The right chemistry

Art and music are familiar fashion bedfellows but style’s latest crush – science – is a rather more unlikely romance. Yet science chic is having a moment, with Marc Jacobs’ molecule-like paillettes on 1960s-style space age shifts, Mugler’s not-in-nature latex pencil skirts, Richard Nicoll’s liquid PVC pyjama pieces, and Stella McCartney’s computer-rendered metallic print.

Inspired by engineering, Ann-Sofie Back’s sharp tailoring includes bags shaped like car bonnets and metal belts bent to represent speed. Phoebe Philo’s ergonomic dressing for Céline has “dashboard”-inspired wood print. Balenciaga’s jumbo knits came from looking at fabric under a microscope. Christopher Kane said he wanted his collection to look “sterile” and “medicinal”. Fendi’s spring/summer collection took inspiration from Rita Levi-Montalcini, a 102-year-old neurologist who captured Silvia Venturini Fendi’s imagination. Meanwhile, Mary Katrantzou took up the car theme with prints of crushed metal, and hologram sheens at Hussein Chalayan, Acne and Olivier Theyskens’ Theory.

“Futuristic elements provide an interesting juxtaposition to this season’s craft vibe, preventing the collections from becoming too retro,” says Ruth Runberg, buying director at London boutique Browns, where Kane’s collection has virtually sold out and his Aqua clear clutch bags filled with coloured gel (smaller version, £385) are a bestseller.

Kane says, “I loved working with the liquid gel because I knew I was doing something completely new. That really excites me.” He was aware, however, that “it could look pretty weird” so, to balance the collection, he combined the futuristic with a timeless feel. In other words, not all the pieces scream “weird science” when you first see them. Ann-Sofie Back says, “Not a lot of people thought of cars [when viewing the collection]. There is also a bug-splatter print that looks like florals from further away. It’s really pretty.”

By contrast, Brooke Roberts makes the scientific explicit in her designs. Working part-time as a radiologist, she uses the patterns of CT scans for motifs on knitwear that is now sold at Browns Focus from £360. “In fashion, references are always something people know already,” she says. “But, if you think about it, CT scans really do relate to everyone.”

Likewise, British designer Christopher Raeburn increased his reputation for imaginative innovation with a spring/summer presentation that employed hidden sensors: when certain pieces were touched, lights flashed, noises rang out and custom-made symbols were displayed on an LED screen circling the ceiling of his showspace.

Though obviously designed to generate buzz (literally and metaphorically), what do those in the scientific community think of it all? Charlotte de Vries, a masters student in marine biology, says, “I think it’s great but people [involved with science] care very little about fashion on the whole. I’m afraid the cliché of the tweed jacket with patches at the elbows is not far from the truth.”

Indeed, even Brown’s Runberg is cautious about how far the science/style relationship can go. “The pool of fashion-obsessed women willing to suffer in an uncomfortable and very expensive but high-tech fabric is very small. For these new technology textiles to be successful at retail the feel and fit of the garment must be appealing.”


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