Dresses

Dresses

Designer Phillip Lim is selling nylon tops and jackets, while New York label Rag & Bone juxtaposes vinyl accents with flowing bohemian silhouettes for spring. “If you go down a gypsy route, you need something as a foil,” said co-designer Marcus Wainwright. “You need to have the hard and the soft. It felt like a sporty season, and futuristic.
And, as everyone knows, the future is plastics. This has been the unwavering assumption of fashion designers for decades as they’ve anticipated the Jetsons-y existence we have yet to reach. In the 1930s, Surrealist designer Elsa Schiaparelli was infusing her revolutionary clothes with plastic. Daniel James Cole, a professor of fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology, points out that the 1939 World’s Fair—whose slogan was “World of Tomorrow”—showcased television, fluorescent lighting and a curious new substance known as nylon. “There was an exhibition of hypothetical clothes of the future, which included materials like cellophane and rhodophane,” said Mr. Cole.

By the 1960s, with the onset of the Space Age, the fashion industry went into plastic overdrive. In Paris, Paco Rabanne crafted wild dresses from chain mail and plastic; in ’66 he showed a collection of “12 Experimental and Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.” While it’s hard to imagine that era’s housewives warming up to these outré new looks, the aesthetic did manage to go mainstream. “There was an American company that advertised in Ladies’ Home Journal a kit from which you could make a plastic disc dress,” Mr. Cole said. “You could literally sit in your living room and make your own ‘Paco Rabanne’ tunic.”

In 2012, it’s unlikely that anyone will market make-it-yourself vinyl bustier dresses like those shown by Dolce & Gabbana, but what’s clear is that the market is feeling future-ish. Perhaps designers are interpreting the digital revolution that has been reworking our society for the last decade, or maybe it’s commentary on the unreal nature of reality television. We can only imagine what Warhol would have made of the plastic enhancements in “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”