The notion that Blade Runner is a culturally significant film, is not a new idea. Countless books, articles, documentaries etcetera have explained in painstaking detail the effects this film has had on the science fiction genre, depictions of the future and studies of postmodernism in film. “What remains striking about Blade Runner is that, despite the fact we are quickly approaching the year 2019, the year in which the film takes place, its depiction of the ‘future’ still resonates. The future of Blade Runner still looks like our potential future”.1 This statement still stands 3 years after the film’s setting in 2022, it is the reason that in 2017, a sequel to the original was released. Blade Runner is a film that exemplifies the past, present, and future, regardless of time.
To exemplify this a detailed analysis of the film’s themes, cinematography and plot are usually utilised. However, the element of costume design is often overlooked when evaluating the impact, even though it is one of the clearest markers of Blade Runner’s influence that has lasted even until today. Evoking the noir style of the 1940s and 1950s is noticeably clear in the costuming. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is dressed throughout the film in a large, popped collar trench coat, replicating the unmistakable image of Humphrey Bogart, noir’s primary hero, especially mimicking The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941) and Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942). Although, minus Bogart’s trademark fedora, at the refusal of Ford following the success of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981) and the hat that became Ford’s unmistakable symbol.
The most overt combination of noir and technology arguably comes from Deckard’s love interest. The classic femme-fatale but also replicant, Rachael (Sean Young) is often dressed in hugely shoulder padded ‘power suits’ and large fur coats. Not only a prominent icon of 1940s femme fatale style in general, but more specifically of one noir icon, Joan Crawford. Exemplified in Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945) and Sudden Fear (1952). Emblematic of classic styles Crawford was known for after her prolific working relationship with Gilbert Adrian, one of Hollywood’s most prolific costume designers.
Blade Runner is often cited as one of the major inspirations behind the subgenre of Science- Fiction, Cyberpunk. As defined in The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, “a subgenre of science fiction that focuses on the effects on society and individuals of advanced computer technology, artificial intelligence, and bionic implants in an increasingly global culture, especially as seen in the struggles of streetwise, disaffected characters.”2 This is demonstrated exceptionally throughout the film as a whole but more specifically by the character of Pris, the ‘basic pleasure model’ replicant, who brings these exact ‘streetwise’ and ‘disaffected’ characteristics to life. Her costume and makeup inspiration was taken directly from Breaking Glass, (Gibson, 1980) a gritty independent British music film starring Hazel O’Connor, depicting her rise and fall from fame. These clear comparisons to film costumes of the past are not only used as an indicator of genre and style but as a key visual indication of technophobia and reluctance to move forward with the times, especially if this is what it is going to look like.
More notably than the effects of the past on the film, is the effects of the film on the future, as shown by its influence on the fashion industry. From directly after the film’s release even until the present day, many fashion designers have been heavily inspired by the visual style of Blade Runner in their designs. As early as the spring-summer collections of 1983, Blade Runner was already beginning its long presence in the fashion industry and beginning with one of the biggest designers in the world, Vivienne Westwood. Her collection ‘Punkature’ (A contraction of the words ‘punk’ and ‘couture’) featured skirts bearing the print of Alexis Rhee, dressed as a geisha, featured on a billboard in the film and other bearing images of the ‘love scene’ between Deckard and Rachael.3 Its resurgence in fashion came about in the mid-1990s, following the release of the director’s cut in 1992. Major fashion house Givenchy, headed by Alexander McQueen at the time, released a collection in 1998, undeniably influenced by not only Rachael’s costume but her hair and makeup, which was a key part of her look being as recognisable as it is. The final cut also being released in 2007, inspired a resurgence with Jean Paul Gaultier’s Autumn/Winter collection in 2009. Most recently the sequel released in 2017, Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017) brought the Blade Runner trend back, arguably stronger than ever before with collections from Bottega Veneta (AW 2017) Raf Simons (SS 2018), Marine Serre (SS 2019) and Oliver Theyskens (AW 2019). In one way or another, each of these collections have been explicitly confirmed to be inspired by the film. Those more overt, such as the Westwood collection featuring images from the film or Simons’ collection whose models walked down the runway, set up to look like the lower level of the Los Angeles of the film. Conversely, those more obscure, either with subtle references to which the designer had to explain was influenced by the film or in the case of the Theyskens collection, the models walked down the runway to the theme in reverse. In any sense, the collections depicted in the video essay is merely a sample of what is out there based on the film, both confirmed and unconfirmed. Despite being the first collection to feature inspiration from the film and the most overt, printing the scenes onto her skirts, due to inaccessibility of footage, the Westwood collection was unable to be featured.
It is clear to see that Blade Runner has had an immense impact on the fashion industry beginning with its initial release in 1982 and expanding with each subsequent version/sequel. It is a concise representation of the past and future that (without the intertitle identifying the year) appears timeless in both its themes and aesthetics, as a result succinctly representing the present, resonating with people across all decades. “We have seen that Blade Runner exemplifies postmodern pastiche in its combination of sci-fi and film noir […] despite this combination of past and future, Blade Runner, is undoubtedly a film about the postmodern present.”4
1. Flisfeder, Matthew. Postmodern Theory and “Blade Runner.” New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
2. Prucher, Jeff. Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195305678.001.0001/acref-9780195305678-e-100?rskey=eTlVdX&result=1. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.
4. Flisfeder, Matthew. Postmodern Theory and “Blade Runner.” New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
- Bukatman, Scott. Blade Runner. London, BFI Publishing, 1997.
- Flisfeder, Matthew. Postmodern Theory and “Blade Runner.” New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
- Lack, Hannah. “Michael Kaplan on Blade Runner’s Iconic Costumes.” Another, Another Magazine, 22 Oct. 2012, anothermag.com/art-photography/2286/michael-kaplan-on-blade-runners-iconic-costumes. Accessed 30 Nov. 2021.
- Page, Thomas. “‘Blade Runner’ Influenced 35 Years of Fashion. Can Its Sequel Do the Same?” CNN, CNN, 3 Oct. 2017, edition.cnn.com/style/article/blade-runner-2049-costume-design-fashion-renee-april/index.html. Accessed 30 Nov. 2021.
- Prucher, Jeff. Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195305678.001.0001/acref-9780195305678-e-100?rskey=eTlVdX&result=1. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.
- Westwood, Ben. “Punkature Video – Vivienne Westwood.” Vivienne Westwood, Aug. 2014, blog.viviennewestwood.com/punkature-video/. Accessed 7 Nov. 2021.
- Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)
- Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942)
- The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941)
- Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945)
- Sudden Fear (Miller, 1952)
- Breaking Glass (Gibson, 1980)
- The Third Man (Reed, 1949)
- Barbarella (Vadim, 1968)
- Scarlet Street (Lang, 1945)
- Vivienne Westwood & Malcom McClure (SS83)
- Alexander Mcqueen for Givenchy (AW/98)
- Alexander Mcqueen for Givenchy (AW/99)
- John Galiano for Dior (AW/06)
- Jean Paul Gaultier (AW/09)
- Bottega Vanetta (AW/17)
- Raf Simmonds (SS/18)
- Marine Serre (SS/18)
- Oliver Theyskens (AW/19)