Talking about realistic fantasies with Humberto Leon

By Daphne Correll

In 1919 the artist Ernesto Thayaht designed the ultimate futuristic outfit: the TuTa. His sartorial invention - a simple unisex overall whose pattern and instruction manual were published in a magazine accessible for the masses to copy - was intended to revolutionize style.In an article written for Life magazine in 1970, Austrian-born fashion designer Rudi Gernreich predicted “fashion will go out of fashion” and in the future we will all wear “helmet shaped wigs, contact lenses, unisex heavy-ribbed leotards and waterproof boots” to protect us from weather and pollution.Envisioning garments for a world to come is a magnetic endeavor not just in fashion but also film. There are the heavily textured outfits in the post-apocalyptic movie Mad Max, the iconic bandage bodysuit Gautier designed for Luc Besson’s science fiction film The Fifth Element, the elegant silhouettes in Godard’s dystopian film noir Alphaville or even the T-shirts and overalls covered in thousands of corporate logos in the satirical science fiction comedy Idiocracy.
A particularly compelling recent example is Spike Jonze’s futuristic romance Her, in which the characters wear high waisted trousers, simple button-up shirts and other minimal and modest garments in natural fibers and muted colors.

Humberto Leon is the creative director of Kenzo and co-founder of Opening Ceremony. His vision and input were decisive for the wardrobe design of Her and also lead to a capsule collection inspired by the movie.
We recently sat down to talk about Her as well as his latest collection for Opening Ceremony which is paying homage to the legendary ideas of Syd Mead—the “visual futurist” and conceptual designer behind movies such as Blade Runner, Alien and Tron. Syd Mead’s work ranges from renderings, illustrations, industrial-design objects to the creation of flying cars and cityscapes for films.

For their Autumn / Winter 2016 show Opening Ceremony collaborated with Syd and built a racetrack shaped runway set that was lined by hovering inflatable cars made out of helium balloons.

Daphne Correll: We are used to futuristic images in films that suggest apocalyptic scenes and outlandishly shaped silhouettes of garments. They propose a place fairly disconnected from today - so a future more as a new way of being than an enhanced version of what we experience today.

Humberto Leon: I think the future is more pragmatic than a superficial everything-silver and bubble-shaped ideal. It seems to get more refined and specialized. It feels like we have been trying to make the perfect version of the ideal smaller and smaller. Portable in the past was big and clunky, now it’s small and almost microscopic. I think we want the opposite of everything so I wouldn’t be surprised if things got bigger again. It’s interesting that in the 60’s and 70’s, futurism was talking about the time we are living in today. In many ways we have exceeded light years from what people thought we could do in the future, but are way behind in other aspects.

DC: It seems there is often a need to give future scenarios a more a dystopian or more utopian angle. I feel this dichotomy is not necessary. The ultimate realistic version will just be a relaxed continuation of what we already have.

HL: I think we are living the realism today and we have reached a point where things that feel real and really function come to the forefront.

DC: Since your last collection inspired by Syd Mead and the Her collection both roughly deal with the subject of future, how did your approaches differ for each?

HL: Her was about a near future, something that would make you feel that it was only 10 or 20 years away. It was about moving us slightly forward. And the recent collection with Syd Mead was asking the question about where we are in the future and having a dialogue with Syd play out in clothes.

DC: Most pop cultural images of the future will suggest people in a type of uniform, a metallic jumpsuit, coverall, leotard. Silver and shiny materials and slightly awkward appliqués of different sorts. In opposition to that there are so many distinctive trends and fragments of style that exist contemporaneously.

HL: It’s is a great desire to have a uniform. I’ve tried and failed. I think human beings get bored and you need some variety in life. Occasional dressing is important and you want the opportunity to feel like an individual, like you’ve made a choice, a voice with how and what you wear.

DC: Creating an image of what our world will look like is an obsession in all visual disciplines, there are numerous interesting examples, which ones are your favorites?

HL: I love The Man Who Fell from Mars, Tron, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Star Wars, etc. These all have an authentic feel to them —and oddly real.

DC: Visualizing clothing of the future one tends to think of what will change, what will be different. But in fashion there have always been classic principles too. I think it is unavoidable to determine what those are. What are your all-time favorite timeless elements in fashion?

HL: Timeless fashion is functional fashion. T-shirts, jeans, raincoats, etc... Clothing that serves a purpose is timeless.

DC: There is such a special and thorough array of textures in your latest collection, from lamé to velvet, knits embedded with crystals to jacquard and holography.

HL: We really wanted to look at a variety of textures that evoked technological advances, yet gave you some comfort. Juxtaposition of materials is always important to create a dialogue between the fabrics themselves. There’s a realistic fantasy which itself is opposing. Velvet, lamé, nylon, cotton wool jacquards, all evoke different functions.

DC: Talking about material, how do you gauge the future impact of digital technology on fashion versus material innovation?

HL: There is definitely an old-world craft to fabric innovation. There are also major technological advances. The ability to repurpose materials will probably be the biggest challenge to overcome. If we can do that affordably and have the fabrics twice as strong, that would be the future of innovation.

Photo credits:

 © Greg Kessler Studio

 ©Patrick Spear18