubrick's 2001 wardrobe was practical, it still reflected the mid-sixties slender look, now outdated. But fashion comes and goes and the world of 2001 has not arrived. The military and spacecraft uniforms were as common in the sixties as they are now, with no dramatic changes in 30 years. American women of the year 2001 still retained roles they held in the 1960s as Hilton Hotel receptionists and Pan Am stewardesses. The women wore space-age traveling hats while carrying hand bags. According to Setting the Scene by Robert S. Sennett (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994), many of the design elements of the middle narrative portion of the film now seem to be reflections of swinging London circa 1968, rather than the imagined near future. The stewardesses' uniforms, designed by British fashion and 2001 costume designer Hardy Amies, look like the uncomfortable unisex pant suits that were being foisted on the innocent public in the late sixties. --http://www.2001exhibit.org/2001b/fashion.html


  1. Where's My Space Age! (2003) - Sean Topham [Amazon.com] [fr] [de] [uk]
    The author of Blowup goes back to the future to follow the evolution of space-age design: from its optimistic conception in the 1950s to its decline in the 1970s and its retro revival today.
    The Soviet-American race to the moon ignited a worldwide obsession with outer space and futuristic living that was manifested in the era’s architecture, design, and popular culture—and reflected in everything from furniture to postage stamps, fashion to children's toys. With hundreds of illustrations and a lively text, Sean Topham reveals the countless ways the galactic frontier invaded every aspect of daily life: in household objects and haute couture, advertising and comic books, plastics and interior design, private homes and public buildings. He explains how artists’ conceptions of the future influenced history and were in turn shaped by events for decades to come. As Topham charts the rise and fall of futuristic design through the work of Eero Aarnio, Joe Colombo, Verner Panton, Pierre Cardin, Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, Archigram, Haus-Rucker-Co, Matti Suuronen, John Lautner, Adrian Frutiger, among many others, he reveals how the era’s euphoric energy gave way to a more anxious uncertainty. He also questions whether today’s passion for futuristic design is purely retro-chic—or the dawning of a new fascination with space-age culture. Entertaining and informative, this is a nostalgic look forward to a remarkably inventive era that seems sometimes innocent, sometimes prescient, but always inspiring.

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