Cosmic Threads: Astronauts Inspire Space-Age Fashion

The European Space Agency has teamed up with design schools across Europe for Couture in Orbit, a project that envisions new fashion concepts inspired by space exploration.
The European Space Agency has teamed up with design schools across Europe for Couture in Orbit, a project that envisions new fashion concepts inspired by space exploration. (Image credit: European Space Agency)

Fashion and spaceflight meet in a new generation of clothing created as part of a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and five European fashion schools.

Five European astronauts will travel or have traveled to the International Space Station between 2014 and 2016. The challenge for the schools taking part in the collaboration is to come up with practical fashions to reflect each astronaut's journey. The clothing designs will incorporate elements useful to space travel, such as embedded sensors and absorbent textiles.

The project is called "Couture in Orbit" ("couture" is French for "sewing"), and every design must follow one of five assigned themes: technology, environment, innovation, health or sport. You can see more of the wild space-inspired fashion ideas here in our full gallery.

Ravensbourne Department of Fashion, in the United Kingdom, prepared these designs for the "Couture in Orbit" project. (Image credit: ESA/G. Porter)

"The schools are taking inspiration for their designs from the mission experiences of ESA astronauts from their own country," ESA officials said in a statement

"Whenever possible, they have talked directly with their national ESA astronaut to learn more about topics such as Earth observation, climate monitoring, health and nutrition — as well as details of everyday life in the void beyond our home world," the statement continued.

The project, which is not a competition, will conclude with a fashion show at London's Science Museum. Each of the final five designs will be showcased on catwalks.

This design for the "Couture in Orbit" project shows a design by Sam Martin-Harper from Ravensbourne Department of Fashion. (Image credit: Barry MacDonald)

Fashion Design Akademiet in Denmark, the Politecnico di Milano in Italy, and the International University of Art for Fashion in Germany and France are among participating schools. Each of the schools has its own sponsor and will integrate the technologies of that sponsor into the design, ESA officials added. Examples of that integration could include "tracking the wearer's movement and generating usable electricity, [as well as] regulating their temperature and transpiration," the officials said. 

Design sketches for European Space Agency collaboration "Couture in Orbit" from ESMOD Berlin. (Image credit: ESMOD Berlin)

The next European to fly in space will be French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who will be part of Expedition 50/51 starting in November. Earlier this month, German astronaut Alexander Gerst was named commander of Expedition 57 in November 2018. Gerst last traveled to the space station in 2014.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: