High Flying Superheroes Meet High Fashion Design

Moschino Superman

Photo Courtesy of Tyler Hicks/ The New York Times

Batman, Superman, Spiderman, all in one place with Armani, D&G, and Versace? Yes it’s true, your favorite high flying superheroes meet high fashion designers in the “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy” Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The temporary exhibit has been made possible by Giorgio Armani and will be making its run through September 1, 2008.

“Fashion and Fantasy” brings you up close and personal with the suit Christian Bale wore in “Dark Knight,” the cat suit Michelle Pfeiffer wore in “Batman Returns,” and the suit Christopher Reeves wore in “Superman,” as well as the fashion designers’ pieces reminiscent of superhero costumes.

The clear nexus revealed between the worlds of fashion and superheroes were shown through the following themes: The Graphic Body; The Aero-dynamic Body; The Patriotic Body; The Paradoxical Body; The Virile Body; The Armored Body; The Mutant Body; and The Post Modern Body.

Photo Courtesy of Tyler Hicks/ The New York Times

Just as comics designed unique suits using letters and word and patterns and prints to create an instant identity for superheroes, “The Graphic Body” showed designers capitalizing on the same method for branding and marketing their lines. For instance, Moschino remixed the famed “S” emblem on Superman’s chest and replaced it with an “M” in the shape of a heart. And the Jean Paul Gualtier, John Galliano, and Giorgio Armani pieces were all reminiscent of Spiderman’s webby suit patterns.

Next, the superhero “Flash” represented the “Aerodynamic Body,” a symbol of speed, agility, and freedom. Nike and Speedo’s full bodied, skin tight, lightweight swimsuits have been associated with this look, which upon first look one can’t help but think of Flash.

Christian Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano Spring/Summer 2001. Photos Courtesy of firstView and Chris Moore.

Moving along, the red, white, and blue stars and stripes of superheroes like Wonder Woman and Captain America is the art of the “Patriotic Body.” John Galliano for Christian Dior designed a sexy, edged getup nostalgic of Wonder Woman’s flag-waving super suit.

Another female superhero, Catwoman is often associated with the dominatrix because of the sexual conceptions her costumes ignite. The exhibit clarifies that Catwoman’s costumes are “Paradoxical” because her femininity is amped up, while downplayed in comic books stories, contradicting her salaciousness. Thierry Mugler, John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, and Gianni Versace have all used these images of the dominatrix in their work.

Virile Body Superheroes
Left: Wild & Lethal Trash by Walter Van Beirendonck Spring/Summer 1996; Right: Bernhard Willhelm Autumn/Winter 2004-2005. Photo Courtesy of: Walter Van Beirendonck archive/ Chris Moore

On the flip side, the Hulk lives out “The Virile Body” which incorporates an “overstated masculinity” and “physical metamorphosis” associated with “male arousal.” The Hulk embodies the archetype of total power and control. Padding and helmets worn by American football athletes are often associated with this. Designers have also exaggerated masculinity in their designs the same way as seen in John Galliano Spring 2008.

Armored Body
Photo Courtesy of: www.metmuseum.org

Iron Man and Batman represent those superheroes without any innate power. They are a part of “The Armored Body.” The exhibit explained that armor is related to human fears and weaknesses. Dolce & Gabbana, Pierre Cardin, Nicolas Ghesquiere has complemented these metaphors through their designs, which show also the closing gap between the body and technology.

Representing another spectrum of fear, X-Men resonates the adolescents experiences of alienation, the fear of changing and being different. “The Mutant Body” segment compares how fashion and mutant superheroes both challenge the standards of what society says is normal. Designs of As Three, Theirry Mugler and Alexander McQueen speak life to this.

Unlike earlier eras, superheroes from “The Postmodern Body” such as The Punisher and Ghost Rider represent the anti-hero and have a “dark cynical, even nihilistic world view” that is more edgy. Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Thierry Mugler all have used skulls, horns, and other carnage-like imagery in their works manifesting how dark and sinful the world is.

Lastly the “Art and Comic Book” display, emphasizes that even though comic art is not always recognized with high art, it should have the respect of being classified independently. It is undoubtedly popular and the influences that go into creating comic art and characters are often “exploited” by designers. Designers often integrate similar inspirations used in comic art (of life and symbolism) into their own work.

“Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy” is definitely a must-see. Trust, when seeing this display, one will have many “hmmm… that is true!” moments. Being enlightened, it gives the viewer a deeper insight on how all forms of art (including comic, fashion, or/and visual) are all connected and both influence each other in a continuous exchange- whether deliberate or not.

The worlds of Fashion and Comic Superheroes may at first seem disconnected but after viewing this exhibit, there are many obvious reasons why high fashion is connected to comic superheroes. They both symbolize systems in culture where creativity has no limits and it is not expected to. Both fashion and visual art go places that many of us are too scared to go… and so we find comfort in knowing that we can live out our fears, fantasies, and excitement through comic strips and watching models on the catwalk. With that, there will always be a cogent connection between the human experience, fashion and superheroes.

For more information visit: www.metmuseum.org.

Rawiya Kameir

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