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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

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.