Image credit: Conde Nast Archives
The fashion world has long been entranced by comic books. No wonder. They offer up world upon world of city skylines and sinister laboratories, showy costumes and dramatic story arcs, battles raging between good and evil.
In fact, in 2008 the MET devoted an exhibition to the potent power of various much-beloved characters, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy delineating how designers have been influenced by fantastical figures, dastardly villains and women metamorphosed into (often scantily clad) warriors. It focused particularly on the relationship between superhero-influenced apparel and physicality – for where better than in the realms of Spiderman, Thor, and Black Widow to explore how a body can transform, and how dress can transform a body?
From detectives to monsters to students (see Riverdale’s update of the Archie comics), the comic book genre has grown to encompass all sorts of storytelling. And modern day reworks are, thankfully, beginning to reckon with age-old limitations. Contemporary film adaptations of classics, from Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman to the current Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson, have allowed for more nuanced explorations of women – while Sana Amanat in her role as VP at Marvel has been explicit on the need for further diversity among the characters we see on page and screen. Here, we explore fashion’s infatuation with comics, from the 1990s to now, taking in heroes, nemeses, a spy and ample explosions along the way.
Thierry Mugler haute couture autumn/winter ‘95/‘96
One can’t explore comic books without thinking of Mugler’s work, with its emphasis on athleticism, excess and often provocative approaches to shape and cut. His famous autumn/winter ‘95/‘96 armoured suit – revealed from beneath a sweeping cape – was featured in the MET’s exhibition, displayed alongside Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man costume. Often described as a designer of high drama, a certain kitsch comic book influence permeated Mugler’s catwalks, populated with OTT villains and heroes in iconic molded bodices, bodysuits featuring flames, starbursts and metal belts, extravagant padding and latex leggings. Where plenty of superhero get-ups seem to be engineered for agility or aerodynamic feats, Mugler’s designs take a different approach. One that’s battle-clad. (Although, not without controversy in relation to the female body, given that this armour wouldn’t be especially effective in protecting the wearer’s breasts, stomach, or thighs.)