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  • Katy Bordonaro

Why Do We Enjoy Dystopian Fashion?

Author: Katy Bordonaro


Fashion is commonly believed to be an outlet for creativity and emotion. It’s a way of expressing how we feel without having to verbally communicate it to others. From the late 1990s to early 2000s when the popularity of emo fashion was at its peak, to now, when a brighter color block palette is popular, fashion is always evolving to reflect and cope with what’s going on in the world around us. As life continuously jerks us this way and that — from wars to movements to the present-day pandemic — fashion seems to be right there with it. New fashion trends boldly provide a visualization to correspond with the emotions that this turmoil inevitably evokes.

Since fashion is such an emotionally driven art form, it’s intriguing that dystopian fashion, which expresses this emotion through technological and architectural appeal, is so prevalent. The juxtaposition of human emotion and technology poses the question of why we enjoy dystopian fashion, and how we are able to relate our emotions to its cyborgian appeal. From Iris van Herpen, a Dutch designer known for fusing technology and craftsmanship to create a cyborgian design, to Kanye West, with his more toned down and ‘cool’ styles, dystopian fashion can be expressed in multiple ways, many designers are taking inspiration from an imagined future.

So how are we as humans able to relate internal turmoil and emotions to the technological traits found in dystopian fashion?

Our primary visual cortex is the part of our brain we have to thank for this ability. The primary visual cortex is a visual area of our brain responsible for assembling visual images into something that makes sense to our conscious awareness. Our mind is able to take these cyborgian visuals and relate to and understand them within our primary visual cortex. As our primary visual cortex is making sense of dystopian fashion within our brains, our emotions are stimulated by the visuals we recognize or relate to. This allows us to actually relate our emotions to dystopian fashion when perceiving it.

In the case of why the technological elements of dystopian fashion play an important role in provoking our emotions, we can look at the prevalence of tech and electronics in everyday life. Online communication among one another is often unavoidable these days with the lack of continuous close proximity to people outside of our immediate household. This creates a strong emotional relation to technology as it is often used to connect and communicate with other people.

When looking at the visuals being presented in designers such as van Herpen’s work, we are internally connecting them to our own life experiences with regards to the emotional turmoil and events we have experienced. The pandemic is an example since social existence and physical connection are no longer easy or even possible to achieve. Dystopian fashion provides this crisis with a visual identity and allows a form of expression of our growing emotional connection to technology. Again, the question of how we are connecting our emotions to this cyborgian element is proposed. With COVID-19 taking away the ability for people to meet up face to face in the past year, our dependance on technology has skyrocketed. With each connection we are making through technology, may it

be through social media interaction or phone calls, an emotional tie is created. This allows our primary visual cortex to not only recognize the visual images being presented in dystopian fashion but to stimulate our emotional connection surrounding technology as well.

When looking at Iris Van Herpen’s “Sensory Seas” fashion show from January 2020, I’m overcome with the sense that I’m looking at an element rather than a person. While it’s clear to me that a person is modelling her work, my brain perceives her art as water. My primary visual cortex is recognizing a pattern in her fashion and relating it to a thing I already know exists: the sea. Van Herpen’s ability to turn an element, water, into a piece of dystopian fashion evokes a sense of comfort in me. My brain takes what I’ve seen and relates it to a piece of fashion to provoke familiarity. Looking at van Herpen’s “Sensory Sea,” I see water. I see movement and flow and comfort. I feel ocean waves pressing against my body. I smell salt and fresh air. I am looking at a piece of fashion that is expressing itself through architecture and technology — and my brain is connecting it to my memories and my emotions.

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