Heron Preston is calling Chanel’s bluff. Instead of staging a million-dollar-plus runway show inside of the Grand Palais in Paris, complete with a life-size rocket ship that launched (kind of) at the end of the show to the tune of Elton John's "Rocket Man" (which is exactly what Chanel did for its Fall/Winter 2017 show), Preston sent his collection into space … really. With the help of a couple NASA engineers, one of Preston’s jackets and a baseball hat, as modeled by the upper torso of a mannequin, were attached to a high altitude weather balloon in Wales and sent 32 miles above earth.
Preston’s 31-piece collection feels exactly like what one might find if a streetwear brand took over a NASA museum gift shop, with its $325 t-shirts, $555 hoodies, $420 sweatpants, $170 baseball caps, $200+ Off-White-style utility belts, and nearly $2,000 jackets emblazoned with NASA insignia and American flag patches, plus a “multi-convertible, multi-functional” bag, which is a tote bag, the fanny pack and then it is also a backpack — all in one.
The Heron Preston space expedition, as caught on tape by director David Laven, is the latest in a long line of efforts by brands one-up each other in an effort to sell stuff — usually pretty run of the mill, low(ish) cost, high(ish) margin stuff, like premium-priced t-shirts or licensed fragrances or leather goods all bound up in a carefully-shaped narrative about the brand — to the relatively mainstream consumer. This practice of boosting hype has become completely common practice because this is the Instagram era, where understated design is not virally click-able and design greatness without a commercially-focused hook is — for the most part — simply not enough anymore, anyway.
So, brands must go the extra mile (or 32 miles in Preston's case), whether that be by staging multi-million dollar runway shows (à la Chanel and co.), appointing buzzy cultural figures to the helm (à la Louis Vuitton), creating streetwear collaborations meant to send young consumers into a buying frenzy (oops Louis Vuitton, again), or manipulating the traditional merchandising scales with purposely very-limited edition runs (as Vetements boasted for awhile there). These plays for of-the-moment eyes and clicks (and ideally, ummm .... DOLLARS) are the bread and butter of fashion, an industry in the business of creating trends, cyclical newness, and excess at all costs for a living.
Sending a jacket to space is one extreme in the larger iteration of this increasingly outlandish trend aimed at playing for your wallet. And to be fair, some of these hype-building efforts feel better executed, more thoughtful/authentic, less icky than others.
As for Preston's stunt collection, he told Denzeen, "Working with NASA, the real agency that has sent people to space, to have sent people to the moon, that explores planets, this is as real as it can get." He continues, "That is what I'm using my platform for, to tell other stories that you don't really hear in fashion."
While these might be stories we would not otherwise hear in fashion (although there have been many, many takes on NASA by now — maybe best done by artist Tom Sachs), it is difficult to tell if Preston's take is cool or if it is just one of the latest examples in fashion’s tireless but certainly unsustainable quest to create out-of-this-world hype to sell t-shirts. I can’t tell, but I am skeptical that such inquires matter to most of the hype-happy consumers being targeted.