How Space Travel Became The World's Most Unexpected Style Icon

By Anna Ivanova
11 April 2019
Yuri Gagarin, Space, NASA, Chanel, Thom Browne, Versace, Valentino
April 12, 1961, the day human space flight went from fiction to reality. Yuri Gagarin was only 27 when he made history by orbiting Earth – but fashion took note, and everybody from Thom Browne to Valentino, Versace to Chanel has found inspiration in outer space ever since

One hundred and eight minutes that changed the world. One hundred and eight minutes in space.

Yuri Gagarin was a humble son of carpenter, a country boy from the village of Klushino, Russia in what was then the Soviet Union. His origins might not sound glamourous, but he was perfectly cast as a Soviet hero.

From foundryman to the first human in space, Gagarin career soared faster than a meteor, turning him into the most famous person on the planet, and a role model, overnight.

Even being short in stature (he was only 157 cm tall) helped turn him into a space-exploring giant.

Vostok 1’s cramped two-metre wide cockpit contributed to Gagarin’s selection for the mission no doubt, complementing his intelligence, focus and supreme piloting skills acquired at the Soviet Air Force and Space Programme.

His flight was beset by various technical problems, and almost all of them could have led to tragedy. But Gagarin triumphed.

A man of tremendous courage with the most charming and photogenic of smiles, he captured the imagination of an adoring world. “Time” magazine put him on its cover, and Queen Elizabeth II invited him for a lunch. And in honour of his pioneering achievement April 12 was declared International Day of Human Space Flight in 2011.

Gagarin’s feat paved the way for space exploration for the benefit of all humanity, in every conceivable field.

Poets and writers, filmmakers and artists, all have been fascinated by this captivating theme, regularly referencing space exploration in their works.
As did, of course, fashion designers.

Credit: Thom Browne

Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne and André Courrèges were among the first couturiers who flirted with cosmic themes through futuristic, geometrical and streamlined looks in the 1960s, when the space race was in its infancy.

Rapid advancements in the field of aerospace technology and the emergence of private spaceflight companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, have inspired the fashion game to introduce the 21st-century space race to new audiences.

Dreams of 10-minute space journeys and humans on Mars could become reality sooner than we expected, and designers continue to explore those galactic themes.

Space exploration is back in vogue, and it’s no longer confined to the traditional pioneers of the United States and Russia.

From China to India, and the Middle East, everyone is looking to the skies again.

The UAE started dreaming when it was very young. In 1976, founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan met with the three American astronauts of Apollo 17, who presented him with a piece of Moon rock, a gift that has come to symbolise the start of the country’s relationship with space.

And UAE keeps dreaming big. In in 2014, United Arab Emirates Space Agency was founded, with an ambitious space programme aiming to reach Mars by 2021.

Are you excited yet?

To help you prepare for a space-bound future, we’ve explored the fashion archives and latest runway shows, highlighting some of the best outfits (uniforms!) and accessories that have imagined those journeys around the Moon or to the red planet.

Thom Browne (2011)

Thom Browne’s show in Paris kicked off with a parade of “astronauts”. Removing their space suits and helmets they revealed gold reflective sunglasses and gold-flecked lips, jackets, Bermuda shorts, and knee socks. Appropriately, David Bowie's “Space Oddity” closed the show.

Valentino (2015)

This Fall-Winter 2015-16 collection created by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli was all about progressive aesthetics, and the “space” jacket with the hand-sewn solar system, moon and the planets was standout star of it.

Versace (2016)

Versace’s Fall collection with orbital motifs had a message behind it from Donatella Versace.

“To look at space not as an escape, but as a clean, fresh place, and to make everyone aware of the importance of living well in a clean, eco-friendly world,” she explained.

Nick Graham (2017)

The theme of Nick Graham’s show and the collection was “Life on Mars: Fall-Winter 2035”. But the most interesting fact was the model list that included 87-year-old Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, and the very first astronaut to ever walk at New York Fashion Week.

Chanel (2017)

Karl Lagerfeld literally launched a rocket ship into the sky during the show in Grand Palais which made it one of the most over-the-top runway sets ever for Chanel.

Heron Preston & NASA (2018) 
The capsule streetwear collection took cues from 60 years of visual history at the space agency.  Jackets, hoodies, t-shirts and caps, all had the classic logotype used by NASA between 1976 and 1992. Even though it was Fall-Winter 2018 collection, it said “Fall/Winter 1990”, paying respect to the actual time the logo was actually used.

Louis Vuitton (2018)

The space-inspired monogram Galaxy Capsule Collection introduced in September, 2018 included the Alpha Backpack, echoing an astronaut’s equipment, the lunar-shaped Alpha Hobo, the Alpha Messenger, and the Bumbag. 

For a futuristic aesthetic, it drew inspiration from the Milky Way and the space-themed Spring-Summer 2019 Pre-Collection.

Valentino (2019)

The Fall-Winter 2019-20 collection explores “masculinity that fluidifies”. Prints and images integrated in the collection were created by Japanese designer Jun Takahashi of Undercover, with inspiration for the graphic motifs and sci-fi illustrations coming from Edgar Allan Poe and infused with mysterious spaceships.