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To boldly go where no fashionista has gone before

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When most people refer to haute couture they think of high fashion. But in a few days the European Space Agency, ESA, is going to take couture to another level altogether with a space-inspired fashion show at the Science Museum’s Lates on 25 May 2016.

The idea was born a couple of years ago during a conversation I had with Rosita Suenson of ESA’s Human Spaceflight and Operations. As she recalls, “we agreed that it would be a great way to communicate cool space is, inspire a new public and involve a whole new community of students’.

Rosita enlisted the help of top European fashion schools in Paris, London, Milan, Copenhagen and Berlin and the Science Museum secured the backing for the event of Bionic Yarn, a New York City-based start-up that makes high tech fabric.

Each European fashion school was asked to take their inspiration from the research and experience of an astronaut associated with their country. They were assigned a theme linked to ESA’s ethos of sustainability, climate protection and recycling, and hooked up with sponsors to supply state-of-the-art technology and textiles, from Bionic Yarn to other manufacturers, such as TAL and i.nanoE.

From tracking the wearer’s movement and generating usable electricity, to regulating temperature, each school was set the challenge to design and create out- of- this-world clothes that are practical, functional and cool in every sense.

In preparation for the show at the end of this month Fashion Akademiet Copenhagen has been visited by Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, who has worked on a special skinsuit for use in orbit, to explain what it was like to live in space. They are using LEAP body monitoring technology.

Military-inspired wear has been developed by Ravensbourne in London, in reference to the early career of UK astronaut Tim Peake, who has over 3000 flying hours and has flown more than 30 different types of helicopter and aircraft and whose launch was celebrated in the Science Museum by 11,000 visitors and 3,000 schoolchildren last December.

You can see how Ravensbourne is approaching the project here and ESMOD in Paris has contributed a video inspired by astronaut Thomas Pesquet who will be launched in November as a flight engineer, returning in May 2017.

Some of the preliminary work by the  Politecnico di Milan can be seen here, which has been inspired by Samantha Cristoforetti, the woman who holds the record for having spent the longest time in space.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, the ESMOD Berlin International University of Art for Fashion has taken their inspiration from the Blue Dot mission of ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, so named after the American astronomer Carl Sagan’s description of our home world  as “a pale blue dot” based on a photograph taken by a NASA Voyager probe six billion kilometres away. Satellite imagery in the prints of the ESMOD Berlin collection alludes to Gerst’s research on climate change.

ESA’s Technology Transfer Program and industry sponsors are supporting the project: high-tech functional textiles are being provided by Sympatex, Bionic Yarn and 37.5® Technology by Cocona®. The company Xsens is also making 3D motion tracking sensors available to the students, so that they can incorporate them into their designs.

Some of the garments designed for the show harness a range of existing technologies, whilst others imagine the future of humanity on far-flung worlds and how garments might protect the wearer in hostile or unfamiliar environments.

All five fashion schools are united by one far sighted mission: to harness technology to boldly go where no fashionista has gone before.

Witness the lift-off of space couture in a special show on 25 May in the Science Museum’s adults only Lates, where the final designs from the five participating design schools will be modelled on catwalks. Other exhibitors at this special Lates include D’Appolonia, eXtreme Materials, JOHAN technology and LEAP technology. You can follow the project’s progress via couture-in-orbit.tumblr.com/

Space Couture marks the latest in an endeavour that dates back to the late 19th century, when the grandfather of Soviet space travel, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, imagined devices that would allow a human being to survive in space, including space suits.

Written by Roger Highfield