Futurism or futuristic design began in Italy as a cutting-edge theory among early 20th century painters and sculptors, and evolved into a cultural movement that swept through other art forms, including fashion design. The Futurists called for a break with the past, and a celebration of everything new, urban and industrial. For fashion, Futurism meant fabrics, designs, colors and cuts that reflected audacity, movement and speed. Futurism faded with the onset of World War II, but the movement’s emphasis on revolt, risk and modernity continues to inspire fashion today.
Futurism or futuristic design challenged artists to develop news styles that expressed the ideas and sensations of the modern world. In 1914, painter Giacomo Balla, one of the movement’s founders, developed guidelines for fashion. Balla mocked the neutral colors, symmetrical designs and uniformity that dominated the styles of the day. He insisted that clothing should be aggressive, with “muscular” or deep shades of color and bold geometric patterns. Rather than balance, Balla favored asymmetry, such as jacket sleeves cut in different lengths and shapes. He emphasized designs with layers that could be added or stripped away to spontaneously create a new look.
Futurism redefined the purpose of fashion. The movement gloried action and aggression, and Balla called for simple and comfortable clothing designed to allow the skin to breathe, and the body to move with ease. In 1920, Futurist designer Ernesto Michahelles, known as Thayaht, introduced a roomy, utilitarian, unisex jumpsuit called the tuta, short for the Italian word tutta, which means all. The tuta caught the attention of the public, and was the one Futurist design to achieve commercial success. Still, Futurism’s new emphasis on clothing designed to accommodate an active lifestyle was a genuine innovation and the start of what would eventually become modern sportswear.
As the idea of the future evolved, so did Futurism’s role in fashion. In the early 1960s during a fashion era that Vogue editor Diane Vreeland defined as “Youthquake,” miniskirts, vinyl dresses and neon colors signaled the same revolt against the past advocated by the Futurists. A youth-dominated culture generated styles that stressed originality and equality. At the same time, Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges introduced space-age collections that reflected the era’s interest and enthusiasm for space exploration. The new look was built on sleek, minimalist clothing constructed with geometric shapes. Designers introduced synthetic fabrics, plastics and metals into clothing that relied on colors such as metallics, day-glo and white for a futurist effect.
Technology is shaping today’s vision of the future, and the latest generation of futurist fashion designers has embraced engineering. Some designers are using high-tech and high-performance fabric blends with new textures and metallic surfaces to construct more versatile shapes. Patterns that reflect machine components and circuitry have emerged as a trend. Other designers are incorporating machinery into designs and creating mechanized clothing capable of instantly changing shape. Sustainable fashion designs that conserve resources and energy are also a new focus of futuristic fashion. Sustainable fashion uses fabrics and materials such as low-maintenance synthetics, recycled cottons and skins and furs from managed populations of animals that are all produced through environmentally sound practices.