Yohji Yamamoto designs for space travel


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2016)

The dream of spaceflight for all should not remain a dream for much longer, at least not according to Sir Richard Branson and his private spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, which has been working on a space transporter for commercial space flights for many years. Due to technical problems however, the launch has been repeatedly postponed. Now tourist flights have been announced for this year. In addition, the company recently introduced their pilots’ flight suits designed by the Japanese star designer Yohji Yamamoto in collaboration with the adidas Y-3 label. Gone is the well-known image of the white space suit: the future of fashion in unknown galaxies is black. 

If commercial space travel is made possible in the coming years, our perception of the world as we know it will fundamentally change. We are still in the pioneering days of space tourism and the undertakings in connection with it are unfamiliar, adventurous and mean taking a step into the unknown.

“With one eye on the past I walk backwards into the future”, said Yohji Yamamoto, one of the best-recognised Japanese fashion artists. He has already won multiple international awards for his collections. “I am not a fashion creator, but a tailor”, he says about himself and his work. And this explains the style of his collections in which he uses hardly any colour or accessories. Yamamoto wants more than just success in fashion. The impermanence of the conventional fashion business has always disturbed him: “Fashion heckles behind the trends. I want timeless elegance. Fashion has no time, but I do.” Now he’s designing the future with the adidas Y-3 label. 

His collaboration with adidas began in 2001. adidas has been producing the Y-3 label since 2003, it’s a young sportswear line that has Yamamoto’s hallmark all over it. Y-3 has always been in the frontline of fashion and design. Always provocative and avant-garde, it has established itself today as a pioneering label in the sportswear industry. Together with Virgin Galactic, Y-3 now wants to conquer space and push forward into galaxies where no man has gone before. Both companies embody an innovative spirit, have creativity at their fingertips and pursue their goals with passion, pushing their way beyond familiar everyday life. Adam Wells, Head of Design at Virgin Galactic, said: “Together with the incredibly talented team at Y-3 we will explore the potential to create innovative apparel and accessories - both for our staff and for our pioneering customers.” 

Functionality is at the forefront of every single tiny detail in the designs.  “Everything is done for a functional reason,” said Lawrence Midwood, Senior Design Director at adidas Y-3. “The ability to move freely about the cockpit and operate this spaceship - and safety is obviously permanently important.”

The one-piece suits are made of Nomex Meta Aramid, a material that is as hard wearing as Kevlar, but far more flexible. They are very plain and elegant, all in black. The zip at the front is also offset with black stripes and further zips on the legs as well as Velcro fasteners on the arms which make it easier to take the suits on and off and make them extremely comfortable to wear. There is a long graphic design motif down the back that shows the evolution from aeroplane to spaceship. This very plain, black, shiny motif printed onto the black suit is so subtle that you hardly notice it.

The suits were made with the most modern materials adidas have at their disposal. Special production techniques and individual specifications guarantee optimum fit and comfort. The garment is cut in such a way that it offers optimum support to the pilots’ natural sitting position, a design that is the result of numerous tests and ‘rehearsal sittings’, with Virgin Galactic pilots. The specially developed flight boots are made of leather and a lighter Nomex material. Appropriate structural details and innovative workmanship ensure perfect functionality. The boots have TRAXION™ profiled soles for optimum grip and the adiPRENE® heel reinforcement is designed to absorb convulsions during the flight. The boot prototypes are now so well developed that the pilots are trying them out during the Virgin Galactic test program. The experiences the pilots have wearing the boots during real flights will enable further improvements to the design.

“The Y-3 Pilot Boots are really very impressive”, describes the Virgin Galactic head-pilot Dave Mackay, “They look very tough yet they are light and flexible. When it comes to a flight suit it should be very comfortable. And when it also looks good it is definitely a bonus”.

Adam Wells, Head of Design at Virgin Galactic, said: “Our evolution into a fully-functioning spaceline presents unprecedented opportunities to create original designs in support of our unique customer experience. Apparel that is appropriately functional and fit-for-purpose, is thoughtfully and elegantly crafted, and is fulfilling and fun to wear and use”. In addition to the flight suit a custom-made limited edition Y-3 and Virgin Galactic Partner jacket was created during the developmental stage. This jacket was presented to the future astronauts; that is, the passengers who have already booked a spaceflight.

Lawrence Midwood sees the greatest element as being the sense that Virgin Galactic is moving mankind forward and conducting research into how we can travel in the future and is opening new horizons to us here on earth, horizons that we may even go beyond. He said: “It has been a real honor to develop this product. At Y-3 we are fascinated by innovation and are continually looking to evolve, to progress and to challenge the ordinary, and this collaboration has enabled us to do so in a truly unique way”.

Since Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflight announcement, the list of interested passengers has become longer and longer. To this date more than 700 space tourists have registered for a flight. It’s a large number when you consider that each flight costs at least 250,000 dollars. The so-called WhiteKnightTwo carrier-craft, the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft (SS2) manned with tourists, is supposed to be launched from the Spaceport America Space Station in New Mexico. During a test flight one and a half years ago, the private rocket, SpaceShipTwo, crashed. At the time the carrier aircraft detached from the space shuttle at a height of 15 km, but after ignition of the the rocket engine, it exploded. The SpaceShipTwo parts were found in the Mojave Desert almost 200 km north of Los Angeles. This accident was the second heavy blow for private spaceflight within a short period of time, just a few days beforehand, the unmanned US ‘Cygnus’ space shuttle belonging to the Orbital company had exploded seconds after launch in Florida: it was supposed to have taken around 2.3 tons of supplies to the ISS (International Space Station). But Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Galactic, doesn’t let setbacks discourage him. He continues to work on the realisation of spaceflights for tourists and says: “Records are there to be broken. It is a man’s nature to continue to strive to do just that”.

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Picture credits © Michael Najjar

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