Carola Long looks at the appeal of space-age chic

Stuck for a New Year's outfit? Dolce & Gabbana's silver spacesuit could be just the thing. It's got a festive sheen, no one else is likely to be wearing it and that wipe-clean surface will come in handy for champagne spillages.

It doesn't just make an aesthetic statement, however. Wearing it, also embodies a philosophy. Domenico Dolce, one half of the design duo behind the label, describes the jumpsuit as, "a symbol of man landing on a new, different planet. He leaves stereotypes and conventions behind and is driven by instinct to choose what he likes". Wearing the jumpsuit, he contends, is an assertion of individuality in an era of blazer-and-jeans uniformity. Well, it's certainly different.

Dolce believes that modern men are able "to create a personal style which does not erase their traditions and roots, but makes it possible to reinterpret them in new and unexpected ways". The spacesuit takes the ultimate macho piece of clothing and puts a modern, ironic spin on it. The skill of the outfit, and the collection, is in the way they have given a Nasa-style suit a disco twist and still managed to balance it somewhere between high camp and heroic machismo.

Balance is critical to the essence of the luxury brand which Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana established in 1985. "The Dolce & Gabbana soul is in the harmony of contrasts. It is characterised by a delicate balance between tradition and innovation, excess and rigour, luxury and transgression," explains Dolce. Working as a design duo is part of that balance.

The fashion double-act ended their romantic relationship in 2005, but still design together. Gabbana maintains that being part of a pair is, "still really beautiful, even if it's difficult sometimes. We have been working together for more than 20 years, and this allows us to understand each other at a glance".

The autumn/winter collection at which the spacesuit first appeared was inspired by the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey; the soundtrack from the film was played during the show, while the lights flashed from blue to white. For the designers, the film represents, "not only a breaking point with the past, but, most importantly the first look at the future," says Dolce.

Space-age design has always held a strange fascination for designers. Space travel had a huge influence over designers in the 1960s - astronauts were seen as heroes, and their suits were emblematic of galactic glamour. Andre Courrèges, who opened his couture house in 1961, was the pioneer of space-influenced design. His white plastic go-go boots, alien-like sunglasses with small eye holes, and laboratory-white and silver mini skirts for women perfectly encapsulated the Sixties' obsession with the final frontier. Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin also drove the look. In 1966 Pierre Cardin designed white hats that resembled space visors, and Paco Rabanne designed the skin-tight spandex suits worn by Jane Fonda in the cult-hit Barbarella. The original costumes for 2001 - which incorporated Nasa-style spacesuits for men, and minimalist white suits with soft helmet-like hats for women - were designed by Hardy Amies.

In the Sixties, the space-age look had a fetishistic element, rather than being overt sexuality, as it was guided by the idea of unisex clothing. In popular science fiction, and on the catwalks, men and women wore versions of unitards, tunics and leggings: Cardin dressed men and women alike in rounded helmets, flat, plastic eye shields, and jumpsuits with heavy zips. But Dolce & Gabbana's take on gender is experimental rather than unisex.

Gold has been popular in womenswear for several seasons now - but Dolce & Gabbana challenge the convention that metallic fabrics are just for women. Their menswear collection featured spacesuits in bronze, silver and white, and saw men wearing gold bomber-jackets, alongside conservative suits. However their use of the metallics differs radically between men and women. Their women's dresses evoke voluptuous space vixens, in corseted silver and gold sheath dresses. The men's silver jumpsuits are strictly for rock and roll space heroes.

Such exaggerated masculinity recalls Cardin's Superman line from 1979 - in which leather jackets with exaggerated shoulders gave men a look of supernatural power, as well as Thierry Mugler's superhero designs from the Eighties and Nineties. Other designers have shown a darker vision of futurism, but Dolce and Gabbana's vision shares the optimism of the 1960's when space represented the possibilities of technology and new horizons. "Fashion is going through a beautiful moment, the best as far as men's fashion is concerned," says Dolce.

Among the label's galaxy of celebrity fans is Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears, who said of the show that he was "a bit overwhelmed because there was so much stuff that just looked fantastic". But if the flamboyant, lame-loving Shears is overwhelmed by this flight of fantasy, what kind of man does it take to boldly go where few men have gone before, sartorially speaking? Stefano Gabbana believes it takes, "a self-confident and ironic man. A person who has understood that what he sees on the runway has not to be taken literally". In other words, if you are planning to wear one of these tonight, leave the jet pack at home.

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