Skip to content

By Roger Highfield on

Couture In Orbit: when space and fashion collide

Daring, avant-garde and achingly cool, the first European Space Agency fashion show touched down in the Science Museum last night.

Daring, avant-garde and achingly cool, the first European Space Agency fashion show touched down in the Science Museum in May 2016. Yes, there was glitter and lots of makeup. But there was plenty of high technology too, ranging from bizarre visors to smart fabrics bristling with sensors.

One of the models clutched a bubble that helpfully morphed into a bag. Others glided around on roller blades.

Science Museum staff who metamorphosed into models were dressed by fashion schools from Paris, London, Milan, Copenhagen and Berlin, then trained to sashay down a specially-constructed catwalk for a dedicated Lates event.

The effort to propel haute couture into orbit was backed by Bionic Yarn, a New York City-based start-up which makes fabric from recycled ocean plastic.

‘It went absolutely amazing. It was a proper show with no holds barred’ said Alex Tapia of Bionic Yarn. ‘It really gave an insight into what the kids are doing in these schools that was absolutely special, using the materials that we provided in a brand new way that I have never seen before. It was innovative and refreshing.’

The show was launched by musician Pharrell Williams, Bionic’s creative director, who shared his thoughts about space with the audience which included Gregory Haggquist, Chief Technical Officer and Founder of 37.5, Christian Lagerwaard, Fashion Designer, Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Engineering Employers Federation and Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group.

After a video welcome by UK ESA astronaut Tim Peake, and a performance by singer and veteran of The Voice Jordan Gray, the MC George Lamb introduced the 30 shortlisted outfits developed by fashion schools across Europe. #CoutureInOrbit trended on Twitter during the night.

Students from Ravensbourne in London sought their cosmic inspiration from UK ESA astronaut Tim Peake, in an effort led by Alexa Pollman, senior lecturer.

Caroline Gilbey, Associate Dean for Fashion, said she agreed to take part as soon as Ravensbourne was asked. ‘This provided a unique opportunity for students on four courses and in our business incubator to work together. They all had an amazing time and loved it.’

Cristina Labat at ESMOD Paris worked on couture in orbit with style professor Katia Mourot, using astronaut Thomas Pesquet as their fashion muse. Labat said that it was a pleasure to welcome representatives from ESA into the school to describe the Agency’s projects. ‘The students were immediately enthralled.’

‘The students selected for London – Maxime, Jamjuree, Ye, Valeria and Nuria – invested a lot of time in this project despite their busy schedule to graduate at the end of the year. The result was wonderful.’

At ESMOD Berlin the couture in orbit effort was led by Philippe Ara, design teacher, and lecturer Stephanie Biedermann. Around 20 of their students worked on the project, guided by the inspiration of ESA astronaut, Alexander Gerst: ‘One student started thinking about photosynthesis seen from space and another was inspired by the lack of visible country borders from above to design a garment that eschewed visible borders.’

Prof Ramiro Alvarado of ESMOD Berlin added it was an ‘amazing project…’I told the students I wanted to go to new places and it took us there.’

Lis Fornæs of the Fashion Design Akademiet Copenhagen said her students had been fired up by a visit by Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, who has worked on a special skinsuit. ‘We were shown the future path for fashion. And it was fun.’

Prof Annalisa Dominoni of the Politecnico di Milano said the invitation to take part was too good to miss because of her previous experience creating garments that have been used on the International Space Station

The Italian students were intrigued and inspired by the fluid movements and gestures of astronauts in microgravity. ‘ESA suggested we focus our projects on health and nutrition, because our assigned astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, is deeply engaged in these areas.’

Her colleague, Prof Benedetto Quaquaro of the University of Genoa, said that he found the collision between the world of haute couture and high technology fascinating. ‘It is really interesting to see how they interact.’

Our space-inspired #coutureinorbit show, the culmination of two years of discussions between ESA and the Science Museum, was held in the same gallery that provided the home for the critically acclaimed blockbuster exhibition, Cosmonauts: birth of the space age, which will open next month in Moscow

A wide range of ESA’s Technology Transfer Program and industry sponsors supported the project, with high-tech functional textiles from Sympatex, Bionic Yarn and 37.5® Technology by Cocona®. Gregory Haggquist, inventor of 37.5, said that fashion will always be important: ‘It doesn’t matter if you are in space or on a planet we will all want to express ourselves. 37.5’s goal is to add reactive materials to all types of fabrics while allowing designers to have the freedom to share their creativity.’

Xsens provided 3D motion tracking sensors to the schools. Other exhibitors at last night’s special Lates included D’Appolonia, eXtreme Materials, INanoE, Technical Absorbents Ltd, JOHAN technology and LEAP technology.

You can see tweets about the project including those from the astronauts, on Storify, more blogs on the ESA website, and for dedicated followers of fashion there is plenty of information on this tumblr. The full list of those who took part is included here.

Thank you to Omega for the skywalker X-33 watches, to our inspirational catwalk trainer Jarrod Kentrell (IMMA), to Davinia Fermi Makeup Academy and to all the models from the Science Museum staff: Giselle Agim; David Badovinac; Sarah Barnes; Sarah Bond; Phoebe Bunting; Nell Burnham; Carlota Iris Cajo; Brittany Camp; Elizabeth Everett; Gabriela Fabrowska; Sinead Flament; Anna Flavia Di Gennaro; Julia Godinho; Anna Goulding; Marta Guerrini; David Houston; Leah Kelly; Steven Lee; Esther Lie; Katia Miritello; Sophie Organ; Claire Russell; Tanya-Lynne Sabourin; Maria Serveta; Irene Shin; Spencer Silver; James Smith; Dafni Sofrona Konstantinidi; Christian Sokolov; Susan Stow; Simon Thompson; Chloe Turner; Roberta Vacca; Desiree Vaccarini and Katerina Valaka