Over in New York, at the Fashion Institute of Technology, an exhibition called Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme just closed. It looked at the effect of new exploration on fashion - deep sea diving, space travel, safaris. The items on show included minimal looks by Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin from the sixties, and puffas and jumpsuits from Helmut Lang and Junya Watanabe from the nineties. Many of the looks on display at today’s joint show by Undercover and The Soloist at Pitti Uomo in Florence would have looked perfectly at home in the space section of the exhibition. Jun Takahashi of Undercover and Takahiro Miyashita of The Soloist are friends, but this presentation marked their first joint catwalk venture and a rare chance to see both clothes by The Soloist or Undercover menswear on a runway (usually we admire them in a showroom).
The pair hadn’t communicated much while putting their collections together, though one could have been mistaken for thinking the whole affair was some perfectly choreographed ode to dystopia and Stanley Kubrick. In fact, Takahashi explained backstage, he only saw Miyashita’s full collection around about the same time we did. It says a lot about the current state of fashion and the current state of the world that both designers zoomed in on such a similar mood - one of agitation about both humanity and technology, concern about coming unrest, preparation for battle, and a strange, oppressive nostalgia for better if not similar dark times (note the retro soundtrack featuring Joy Division’s Atmosphere and The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony). Undercover was an explicit ode to Space Odyssey. 'Logic Memory Centre', 'Human Error', 'Hal Laboratories', read garments. The inspirations for Miyashita’s collection were less explicit, due, in part, to the lack of slogans, but the same mood of retro futurism existed in the utilitarian details.
Those who like to intellectualise fashion - which is perhaps appropriate in this case, given that both Takahashi and Miyashita are two of menswear’s more sensitive, cerebral designers - will link this collection to current discussions about robots and AI. About technology moving too fast. About the new frontiers we’re exploring. I saw it as a glance backwards, rather than a brave consideration of what the future has to hold. What was striking at FIT’s Expedition exhibition was how the garments were contemporary to the events they celebrated, utterly absorbed with and inspired by the mood of the age. A space suit in 1969 seems celebratory, a enthusiastic nod to one giant leap for mankind, a similar look in 2018 has no such optimism.