Steampunk, once a cultish mix of sci-fi, steam and Victoriana in film and books, is now poised to conquer the world of fashion. Forecasters say the style, which blends the gaslight romance of Victorian London with a frisson of H G Wells and Jules Verne-inspired fantasy, is poised to make a massive leap from niche to the high street.
The news will come as little surprise to the tens of thousands who are already into the retro-futuristic style. But experts at the computer giant IBM predict that "steampunk will shift from low-production, high-cost 'craft' manufacturing to mass-production" within the next two years.
IBM analysed social media and other internet sites, and found that the amount of online discussion about steampunk increased 11-fold between 2009 and 2012.
It also noted that, since 2010, more than 20 major department stores and other retailers had become "steampunk savvy".
Fashion labels, accessories suppliers and jewellery-makers are expected to integrate steampunk looks into their designs – from corsets and aviator goggles to lace veils and frock coats.
Evidence of the emerging trend can already be seen on the catwalks. Prada's winter men's campaign featured several of Hollywood's leading males, including Gary Oldman, Jamie Bell and Willem Dafoe – dressed for adventure in heavily tailored, steampunk-inspired suits. The hats and equestrian-themed outfits in John Galliano's summer 2013 collection for Dior are said to have been similarly influenced.
High-street and internet retailers haven't been slow to react. Topshop and Asos have already embraced the trend, with the former offering a gothic velvet-and-lace bralet teamed with a floor-length pleated skirt in oxblood, and Asos has a double-breasted coat. Alternatively, Planet offers a veil fascinator.
The distinctive style – the name was first coined to distinguish a genre of fantasy set in an alternative Victorian era – can now be widely seen in everything from blockbuster films such as Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman, and the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films through to some of Lady Gaga's wacky outfits and the steamship entrance of singer Rihanna at the London Paralympics.
IBM said its Birth of a Trend study looked at how trends spread globally online, and whether what's trending on social networks is likely to become commercially viable.
Trevor Davis, IBM's consumer products expert, said: "Technology can provide tremendous foresight, to help businesses differentiate what is a fleeting fad versus what is an enduring trend."
Some fashionistas have been sniffy: one dismissed steampunk as "what happens when goths discover brown".
But IBM expressed confidence in its work, saying its software was able to distinguish between sarcasm and sincerity to spot developing trends.
It isn't cheap but if you want to get the look, here's our guide:
Headgear Toppers, bowlers, veils, and even ball masks
Coats Military trenches and greatcoats
Jackets Double-breasted, pin-stripe suits with waistcoats
Shirts For her, the chiffon blouse; for him, collarless
Underwear Bustles, corsets and petticoats
Dresses Mix and match velour, velvet and lace
Trousers Jeans make the look less severe
Shoes Spats, platform lace-up boots from cut-price fashion chains
Accessories Goggles are a must, as are opulent brooches and pocket watches. Mobile phones can be "Victorianised"
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