The Survivor’s Kilt: The Rise of Dystopian Fashion

How would you dress for the end of the world? In scenes ranging from biblical paintings to modern cinema, people are usually taken by surprise, both by the kidnapping and by an earthquake that is engulfing their city. Even Don’t Look Up (2021), an allegory of the climate crisis, sees the world end in the space of a few months, with the meteor finally striking while the protagonists are at dinner, with one about to serve the salad .

It’s different when you know what’s going to happen years in advance; or they survived the apocalypse and now have to survive its aftermath.

Inspired by the dystopia of our times, amidst climate crises, pandemics, unrest, wars and economic meltdowns, fashion houses are launching collections that would fit well into post-apocalyptic and dystopian movie sets of the future like Dune and The Matrix Resurrections. . Dystopia-core fashion blends elements of punk, grunge and goth with utilitarian and protective fabrics and silhouettes. Think long leather coats, layers and patchwork, loose silhouettes, hoods, multiple pockets and buckles, usually in shades of black and gray or metallic highlights.

Singer FKA Twigs wears a shredded silver and blue skeleton print minidress by Liza Keane.  (Getty Images)
Singer FKA Twigs wears a shredded silver and blue skeleton print minidress by Liza Keane. (Getty Images)

Reality star Kim Kardashian embraced the look at the 2021 Met Gala, with an all-black shroud complete with hood to mask her face (the Gala theme for that year was In America: A Lexicon of Fashion). Kardashian’s ex-husband rapper Kanye West and actress Julia Fox sported all-black head-to-toe Balenciaga dresses while dating earlier this year. British singer and trendsetter FKA Twigs mirrored the core of dystopia at the 2022 NME Awards in March, in a shredded silver and blue skeleton print minidress from London designer Liza Keane.

In India, designer label Kashish Gemini Toffle launched a dystopian streetwear line in 2019 with overcoats, joggers and trousers, in patches, layers and shades of gray. It’s a style sought after by celebrities looking to stand out, says Gemini, who designed a series of dystopian-themed suits for rapper Raftaar, consisting of dark blue patchwork trousers and jackets, accented with the types of buckles used on the seat belts and on life jackets.

“You won’t see clothes straight out of science fiction, but you will see watered down versions. People tend to adopt elements of the subculture and adapt them to their own style, “says Gemini.

Fashion statements often have an element of challenge, trend forecaster Geraldine Wharry told The Guardian in January. With dystopia-core, she added, the challenge stems from “the idea that optimism isn’t cool and doesn’t reflect our current times, similar to what punks stood for in the 1970s.” The dystopia-core is, in this sense, also a reaction to the “dopamine medication”. Where this trend used bright colors and playful or flamboyant silhouettes to distract and lift one’s mood, dystopia-core tries to do the opposite by recognizing and addressing it.

Reptilian motifs in Alexander McQueen's Spring / Summer 2010 collection.
Reptilian motifs in Alexander McQueen’s Spring / Summer 2010 collection. “Humanity is made up of creatures that evolved from the sea and we may return to an underwater future as the ice sheet dissolves,” McQueen said in a statement at the time. (Getty Images)

Fashion houses have reflected the central themes of the dystopia, from time to time, for more than a decade. “Humanity is made up of creatures that evolved from the sea and we may return to an underwater future as the ice sheet dissolves,” said Alexander McQueen in a press release for his Spring / Summer 2010 collection. The collection featured motifs. reptilians imprinted on micro-clothes in water palettes and fabrics that mimicked the skin of aquatic mammals.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Fall / Winter 2011 collection for Chanel featured messy stacked dark layers and shredded chiffon. “The world is a dark place,” he said, speaking after the Chanel showcase event.

Marc Jacobs’ Spring / Summer 2014 collection featured the scorched earth theme, with dresses presented against a wasteland of black sand strewn with garbage.

“In fashion, dystopia has been fictionalized and made glamorous,” says Indian stylist Rocky S. “We see two distinct styles emerging within the core-dystopia. One is more conservative, dark, utilitarian. The other is risky, experimental, more confident in the future “. The latter tackles the circles of the dystopian core to the point of optimism. It can be seen on the streets of trendy Japan, says Rocky S, where layers are used to play with a range of colors and metallic highlights, in “a kind of paradoxical take on the genre.”

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