(L) Teri Toye in Stephen Sprouse’s Fall 1984 NASA Saturn-print dress overlaid with clear sequins. Photo: Paul Palmero. / (R) Kim Iglinsky in Sprouse’s Fall 1999 NASA print dress. Photo courtesy NASA.
Just when everybody thought Kanye’s next project would have something to do with Swedish flat-pack giant Ikea, he threw us for a loop with a teaser referencing NASA. He’s certainly on trend: Christopher Kane, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, and Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld were among the designers turned rocket men to show space-inspired motifs at the recent Fall collections. In so doing they were following in the footsteps (moon boots?) of Stephen Sprouse, fashion’s equivalent of Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American to travel in space.
At his Fall 1999 show, Stephen Sprouse debuted prints he created using NASA photos taken on Mars by Pathfinder in front of an audience wearing 3-D glasses. While some critics understood Sprouse’s futurism in the context of Y2K, his use of these prints wasn’t a mere stylistic gesture. As Patricia Morrisroe wrote in New York magazine, the designer’s m.o. was to wed “downtown cool with uptown luxury and space-age fabrics.” It wasn’t the designer’s first collaboration with NASA, either. In 1984, this always-forward-thinking (and variably solvent) designer presented an unforgettable, to-capacity show at the Ritz nightclub. There, while a video showed spacecraft in takeoff mode, Sprouse’s muse, the transgender model Teri Toye, joined catwalkers wearing “interplanetary prints” based on NASA imagery, which, explains Sprouse’s co-biographer Mauricio Padilha, the designer enlarged and printed over with backward graffiti that spelled out the name of the planet. “Stephen loved music and outer space,” says Padilha. “In going through his archives, I came across a handwritten quote that read: ‘Too far is not far enough.’ I think if Stephen were alive he would have been the first to contact Elon Musk to get a ticket to outer space!”
(L) Planet dresses from Fall 1984, shown at the Ritz (the current-day Webster Hall) / (R) Kiara Kabukuru in a 3-D print developed by Sprouse from imagery provided by NASA, Fall 1999. Photo: Dan Lecca.
Sprouse’s NASA moon print on wool jersey, Fall 1984.