Steampunk, once a cultish mix of sci-fi, steam and Victoriana in a world of fantasy film and print is now poised to conquer the world of fashion, says IBM. Yes, according to the powers that be: the blend of gaslight romance of Victorian London, with a frisson of H G Wells and a Jules Verne-inspired vision, is poised to make a massive leap from niche to the high street. This sci-fi sub-genre that’s a style mash-up of 19th century industrialized looks and Victorian flourishes sounds fancy, doesn’t it? But it is probably more apt to explain it in reference to pop culture: its Sherlock Holmes meets Wild Wild West, with a dash of Inspector Gadget.
Before we all not-so-quietly snicker about the improbability of this prediction, it’s important to note that IBM does have “science” behind its claim — or at least online metrics. The company reportedly analyzed more than a half-million posts from news sources and online message boards, blogs and social-media sites, and found that steampunk has quite the following.
Upon reading this I thought surely something this ghastly-grungey won’t make Britain’s biggest trend. Just because something has gained traction online, does this really mean a trend, that allows women to dress up like the red-lights from BBC’s Ripper Street and lads to strap on a muzzle and dusty coat and parade as Bane, is on the horizon. I mean, traditionally, new fashion styles tend to trickle down, from the couture shows in Paris and Milan to the ready-to-wear shows at New York Fashion Week to high-end retailers and then — finally — to the watered-down versions that arrive for us commoners in the mainstream Primarni.
And then I found it. The dagger to the fashion faux-par wound that was fast emerging: the news that high-end influence is already out there. For his spring 2010 couture show, disgraced racist John Galliano designed a parade of looks for Christian Dior with nods to early 20th century influences — including corsets, top hats, flowing fabrics, layers of lace and the Frankenstein-esque hair and makeup that are often referenced by steampunk “fashionistas”. While the circ de soleil-esque lion tamer ensembles made my skin crawl, the 20th Century inspired gowns were more My Fair Lady than Pretty Woman, which lifted my fashion spirits.