Technology defines our human experience. Before vaccinations, it was the spear. Before it was the internet, it was the compass. To be in a position to create post-apocalyptic worlds and distant alien races we needed paper, ink, the printing press. We needed the atomic bomb.

Science fiction is a reaction to progress – extrapolating realised technologies into scenarios that dig into existentialism, metaphysical debate and social satire. It’s a reaction to our fetishisation of tech. But why is it having a moment in fashion?

Even before Metropolis debuted as the first feature-length cinematic example of the genre in 1927, popular culture had been captivated by alternate earths and galaxies far, far away. Born out of the searing pace of progress during the industrial revolution, even the earliest literary works of Science Fiction philosophised macabre applications of the technology propelling humanity into a brighter future. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein questions the ethics and morality of wielding new knowledge, reframing the myth of Prometheus for a society increasingly rooted in science.

Where Prometheus played with fire, Victor played with science. Where Shelley’s protagonist (cue literary debate) reanimated dead flesh, today’s Dr Frankensteins are trying to recreate the mind through ever more complex algorithms and an almost impossible vastness of data. The philosophical questions posed by these works - what it means to be human - make them universal; quandaries the developed world has been having for centuries. Much of Science Fiction cinema is visual representation of thought experiments, delivered to the masses disguised as a date night activity.

As a study of human identity, it’s no surprise that fashion borrows a lot from the genre.

While futurism in fashion has been around for a hundred years, corporate housings are now predicting the near future with scientific methods of trend forecasting, use of data and machine learning, bringing technology to the forefront of the industry in the biggest way since the internet. The futurism is no longer all conceptual projection.

The applications of these new technologies aren’t, however, as nightmarish as their literary or cinematic counterparts. Not yet, anyway. Artificial Intelligence is the next great frontier; its presence being felt commercially after decades of fictional speculation. From silent algorithms serving consumers hyper-personalised ads Minority Report style, to fully automated chat bots, the time to heed cautionary tales like Spike Jonze’s Her or Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is creeping ever closer. Naturally, the dystopian vision of a fully automated creative process culminating in artificial sentience enslaving humanity springs to mind, but that’s definitely something Raf Simons and Jun Takahashi would get a kick out of - so it won’t be all bad.

2001 a space odyssey kicked off the sci-fi-as-an-existential-crisis movement as we know it today. As a frame for philosophical questions about the way we use technology, creation and destruction, humanity and morality it’s inspired contemplation across popular culture. The Matrix, Interstellar, annihilation, Arrival all carry the spirit of 2001, as does the Gucci cyborg, Prada’s Nylon Farm and, more overtly, Undercover’s AW18 collection.
 
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‘The Gucci cyborg is post-human. It has eyes on its hands, faun horns, dragon’s puppies and heads. It is a biologically indefinite and culturally aware creature’. Alessandro Michele has reinvigorated the Florentine house not only by looking into its century of history, but by creating an entirely new world for the brand to live in - bridging the gap between maximalism and fantasy. The now infamous FW18 Dragon pup was inspired by author Allistair Mitchell’s 2004 hoax in which he spun a yarn about unearthing a baby dragon pickled in formaldehyde in an Oxford garage. Mitchell garnered press coverage as far-flung as Australia, and ultimately used the stunt to leverage a book deal for his unpublished fantasy novel.

In Blade Runner, the rich and powerful own artificial animals – when Deckard meets Rachel she asks if he likes Tyrell corporation’s owl; if he likes the company’s ability to create something artificial yet indistinguishable from the biological original. It took Makinarium, the special effects studio tapped up by Gucci, 6 months to create the dragon, severed heads, horns and extra eyes Michele sent his cyborgs to the operating theatre holding and wearing - anatomically correct and hyper-realistic prosthetics worthy of their own feature film or international hoax. Alessandro’s Gucci had to settle for industry acclaim and 6.2 billion euros in global revenue. Tough gig.

The grotesque realism was an evolution of the previous year’s ad campaign, a homage to vintage sci-fi complete with Friesian cows, abduction, Lagoon creatures, stop-motion dinosaurs, and aliens. The fantasy got darker in a year, the subtext more real. As real-world technology reaches the borders of sci-fi fantasies we grew up with, the conversations around new technology and morality start making the news. And when Elon Musk is voicing his concerns about AI, and mainstream media is writing about ‘designer babies’, the potential for slightly disturbing campaigns skyrockets. They capture the consumer because the stems of these concepts have already been seeded into their minds.

Blade Runner’s Replicants (and the androids of Philip K. Dick’s source material) undergo a series of questions to assess their empathic responses, and ascertain if they’re human or cyborg - similar to, and probably influenced by, Alan Turning’s Turing test (the test of a machines ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human - thanks, Wikipedia). Both in art and life we’re morbidly fascinated by the idea of playing god; creating something in our own image with such accuracy we can’t hope to control it. As a species we’re in denial: we’re scared of freedom despite preaching the opposite.

The rise of CGI influencers like Lil Miquela, used by Prada and Highsnobiety, are as Black Mirror as it gets. The narrative that Miquela is a sentient robot is, of course, a fake one, but that’s the worst part. These accounts are real-time social satire, serving us image-addicted with something mysterious enough to stand out, but specifically tailored to be an Instagram success through data analytics. Can’t find the right human being as a vehicle for your streetwear brand? Create one instead. They’re personalised, medicated gruel for our self-constructed social media prisons - and they taste so good.

In a reality where we are already versions of the cyborgs depicted in fiction – where we remove ocular implants at night, modify the unborn with stem cells and live symbiotically with devices that recognise our faces, we dress up these advancements in plain clothes (contact lenses, smartphones) such that they seem essential at best, mundane at worst. As soon as things become possible, they’re boring. Conveniently, we forget how we wrestled with morality over the testing of these products or the potential applications of technologies by monstrous corporate entities. As long as there is immediate gain, we forget about the recent past. We look to the future.

By definition, fashion is a capricious field, but it’ll always react to the climate surrounding it, and, like science fiction, take grains of truth to striking extremes. And at the moment, that’s mild unease about welcoming Alexa into our homes. She’s always listening you know.  
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