Many of the 111 pieces displayed at MoMA’s new Items: Is Fashion Modern? exhibition will be familiar. There are leather biker jackets and Levi’s 501 jeans. There’s Colin Kaepernick’s 49ers jersey, rubber flip-flops, and even a pair of tighty-whities. But the show also includes a handful of entirely new designs that curator Paola Antonelli commissioned specifically for the show, and many tease the near future of fashion. You might not think to look in a museum for what we’ll wear in the future–but that’s exactly what’s on view.
“While doing research on the exhibition, we singled out some typologies that we noticed were ripe for reinterpretation–whether technological, formal, or cultural–and matched them with designers and scientists to commission a new prototype,” Antonelli tells Co.Design in an email.
“In other cases, we wanted to engage with certain designers and companies that we knew were already working on highly innovative typologies or technologies–like Bolt Threads, Modern Meadow–and with designers whose idiosyncratic work we admired, like Lucy Jones, Ambush, Richard Malone, Kerby Jean-Raymond, or Pia Interlandi, among others. In other words, the brief was, ‘please take this item into the present and into the future.'”
Here’s how five designers did just that.
Animal-Free Leather by Modern Meadow
Fake leather isn’t new, but bio-fabricated leather is. The New Jersey-based startup Modern Meadow has developed a process that lets it grow collagen–the main protein in animal skins–from engineered yeast. The company then turns that into a realistic-feeling leather product called Zoa. It can be fabricated into sheets, molded into different shapes, or even sprayed onto other textiles. For MoMA’s exhibition, the company created a cotton-and-leather shirt. Next year it plans to release a full line of consumer products.
Spider Silk Garments by Stella McCartney and Bolt Threads
Bolt Threads–a Bay Area biotech company–has been experimenting with artificial spider silk for years. First, the company modifies the DNA of yeast. Then, as it ferments and grows, it creates proteins that mimic the structure of silk. Bolt Threads then weaves that into fibers. This spring, it finally delivered its first product, a $300 tie, and for MoMA it collaborated with British fashion designer Stella McCartney on a dress.
“While technology has impacted many areas of our lives in the past few decades, apparel has remained relatively unchanged,” Dan Widmaier, CEO of Bolt Threads, tells Co.Design in an email. “Fashion designers have been relying on the same textiles for years, so they’re eager to use our newly designed materials. We’re very optimistic about the power of technology to create new material performance features and make fashion more sustainable.”
Apparel For The Climate Apocalypse by Pyer Moss
When MoMA asked Kerby Jean-Raymond, founder of the fashion label Pyer Moss, to reinterpret something for the exhibition, he instantly gravitated to Pierre Cardin’s Cosmos collection–a series of futuristic pieces originally made in the 1960s. While Cardin’s garments made the future look glamorous, Jean-Raymond sees a potential dystopia wrought by climate change. His unisex Aquos suit–developed with the help of Silvia Heisel and Camilla Huey–is tailored for that environment.
“I wanted to talk about climate change in a way that wasn’t preachy–it’s clear it’s happening,” Jean-Raymond says.”I really want to scare people about what the future is going to look like if we don’t change our ways, so this needed to look like real clothes.”
Jean-Raymond imagines a time in which people are regularly threatened by extreme weather, like rain and flooding. Aquos includes a breathable, waterproof wool bodysuit and a flotation device made from recycled bicycle inner tubes. Paying homage to Cardin’s shift dresses, Jean-Raymond designed a 3D-printed facia for the flotation device that looks like armor. He compares his approach to the harmful, life-threatening effects of climate change to how car manufacturers in the ’70s responded to the life-threatening impacts of cars. “When people started dying in car crashes, the government didn’t stop us from driving cars; they introduced the seat belt,” he says. “I wanted to introduce the seat belt [of climate-change fashion]. We can’t stop [climate-change], but we can control it.”
Aquos is purely a conceptual concept, but Jean-Raymond is already seeing the effects of climate change on his real ready-to-wear collections. When he designed outerwear in the past, he assumed people in cold environments would be buying it and made heavy down and leather jackets. But people in warmer climates began asking him for outerwear to protect them from all the rain–so he’s now focusing on thinner options to better serve customers. “We’re trying to make outerwear that’s as thin as possible instead of as warm as possible,” he says.
Accessories That Grow Themselves
Inspired by the lunar landing in 1969, designer Giancarlo Zanatta created the Moon Boot in 1971, which riffed on astronauts spacesuits. Dating from the era of plastics, Moon Boots were made from polyurethane foam and Nylon. When MoMA invited Liz Ciokajlo and Maurizio Montalti to create something for the exhibition, the designers thought about how this icon of the future could be reinterpreted for our time and how space travel has evolved.
Ciokajlo and Montalti were influenced by extreme resource scarcity–a condition of space–and the impacts of introducing a material into a foreign environment, like Mars. Their Grown Mars Boot is made from mycelium, a mushroom-like fungus, that grows as someone wears it. The designers imagine bringing a small amount of mycelium on the journey to Mars and over time, using it to grow objects like shoes. As a person wears their boot, sweat from their feet allows the mycelium to grow–so the shoe never degrades and never becomes waste.
The designers hope this sparks, as Montalti writes on his site, “debate about how much of our own bodies can be utilized as a material source for producing fashion items in space and on Mars.”
Bespoke Mass Customization by Unmade
Unmade–a British fashion startup formerly named Knyttan–wants to turn fashion consumers into designers. It’s developed software and fabrication tools that allow individuals to customize designs at a cost that’s less than bespoke apparel. For MoMA, Unmade created a program that lets people distort the pattern on a classic striped Breton shirt using a touchscreen. The program then creates a design file, which an industrial 3D knitting machine can then produce.