In the Future, Black's Back
by Michele Orecklin
Let's be honest: one of the things that gives The Matrix and its spin-offs their appeal is that the characters look so damn stylish once they plug into the network. Keanu Reeves' fight scenes are the more compelling for his dramatically swirling coat, and with Carrie-Anne Moss's character Trinity looking as if she's been shrink-wrapped into her black cat suit, her punches have more pop. (If The Matrix is any guide, women in the future will need a weapons-grade workout regimen.)
And just as some people sit at home in baggy tops or threadbare sweaters projecting a different version of themselves over the Internet or phone, so crew members of the Nebuchadnezzar transform themselves from grimy refugees to sleek sophisticates once they plug into the Matrix. What sci-fi nerd could ask for more than the instant urbanity afforded by outfits like those worn by Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus?
Kym Barrett, the costume designer for the Matrix films, says that while designing, she attempted to avoid references to the present day, refusing to look at current fashion shows or even video games and comic books. "I wanted to go just from the script — to come up with clothes that weren't connected to a certain time or place," Barrett says.
Despite this — and the fact that the movies take place 200 years in the future — the costumes, with all their space-age kinkiness, seem to have parallels almost straight off the runways. For fall 2003, the Milan design house Costume National is offering up a number of shiny, black leather ensembles that echo Trinity's outfit. For his menswear collection, Michael Kors sent down the catwalks a leather duster not unlike the one sported by Morpheus. The rubber suit worn in Reloaded by Monica Bellucci, as well as the leather pantsuit apparently molded onto Jada Pinkett Smith, also seems familiar in the 21st century, albeit primarily from the pages of fetish catalogs.
The one instance in which Barrett purposely alluded to a known fashion universe was in scenes set in Zion, the last remaining human colony, which Barrett describes as a very "civilized" place, even though it looks a lot like a muddy cave. In these scenes, she avoided artificial and stiff fabrics in favor of draping, natural fibers. "Everything [in Zion] is grown hydroponically," she explains. "They grow flax and hemp and things you can weave." (The fact that this is never mentioned in the film gives you a hint of the totality of the Wachowski brothers' narrative vision.) Barrett says she based these outfits on ancient Indian and Tibetan patterns, designing textured garments manifestly created by humans and not machines.
There is another notable area in which contemporary society intrudes. Agent Smith and his cohorts wear dark suits and ties: they're very neat, one undistinguishable from another. These characters were made to look like "the Everyman, anonymous," says Barrett. They also look like that very 21st century villain, the corporate criminal.