The future of fashion. Can anyone really predict what the most fabulous designs from far, far away will look like? Well, plenty of sci-fi films have tried and costume designers put an incredible amount of work to make our fantastical futures look fab.
“I think one of the most important and really interesting parts of my of my job as a costume designer is when doing something sci-fi, is having to find details that tell hints about what that character is,” designer Ami Goodheart told io9. This task is much less straightforward in sci-fi than in other genres, as the costume designer is not making character choices from an existing fashion history as they would in a piece set in the real-world present or past. Instead, costume designers in sci-fi must invent a whole visual language and fashion ecosystem.”
Goodheart has made a career from imagining what the future might look like: she’s made custom pieces for Lady Gaga, been featured in the Venice Biennale, and earned a coveted Costume Designers Guild award for a fantastical Japanese Pepsi ad featuring Jude Law.
“[Sci-fi costume design] is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’ve done contemporary period. I’ve done amazing projects. But when it comes to really using my imagination in a way that’s challenging, that’s really what stimulates me,” she said. “As a kid, all I did was sit in the basement, sit in a dark room and draw. If you can find a way as an adult to do in a career and make money doing what you did as a kid […] I feel like that is your calling.”
io9 spoke with Goodheart over Skype about what makes an effective sci-fi look, and the best examples of costuming from the genre.
One of the more fantastical approaches to sci-fi, the Star Wars series is effective because the costumes keep the daily routines of its characters in mind while still feeling out of this world.
“Everything has to be functional because these people are jumping all over with light sabers and they have to be moving,” Goodheart said. “But it’s so different than what we would be wearing today.”
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Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi romance takes place in an undefined time in our near future. Goodheart praised the film for its subtle use of older trends to indicate a time period relatively close to our own. Fashion is cyclical: hems rise and fall, silhouettes shift over time, so Her’s 1930s-inspired looks seem familiar-but-not-quite.
“The silhouette, what they’re wearing, high waisted pants, that strange shape of a shirt or collar or tie—it’s the same way we would look back at the ‘70s now and think, whoa, I wouldn’t wear that,” Goodheart said.
This 1982 film defined what cyberpunk should look like for a whole generation of sci-fi—an impressive achievement, especially considering it was costume designer Michael Kaplan’s first film. Blade Runner’s mix of inspirations, from 1940s film noir and 1980s punk rock, helped audiences imagine the dystopian class divides of 2019 Los Angeles.
“It’s always raining. It’s always wet. You have these looks, from the duster jacket to that clear vinyl raincoat, that kind of just stuck in my head forever. There’s details in Blade Runner and the background actors that you know, right away, [that] this is not now, but wow, it is believable,” Goodheart said.
HBO’s Westworld stands out for its fantastical treatment of clothing that is still grounded in the real world. Dolores’ shapeshifting dress in season three was a standout moment. “I wish I had that superpower,” Goodheart said.
“Even though this might be years and years in the future, it’s stuff that we would wear,” Goodheart explained. “It’s like us wearing denim today. We wore it for a hundred years. We’re still going to wear it.”
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