How Visual Media Inspires Apparel: From Subcultures to Luxury Pioneers [CASE STUDY]
Ever since the first pelt throw, apparel has been the truest signifier of the passing of times, reflecting the needs and tendencies in social groups. And while Maslow's pyramid has called it that, as soon as humans have their basic needs satisfied, they seek something elevated, it becomes clear that, next to securing protection, garments have always had a higher calling.

This pursuit of noble purpose was reflected in the cave drawings, later, in ancient Greek sculptures and poetry, or simply put, in art.
Significant examples of the mergence of art and the more practical craft of dressmaking are seen all throughout history, but one of the most memorable such remains Madame Vionnet's integration of sculpture into clothing. Only true to the litmus test of history, an iconic duo, Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali, show us there is no limit to imagination when apparel is taking inspiration from surrealism. Of course, multiple other examples confirm this, such as Christian Dior's homage to Monnet and Versace's collaboration with Andy Warhol.

As art evolves into performance and entertainment, the appeal of teamwork increases. The viewer is no longer a passive art connoisseur, but rather a participant in the mischief of their favorite characters. Ergo, as impressive as fine art and sculpture are, entertainment conveys relatability and immersion, and forges impersonation. And so, as film and television take the stage, art inspiration develops into art imitation. A pivotal moment in the era of apparel replicating art are the sci-fi films.
An absolute turning point in this regard is, of course, the 1982 Blade Runner. With its dystopian cyberpunk style, 40s silhouettes and futuristic twists, it built the foundation for fashion punk giants like Vivienne Westwood, who borrowed Blade Runner styling references for her 1983 Punkature collection.
Most recent examples of the tremendous influence of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner on apparel design are also Yohji Yamamoto's fall 2017 ready-to-wear collection, where the usual deconstructivism was spiced with some quirky, dystopian cyberpunk elements, as well as Raf Simons' SS 2018 rough realism show.
Stills from the movie «Blade Runner», 1982,, 06.10.2017
Undoubtedly, a tremendous influence on fashion remains The Fifth Element, Luc Besson's 1997 quantum leap into sci-fi-inspired fashion. Designers across the industry took inspiration from the bold rebellious style of Milla Jovovich's Leeloo, her bandage dresses and crop tops. After the release of The Fifth Element, utilitarian punk ruled the catwalks
of multiple luxury designers, including Jean Paul Gaultier, the creator of all of the costumes in the film, Alexander McQueen, as well as DKNY, featuring sheer and backless shirts for men, and cropped and strapless tops for women. But most importantly, the street style had changed, replacing gender-stereotypical clothing with rough, utilitarian styles.
Alexander McQueen SS 98,, 17.10.2017
Still from the movie «The Fifth Element», 1997
Another key moment in the adoption of sci-fi style by high fashion is the 1999 release of The Matrix. Just a few months after its premiere, Dior flooded the catwalk with leather pants, skirts and coats, heavily inspired by The Matrix. Since then, the Y2K trend has expanded into the music
scene with representatives like Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson, as well as Rihanna. Recently, Balenciaga has also sprinkled the catwalk with The Matrix inspired heavy leather, making the film one of the longest lasting sci-fi influences in apparel design.
Left: Balenciaga SS15,, 14.11.2016; right: Balenciaga FW20,, 03.03.2021
A rather inexhaustible source of inspiration for apparel have been the 1999-2005 Star Wars prequels. Among the designers, referencing costume designer Trisha Biggar's literally out-of-this-world costumes, include big sci-fi fan Alexander McQueen, Dior, and, of course Comme des Garcons, who based their 1999 spring show on the exotic,
Chinese-Korean-Mongolian influenced costume design of the first prequel, revealing a number of spacecraft-suit-like jackets in utilitarian style and strong Padmé Amidala references. In fact, the hype was so great that Vogue ran a 'Star Wars Couture' feature in their April '99 issue.
Top left: Star Wars: Attack of theClones,; top right: Dermot Power Concept Design. Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones, 02.09.2019;
bottom left: Daily dot Lisa Granshaw, 31.10,2014: Tusken Raider, Female Costume, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; bottom right: Vanity Fair; Star Wars TV Spot Puts Han Solo Back in Action by Katey Rich, 13.11.2015
The Met museum blog, 26.11.2014, Alexander McQueen, The Girl Who Lived In The Tree, FW 2008, photo by Sølve Sundsbø
Fast forward to Star Wars: The Force Awakens from 2015, history repeats itself with the new Star Wars film causing another wave of commotion in the world of apparel design. This time, the catwalk, taken into Star Wars' extraterrestrial space, was Yeezy's 2015 show. Robe-like silhouettes, sandy neutrals, stone greys, utility vests and body-tight base layers were undoubtedly common denominators between The Force Awakens and the Yeezy show.

One of the biggest factors for the reinvention of the classic 9-5 workwear, Kanye West x Adidas Originals Yeezy Season 1 RTW Fall 2015 deserves a deeper dive. And it's a dive, alright, into an otherworldly, suspenseful, minimalist, utilitarian world, where each garment is piece-dyed in an extraterrestrial dusty neutral, finished with raw edges and binding, screen printed, fitted and styled with precision.

The detail obsession, synonymous with Kanye and Vanessa Beecroft, the collection's performance artist, was prevalent and consistent throughout the whole process: from sketches through presentation to promo materials, hence it's unsurprising the collection took 18 months to prepare.
Curated, though rough, minimalism was visible in every of the design elements: 3D pockets, flatlock finishings, oversized tops, contrasting with tight-fitting base layers, kimono collars, Japanese-style plackets, fluidly fitted low-bottom trousers, aligning the Yeezy collection with the Asian apparel influence of Star Wars.

The classic trench coat was also reinvented via the use of activewear materials and other sporty elements: an approach often used in sci-fi films because of their stretch and movement-friendliness. Athleisure, in general, seems to be the commercial bittersweet spot, scratching the surface of performance in an attempt to deliver to the appreciators of activewear culture as opposed to the audience actually practicing sports.

If anything, the 2015 Yeezy collection, among others, has made it widely acceptable to turn up at work wearing high-waisted leggings, non-compression sports bras and androgynous hoodies, while abandoning the classic office trousers and ironing-hungry shirts. Fine by me!
Yeezy Fall 2015 show
On yet another planet, skin-tight fits, flashy colours, v-shaped necklines and geometric colour blocks all speak Star Trek's Klingon. The iconic series, originated in the 60s, and its multiple spin-offs have kept the apparel industry in an eye lock with its distinctive sportiness, colour implementation and extraterrestrial utility.
The series has many reference points across luxury apparel, including Prabal Gurung's Sephora uniforms, as well as Alexander Wang's SS 2015 ready-to-wear collection, unmistakably linked to the sci-fi series via the contrast collars, signature colour blocks and sporty silhouettes.
Vogue Australia, Alexander Wang, SS 15
Performance elements, moisture-wicking materials, dystopian deconstructivism, utilitarian style, cyberpunk, and heavyweight leather: these examples, and more, prove the endless source of reference sci-fi has created for fashion and sportswear designers between 1980s and 2010s.

Going into the next decade, a more collaborative approach takes place. In times of war, economic instability and health crisis, apparel is taking a refuge in modern escapism. And, indeed, the subculture of anime, having inspired most sci-fi films with its progressive imagination, now provides a hiding nook for the apparel industry.
This way, anime graduates from a cultural curator to a cultural collaborator. It takes the stage.

There is a lot to be said about the collaboration culture, which has gone viral in the past decade. With luxury brand partnerships prevailing global store windows and performance wear making it on the high fashion catwalks, apparel design is capturing a novel moment in culture. Therefore, what makes collaborations and their products so desirable, is that each piece seizes an unrepeatable snippet of time in apparel history.
Following this newly-forged archetype, Brooklyn-based brand MSCHF took team-ups to literally astronomical levels by releasing the gigantic red boots, inspired by Osama Tezuka's manga series Astro Boy in February of this year. True to cartoon form, the standard foot shape was
ignored, in order to give way to fantasy and honor the creative work of Tezuka, bringing the Mighty Atom shoe to real life. To say the interest in the boot was tremendous would be an understatement: it caused a wave of curiosity among everyone in its mere vicinity and sold out instantly.
Last June, in homage to The Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon's 30th anniversary, Jimmy Choo launched a collaboration with the anime's creator, Naoko Takeuchi, in which footwear and accessories were launched, representing each of the first Dark Kingdom guardians: Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus, as well as other characters, including Tuxedo Mask and Luna Cat.
This imaginative collaboration was first shown at the Roppongi Museum in Tokyo and features crystal-studded knee-high boots, extravagant heels, representing the spirit of the Sailor Moon world. Unsurprisingly, the possibility of owning a physical representation of this fantasy-induced universe was so enticing that it caused an immediate sell-out on the Jimmy Choo website.
Jimmy Choo X Sailor Moon, photo © Naoko Takeuchi
In February of last year, another major collaboration took place, this time in closing of a long partnership between Studio Ghibli and Spanish luxury house Loewe. Following their highly successful team-up on Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, Studio Ghibli's Hayao Miyazaki and Loewe came together to serve one last epic moment in the history of collaborations, releasing the brand's Howl's Moving Castle collaboration. It exceeded expectations with nothing short of imagination, depicting Calcifer, The Witch of the Waste, and Heen, along with other characters from the iconic 2004 film in various techniques. Embroidery, prints, little amulets, accessories, bejeweled boots and coats, nods to the Japanese studio's colour palette, and the iconic $15,000 Frankensteined Moving Castle bag left many eager buyers, too late for the swift sale-out, with much to dream about. Reference-studded and absolutely viral, this collaboration definitely deserves a highlight.

Ever since its in-store release on February 2nd of last year, many pieces have become iconic, and for a good reason. The quality of manufacture is visible in each piece: leather, soft to the touch, impeccable dye-to-match colour execution, and playful representation of the characters on various signature Loewe products, like the shoulder bag, all display extreme attention to detail.
Techniques like debossing and screen printing depict some of the main characters in a more obvious way, however, more subtle executions play a role, equally as exciting: lining prints and little charms, referencing characters, places and events, make up for a complete immersion into the Studio Ghibli's most successful film.

Purely through colour gradation, the orange Calcifer-inspired jumper achieves the pinnacle of subtlety and is, therefore, undoubtedly one of the most beloved pieces in the collection, alongside the hiking boots, which, studded with jewels and coated in soft luxurious leather, would hardly ever be exposed to the real rough weather conditions of hiking.

Other beloved pieces of the collection are the wool coat, telling Sophie's stories though the small charms, attached to its surface, as well as the printed pants, depicting the scene of Howl's catching a falling star and putting it where his heart is.

Resale of those items, as expected, heavily exceeded the original prices, which didn't stop fans from digging deeper into their pockets in order to acquire a luxury piece from the last collaboration between this iconic duo.

Loewe SS 23, Loewe X Howl's Moving Castle
Be that as it may, Studio Ghibli seems to have found another suiting collaborator in the face of jeans giant Levi's. Released on 5th August of this year, Levi's x Princess Mononoke is subtle, heritage-heavy and semiotics-induced. Graphic tees and jumpers are paired with the unmistakable Levi's denim designs, which are then elevated with incredible AOPs, transporting us directly in the forest with Princess Mononoke. The collection also pays homage to Studio Ghibli's Japanese legacy with its aizome (Japan blue) indigo dye aesthetic, which comes through as the Nightwalker character, painted over with
the little tree spirits, Kodoma. In the spotlight are some of the most iconic pieces, such as the 501® '93 Jeans, released around the same time as Princess Mononoke, as well as their original trucker jacket. The collaboration between those brands seems seamlessly natural with the light denim coming through as the signature blue coloured skies of Studio Ghibli's film. Some other cool pieces include their San & Ashitaka tote bag and the AOP bucket hat: smaller and more affordable items for the fans of rather modest pocket size.
Levi's website, Levi's X Princess Mononoke
Speaking of Levi's, we cannot leave their iconic collab with Pokémon unmentioned. Misty's outfit was recreated for the grabs, while quirky all-over prints on the Vintage Fit Garden Trucker Jacket and 551Z straight-leg jeans urged the buyer to a small pokémon hunt on their own garments. The collection to commemorate Pokémon's 25th anniversary
was heavily induced with commercial graphic take-downs from the anime, however, many pieces expressed a more subtle homage to the Pokémon universe and art. A complete delight, the accessories had a very powerful nod to the anime with a Poké Ball bag and graphic socks, as well as Pikachu and Jigglypuff ears beanies.
Levi's website; Levi's X Pokémon
Another one of Pokémon's attention-grabbing collaborations is the minimalistic team-up with Converse's Chuck Taylors. It dropped last year and is one of the most affordable Pokémon collaborations to date, representing each of the pokémons mainly through its colour. Each pair has the signature All Star logo in a holographic execution, which allows for the branding to turn into either a Poké Ball, Great Ball, Ultra Ball or Master Ball when the shoe switches angles. Cute references to the characters were also their pixelated game versions on the tongue tabs of
the respective pair, Poké ball-style eyelets, as well as the Pokémon-card-resembling character description box behind the heel of the shoe.

Pokémon remains one of the most popular luxury and sportswear collaborators with further team-ups including COMME des GARÇONS, Longchamp, thisisneverthat, and most recently, Balmain, where, apart from shoes and bold graphic tops, fans could buy digital art as well.
Converse website; Converse X Pokémon
Back in January of 2021, another luxury giant teamed up with a famous manga cat robot, Doraemon, especially for the Asian Lunar New Year and the 50th anniversary of the comic. Inspired by the Japanese precision and attention to detail that manga and anime represent, Gucci recreated the coveted world of Fujiko F.
Fujio's eponymous manga onto embroidered jumpers, graphic tees, whimsical AOPs, colourfully printed jumpers, and, of course, Doraemon was represented on Gucci's signature monogrammed luggage cases, purses and loafers.
Doraemon X Gucci, Elle Magazine
Next up is one of the best and most influential anime films to this day, the breaker and maker of the anime industry, the film that closed down studios, just to open anime's way into the world of music and apparel. From Kanye West's references in his Stronger video, all the way to one of the pioneering anime x high street collaborations with Supreme, Akira is nothing short of a cultural disruptor. The dystopian feel of Akira definitely translates seamlessly in the collaboration with Supreme, a streetwear
brand with an aftertaste of the same rebellious spirit. This team-up resulted in a literal explosion (a widely used graphic is of the opening scene of Akira: explosion) of graphic tees, parkas, jumpers and, of course, skate decks and stickers. Turned into a cultural phenomenon, the graphic with the syringe, where SUPREME is being injected into Tatsuo's arm was later popularized and reflected onto skate decks and home wear.
Supreme X Akira; Supreme website
Arguably the best anime collaboration with apparel, a cultural moment with spotless execution, is Undercover x Evangelion. The units' parka and robotic headgear, graphic trench coats and jumpers immediately transport one into the series. The star of the whole W21 show, however, were the puffer jackets, where colour blocks and paneling, together with small detailing like taping and transparent
panels, contributed to a super accurate, albeit subtle execution of the real-life Evangelion units. The artwork used on the more commercial crew necks and graphic pieces was extremely elegantly executed, while all the accessories contributed to a full cosplay mode of the show, which, goes without saying, made the experience all the more immersive, uncovering a new sensory dimension in the world of collaborations.; Undercover FW 21, 03.02.2022
Undercover X Evangelion Collection Images; Undercover store
A perfect embodiment of the current state of the industry is Reggieknow (Reginald Jolley)'s work. A multi-disciplinary artist, creating mostly in the anime space, Reggie takes inspiration from his childhood's anime heroes and the culture of hip hop. Seemingly a strange mix, his work embodies the spirit of our time. If he sounds familiar, it is because he designed the anime/hip hop style illustrations and a short film for Virgil Abloh's S21 Louis Vuitton collection and is a creative consultant for Kanye West's Yeezus.

Born in Chicago, Reggie was first immersed into the world of hip hop through DEMDARE, a community of like-minded art, fashion and music aficionados. He then went on to become Sprite's creative director and during his time as such he brought into existence some of the best and most relatable commercials, addressing class and race issues and playing into the 80s and 90s hip hop culture.

With his deep-rooted interest in anime, action figures and fashion, Reggie advanced his creative career by launching Fashion Figure Inc., where he and his team commemorate stories and personalities. Everything, from creating the figures through dressing them to directing and shooting a short film with them, goes through Reggie's hands.
Each tiny garment is sewn specifically for the figure and often uses the corresponding high fashion brand's own fabric and monogram. According to the artist, this is a unique creative outlet, which allows him to enjoy fashion without necessarily having to dress in it.

Many of the biggest fish in the industry have had the privilege to share Reggie's genius, including Carhartt W.I.P, who launched '247365', a collaboration with Reggie on his collectable figures, created by his team and himself from initial illustration to final execution.

More recently, Nike Lab and Louis Vuitton have also launched collaborations with him, this time on advertisement campaigns. For the infamous SS 2021 Louis Vuitton assignment Reggieknow not only created the characters for the short films, but also cataloged the whole collection within a limited edition book and curated the show with his imaginative anime figures playing a main role in the entire campaign.

Merging two subcultures, Reggieknow is definitely one of the contributing factors to the popularity of anime in streetwear.

Top left: Vogue UK, Louis Vuitton SS 21, Virgil Abloh Scholarships, 10.07.2020; the rest: Louis Vuitton SS 21, Shanghai, 11.08.2020; How Reggieknow Paved a Way for Kanye West and Virgil Abloh by Lei Takahashi, 28.10.2020
In conclusion, the niches, created by culture in the past, are starting to feed into the global identity. A perfect example of this is the manga and anime segment, which was initially a minority subculture of the 12th century storytelling in Japan, then informed and translated into some of the most pivotal moments in film and fashion. Especially prevalent in streetwear, anime then graduated to a luxury pioneer at the forefront of creative expression, unifying important matters of current practice, such as gender fluidity and self-expression.

Despite the varying degrees of success and cultural understanding, as well as the disappointing attempts to monetize escapism, anime and manga collaborations are an important time capsule for us, which will be carved into the stone of time the same way Madame Vionett's ancient Greek inspirations were.
To see more references and examples of how visual media inspires apparel, as well as our other articles and researches – check the relevant links below.
Made by TECHUNTER Magazine.
Words: Elitsa Dobreva [TECHUNTER author, Mammut product designer].
Edit, Direction: Ivan Dzhatiev [THM].
Layout: Grigory Gatenyan [THM].