Sheena Is a (STEAM)Punk Rocker

No stranger to science fiction or Victorian imagery, Alexander Mcqueen and Nick Knight evoke Jules Verne for Spring 2010, Plato’s Atlantis

Futurism and Retro-Futurism — moods of the moment as everyone is finally looking forward, anticipating what is to come and what it will look like. Visions of the future and past visions of the future are circulating around. They have been for some time in the collections of Nicholas Ghesquire and Raf Simons, both of whom have appropriated 70’s and 80’s science fiction; pulling their prescient aesthetics and discovering their uncanny contemporary relevance. More so, Helmut Lang, the designer who laid the foundations on how to invent our own references and accurately give form to the contemporary zeitgeist, is influencing a slew of young designers imposing Lang’s strict search for the new. They have been at the vanguard of moving fashion away from the years of vintage and nostalgic pandering that has kept progress at a standstill. However, this mode of working disdains all Historicism, the conscious appreciation and appropriation of worlds long past, and overlooks the solutions that bygone eras can provide for us as we brace for tomorrow.

Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1995 steampunk-esque film with costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier

Known mostly as a fantasy and science fiction sub-genre , Steampunk has been gaining currency. It’s a reimagining of history, particularly late 19th century Europe, with a presupposition that today’s technology could be feasible 150 years ago through steam power. That’s the steam; the punk is the subtext of radical social and institutional change that can be manifested through this advancement of technology. Aesthetically it is characterized by brass metallics, Victorian ornamentation, and industrial machinery. Like other fantasy and sci-fi fascinations it has been taken up by zealous fans, many of whom engage in role play or cosplay, living out their fantasies with stylized corsets, Sherlock Holmes get ups, and aged antiques. A community of devote followers have cropped up, attracted to both it’s aesthetic and political messages.

H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and William Gibson’s more contemporary The Difference Engine are cited as major source material in both their critical philosophizing of old worlds challenged by the onset of startling new technology and their suggestion of seamless integration of antique aesthetics and advanced modern technology. Rather than decreeing all historic references démodé on the fault that they are regressive, Steampunk opens ornamentation and aesthetics of any particular era up for re-appropriation to the times. The function of the object or garment displaces any perceived irrelevance of its antique appearance. Nor is Steampunk a blatant return of nostalgic yearnings. Escaping the vintage and retro label, the pool of references are beyond memory for any living person, so far beyond in fact that it becomes foreign, almost alien. It is from the amalgam of futurist anticipation and a historicist’s indiscriminate approach to time that a genuinely new world is formed. “Tomorrow is yesterday”


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