The Mood

Fashion from the Extreme

We may sometimes forget it, but clothing has its origin in simply keeping ourselves from freezing to death – in the most extreme of circumstances, of course. New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) dives into this subject with the force of a Polar expedition.

by Siska Lyssens

‘Fashion from the Extreme’, in the FIT’s Special Exhibitions Gallery, explores the relatively modern phenomenon of travel to extreme environments by placing indigenous garments next to designs that appropriate the characteristics of this original clothing in order to create fashionable leisurewear.

Starting from the Sixties, garb that doesn’t look out of place on the North or South poles, the highest mountains, the depths of the ocean and in outer space becomes more and more generally accepted. Down-filled puffer jackets are regular street sightings, fur jackets and hood linings are chic wardrobe items, and don’t have anyone batting an eyelid anymore. Paco Rabanne, who with his fascination for the higher spheres launched the Space Age in fashion, used the reflective quality of metal and plastic to add shine to his collections.
From left: Sacai ensemble from fall/winter 2009, Japan, Junya Watanabe coat from
fall/winter 2014, Japan, Paco Rabanne wedding dress from circa 1968, France. Copyright: The Museum at FIT

More often than not, however, the influences are not so outlandish. Brands take advantage of the incredible fabric innovations that science has made possible to develop their own takes on performative clothing. Neoprene – originally a material used to produce the first wetsuits – still recurs in fashion collections as a means of adding volume and body to garments. The late Alexander McQueen, in his final collection, created otherworldly dresses inspired by the deep-seas bioluminescent life forms that will stay imprinted on fashion’s memory forever. 


From left: Yohji Yamamoto evening dress from fall/winter 2000, Japan, Alexander McQueen dress
from spring/summer 2010, England, Helmut Lang jumpsuit from fall/winter 1999, USA. Copyright: The Museum at FIT


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