Space Suits and “Sad Chickens”

The technical requirements of spacesuits are tremendous. In the vacuum of space, these suits recreate the protection that our entire biosphere offers, only these suits compress that protection to the thickness of a bed comforter and football helmet. This makes it difficult to extend conversations about the suit’s relationship to the body beyond ergonomics and protection. But this hasn’t stopped fashion designers from looking to space exploration for inspiration.

Over forty years separate Pierre Cardin‘s 1960’s cosmocorps designs and his 2009 couture show. It’s easy to see how space suits inspired his earlier work, especially the helmets pictured above. And forty years later, the same ladies who looked like cheerleaders for psychedelic drugs are now being attacked by black holes. Which isn’t to speak critically about the look in the lower image. Cardin’s work reflects an interest in space exploration, but there aren’t space suits developed by any space agency inspired by Chanel or Balenciaga. What if there were?

A few years ago, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) co-sponsored a contest for fashion designers to design clothing that would look good in zero gravity. The designers were not asked to imagine a method of construction that would function to reduce either the bulk of space suits or their flexibility, but to focus on the materials effects of zero gravity as an aesthetic. The results (some of which can be found here) remind me of the Project Runway episode where Michael Kors described Keith’s look as a “sad chicken.”


P.S. This is what would really happen if you fell into a black hole.

June 11, 2010