The Star Wars series is no stranger to capitalizing on merchandising opportunities—just look at the sheer number of toys, comics, and ancillary media consumed by its core fanbase of nostalgic nerds and young kids (the "new hope" for the franchise, if you will). While the runway may seem like an odd fit for the sights and characters from "a galaxy far, far away," it isn’t too far-fetched to consider how the memorable visuals and iconic costumes helped shape the style tribes of today.
The Star Wars universe is a sci-fi world in which numerous species, planets, and factions co-exist, and have to learn to get by despite one another. There are menacing Tusken Raiders, diminutive Jawas, and the varied denizens of Mos Eisley—and that’s just Tatooine. This is a sharp contrast to the world of Star Trek, which uses uniform as a sign of rank—with each Starfleet color signifying a chain of command. Every crew member is dressed similarly, and even most of the aliens are humanoid. It’s a world where ideals and social commentary trump imagination and individuality. It imagines the future as it ought to be—an intergalactic utopia, rather that what it probably will be—just as full of chaos and strife as the present.
Star Wars: A New Hope premiered in 1977. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa heavily influenced George Lucas, with the first Star Wars film borrowing elements from The Hidden Fortress. The Jedi were fashioned after feudal samurai, reflected in the kimono-like garments and flowing robes. Around the same time, Yohji Yamamoto showed his first Y’s collection, and other Japanese designers like Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo began to make a name for themselves on a global level.
George Lucas' "galaxy far, far away" is like fashion in that it presents a relatable fantasy which is loved for numerous reasons. Everyone has a different favorite character and experiences the mythos in a unique way. Some imagine themselves as armored bounty hunters, others prefer the dark, drapey garments of the Jedi or Sith, and some just want to look as badass as Han Solo.
The evolution of Star Wars' sartorial identity inadvertently paralleled fashion designs that remain highly influential today. John Mollo designed the costumes for the original trilogy, but much of the concepts originated with illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. When costume designer Trisha Biggar took the reins for the prequel trilogy, the trick was bringing the looks full circle come Revenge of the Sith. Hence, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Episode III garb began to mirror Alec Guinness’ flowing robes in Episode IV. Unsurprisingly, the traditional Jedi attire shares visual similarities with Issey Miyake’s “Kamiko” from 1982, made from a traditional Japanese Shifuori fabric.
Luke Skywalker’s initial Tatooine farmboy outfit also channels Japanese feudalism. A flowy white tunic with khaki pants and wrapped, soft-soled boots wouldn’t look out of place on the runway of a designer like Siki Im. Im’s Spring 2014 collection was inspired by prison tattoos, but the former Helmut Lang designer and Karl Lagerfeld protégé’s influences range from the Middle East to rare Transformers toys, so it’s not far-fetched to see his designs working on a desert planet.
Whereas the Jedi took inspiration from the East, Solo’s noble rogue was fashioned after a Wild West cowboy, which is why in Episode IV, his henley shirt, black vest, blaster holster, and knee-high boots harken back to a retro-futuristic gunslinger. By the time The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters in 1980, there was a crop of avant garde European talent (like the Antwerp Six), and champions of minimalism like Jil Sander that contrasted the popularity of these Japanese designers.
In the visual realm of Star Wars, contemporary citizens like Princess Leia embodied the look in a white band-collar jumpsuit and quilted vest. Han Solo traded in his vest for a bomber jacket and asymmetrical placket shirt better suited for cooler climes. It’s a look that was echoed just recently in Maison Martin Margiela’s Spring 2014 collection, but also set the archetype for one of Harrison Ford’s other famous heroes: Indiana Jones, who’d have his own menswear legacy.
Given costume designer John Mollo’s experience in military history (before Star Wars, Mollo worked on period pieces like Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon), it makes sense that his work toes the line between uniform and utilitarian. Even Luke Skywalker’s Bespin fatigues spoke to the minimal appeal of modern designers like Patrik Ervell.
However, the ‘70s hadn’t seeped completely out of fashion yet, which explains Lando Calrissian’s flashy cape, loose-fitting silken shirt, and bell-bottoms. It’s a glam-rock look that also pays homage to the old sci-fi serials of yore, like Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon. In a deleted scene from the first film, Luke Skywalker’s best friend Biggs Darklighter wears one over a white jacket, and of course, there’s Darth Vader’s long black cape too. The Star Wars mythos uses capes demonstrate power and elegance. In Vader’s case, it was imposing, and in Calrissian’s, it’s regal. Perhaps that royal demeanor is why when Cam’ron closed out Mark McNairy’s Fall 2014 show in a custom cape, he slowly waved to both sides of the runway like a king.
The intimidating, layered silhouettes of robed Jedis and baleful Sith Lords find parallels in collections by Rick Owens, who take exaggerated proportions to a different level. Yohji Yamamoto was a pioneer in looser-fitting clothes and reimagining traditional Japanese pieces like kimonos, but Owens didn’t just embrace the Dark Side of fashion, he mastered it—favoring extreme cuts and grotesque footwear.
Although officially licensed Star Wars T-shirts and apparel had been revived along with the prequel trilogy, the resurgence of style-oriented Star Wars collaborations began around 2007, when Marc Ecko released a limited-edition collection of clothes such as full-zip hoodies designed to look like Boba Fett's Mandalorian armor or Luke Skywalker's X-Wing pilot uniform. It was followed by a sneaker collaboration with adidas Originals with blister packaging that spoke to the fact that people collected sneakers like action figures.
Aesthetically, these projects hardly meshed the appealing parts of the Star Wars universe and fashion world together. However, when Hong Kong artist John Woo released his series of “He Wears It” illustrations in 2010, depicting Boba Fett in Supreme and Visvim, a Stormtrooper in Thom Browne, Jango Fett in Comme des Garcons, and Darth Vader in a neo-prep look from Band of Outsiders, it showed that Star Wars and fashion didn’t have to be strange bedfellows.
A year later, cult streetwear brand A Bathing Ape dropped a Star Wars collaboration of its own, and Comme des Garcons SHIRT followed suit in 2012. Both brands provided a balance of iconic Star Wars imagery and their respective design idiosyncrasies, but Star Wars’ fashion cred was far from established.
"Those films represent for us a time when anything was possible," Rodarte co-designer Kate Mulleavy told the LA Times. In February, Kate and her sister Laura closed out their New York Fashion Week show with five dresses emblazoned with film stills from George Lucas' epic Star Wars saga, ranging from the golden protocol droid C-3P0, Tatooine's blazing twin suns, an unfinished Death Star II, dream-filled farmboy Luke Skywalker, and wizened Jedi Master Yoda. Shortly after Rodarte’s show at New York Fashion Week, British brand Preen debuted a series of blouses and dresses featuring Darth Vader’s iconic visage.
The Fall 2014 collection wasn’t the first time Star Wars influenced the Mulleavy’s line. The sisters’ well-received Spring 2009 collection also gleaned inspiration from the original trilogy. Though that time, it was subtler—think bandeau tops paired with paneled dresses that ever so slightly channeled R2-D2.
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012, it spearheaded the efforts to merchandise Star Wars at a higher end, engineering the Preen collaboration and overseeing the prints used by the Mulleavys. And if there’s one thing Disney’s good at, it’s achieving a balance of brand integrity and tasteful collaborations. There’s hardly a company that can boast projects with streetwear label The Hundreds and high-end retailer Barneys in its portfolio. Within the past year, J. Crew has released a kids’ collection of graphic tees featuring Star Wars imagery, Vault by Vans sneakers with Star Wars-inspired prints, and Band of Outsiders—a fashion label known for mixing prep elements with a knowing, nerdy appeal—opened a Tokyo store with a fitting room meant to mimic the surface of Tatooine.
Under Disney's management, the biggest news for the franchise was undoubtedly the announcement of Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, with the new cast reveal practically breaking the Internet. With J.J. Abrams at the helm, fans are waiting with bated breath to see what he does with their beloved canon. Abrams also selected Michael Kaplan to design the costumes for the film. Kaplan previously worked with Abrams on the Star Trek films, but notably won an award for his work in Blade Runner, which has an equally impressive sartorial identity as Star Wars.
As Episode VII nears its projected December 2015 release, and designers prepare to show their newest collections as early as June, Rodarte and Preen’s collections may have just been the beginning of Star Wars’ fashion empire. The Force is strong with them, after all.