In this article, Damisola Sulaiman explores the rising fashion trend and its use of various elements to comment on social issues.
Avant apocalypse is a fashion trend which has trickled down from the runways of designers such as Rick Owens and Maison Margiela to the bedrooms of TikTokers. In doing so, it has secured its place in the mainstream. For centuries, fashion has found unique ways to externalise the conditions of the time and this trend follows suit.
Avant apocalypse was conceived by the TikToker Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn). It is characterised by its deconstruction of everyday pieces. It incorporates asymmetry, cutouts and layering to wear clothes the ‘wrong way’. It has been described as neutral maximalism which is basically ‘put-together messy’, as it involves clashing fabrics and unusual shapes but puts them in a neutral colour palette.
The trend takes inspiration from post-apocalyptic aesthetics and dystopian science fiction such as Mad Max or Dune. Designers such as Ottolinger and Ai Mei Li continue to represent this trend in their pieces and propel it even further.
The characteristics of this trend are fascinating and revolutionary, but it sets itself apart through the way its individual elements address issues of climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, and recent political instability.
In recent times, the climate crisis has brought several revelations relating to fashion. The true harm of fast fashion and overconsumption has been brought to light. This has led to lots of confusion for consumers in how to participate in trends, or shop ethically and sustainably in a way that is inclusive to all body types and social classes. Avant Apocalypse is built on the subversive basics trend which takes everyday items and transforms them to the point where they are entirely different from what they once were – it is classic upcycling.
Tiktokers have taken average tights and turned them into dramatic sleeves, basic camisole tops have been transformed into statement pieces, and knitwear has been turned into outfit-finishing drapes and nets. Avant apocalypse is ideal for thrifting or DIY projects, both of which are known ways to be more eco-conscious with our fashion.
Despite the individual pieces being unique and seemingly difficult to re-wear, the element of layering and utilising the same pieces in different ways every time creates that re-wearability and prevents wastefulness. This trend provides a solution to the problems that have been discovered effortlessly.
The Covid-19 pandemic felt for many like a possible end of the world. All of a sudden things came to a dramatic halt and it suddenly seemed like we were living in the dystopian universes we had seen in fiction for so many years.
During the pandemic, we saw the rise of aesthetics like cottagecore or fairy grunge which provided a whimsical escape from our reality and gave us an opportunity to romanticise our situations.
Thus, it makes perfect sense that as the world finds a way to recover from the pandemic, an aesthetic like avant apocalypse would come to the forefront. Rather than disappearing to dreamy cottages, it channels us taking this new world by storm through its daring nature, similar to the heroes in the science-fiction movies that influence it.
In Mad Max, there are outfits with leather belts sewn together to create a corset look. In Dune, there are clashing fabrics of soft scarves contrasted with the hard exterior of their body armour. These films utilise repurposing as well as layering, both of which are key elements of avant apocalypse.
Avant apocalypse includes punk elements that can be seen instantly, but another similarity it holds is the political significance. The punk era was characterised by rebellion and challenging the establishment.
Over the past few years, we have seen an increasing amount of political instability all over the world and uproar from the public about decisions regarding the economy, the climate, and human rights.
Fashion has always looked to the past for inspiration, so it makes perfect sense that in our difficult political climate we would recreate elements of the punk era, when people used fashion as a tool to fight against their own political situations.
The most classic way that fashion has reflected circumstances is through colour. Colours have always been linked to certain experiences and emotions, for example wearing yellow when you are happy and black when you are sad. This trend uses a neutral, earthy colour palette. Considering the overall maximalism of this trend, bright colours would have made sense, but the colour palette serves as an embracing of the darkness.
The past two years have brought misfortune in a variety of ways and rather than escaping to florals and pastels, it acknowledges these difficulties and equips the wearers to face them. It serves as a layer, or rather multiple layers, of protection in a world plagued with unpredictability.
The deconstructed nature of the pieces and creativity required to pull them off has also made it so that gender norms are not seen here.
Similar to the post-apocalyptic universes that inspired it, fashion in this aesthetic is largely gender neutral. In those films and television shows, it was more about practicality, but here it is driven by the aesthetic’s reliance on the wearer’s creativity to make the pieces work.
It shoves tradition out the window and makes it so that the only rules that exist here are formed by each person’s ability to innovate. This trend represents the general shift, in fashion and life itself, from drawing clear lines and being exclusionary to letting the individuals wear their clothes and live their lives on their terms.
The trend cycle in recent times can feel repetitive but avant apocalypse subverts this by making waves through its originality. It somehow takes elements of things we have seen for years and still crafts something completely new. Every element seems to somehow be completely intentional, like the fashion gods took a variety of things that were needed and tucked them neatly into this. But the larger meanings and implications of this trend make it even more awe-inspiring.
I, for one, am beyond excited to join in (if I can pull it off).
You can read more of Damisola’s work on Medium by following @damisulaiman26