“Couture in Orbit”: High-tech & High Fashion Take the Runway

If you weren’t at the Science Museum in London on Wednesday night, here’s some of what you missed…

Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald
Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald
Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald

Couture in Orbit was a high-fashion show inspired by high tech. A welcome by ESA astronaut Tim Peake beamed from the International Space Station set an appropriately space-themed atmosphere before models took futurist designs to the runway. Their unique clothes incorporated of state-of-the-art materials technology—wearable sensors that track movement, fabric made from recycled water bottles, materials that are highly insulating, absorbent, and reflective, and other high performance and smart fabrics.

The designers were students at top fashion schools in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. These countries were chosen because Couture in Orbit highlighted the 2014-2016 International Space Station (ISS) missions of five European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts—one from each of these countries.

Designed to celebrate the “inspirational face of space exploration,” the program was a joint effort of ESA and the Science Museum. This unique form of science outreach engaged a group of students and professionals (and probably audience members) that aren’t traditionally part of the science and technology scene. I’m sure that it expanded the minds of the science geeks in attendance as well.

Back in 2014, the fashion schools* were challenged to envision the future of fashion with desirable and practical garments that incorporated technology and showcased national culture. Each school had a different theme: technology, environment, innovation, health, or sport.

Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald

ESA provided space-certified materials and the schools worked with local companies to secure sensors and other high-tech fabrics for their garments, along with technical expertise. Several schools met with their local astronaut for inspiration and to hear about life in space. From among the many inspired designs developed over the last year, a team of judges chose six from each school to grace Wednesday’s runway.

The fashion show was presented as one of the Science Museum’s after-hours Lates programs. Sponsors included Bionic Yarn (you may have heard about their jeans made from recycled plastic found in the ocean), Sympatex (which makes a material that’s simultaneously waterproof and breathable), Xsens (3D motion tracking technology) and several other companies. It featured a performance by Jordan Gray from the 2016 season of the Voice UK and was emceed by actor and presenter George Lamb.

Image Credit: Science Musem/Barry MacDonald

Recent years have seen an exciting array of developments in the field of wearable technologies and smart materials, including nanowire fabric, stretchable electronics, 3D printed clothes, and much more. From the everyday to the extreme environment, potential applications abound. Just last month the US Defense Secretary announced a $75 million investment in a new initiative for smart fabrics, recognizing their potential for sensing, power-generating, protecting, and even communicating. How these developments will play out in everyday fashion remains to be seen, but Couture in Orbit is a fun exercise in speculating.

To see more of the space-inspired looks and hear about the experience from designers, students, and ESA, check out this event video, the Couture in Orbit tumblr page, and this post from the Science Museum.

Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald

*Participating schools: Fashion Design Akademiet (Copenhagen), ESMOD (Paris), ESMOD (Berlin), Politechnico di Milano (Milan), and Ravensbourne (London).

Kendra Redmond

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