What Do Clothes Look Like in a Climate-Changed Future?
The costume designers behind the new Apple TV+ show “Extrapolations” offer a glimpse into the future of clothing in a warming world.
For decades, costumes meant to depict the future have taken inspiration from the streamlined silhouettes of the space age, and designers like André Courrèges and Paco Rabanne. But the way we dress in the coming years could be shaped more by climate change than life on the moon.
That’s the premise adopted by the costume designers for “Extrapolations,” a new Apple TV+ show premiering on Friday, which explores what life may look like in the next 50 years based on current climate modeling. The show imagines a messy future in which deadly heat waves, sea level rise and species extinction shape our health, relationships and, of course, clothes. (And it is packed with an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Kit Harington, Sienna Miller, Tobey Maguire, Marion Cotillard, Gemma Chan, Daveed Diggs, Hari Nef, David Schwimmer and Heather Graham.)
While there are a few futuristic wearable tech moments — including a smartwatch that lets you change eye color — most of the costuming looks like something you may see today. The costume designers Nancy Steiner (“Lost in Translation,” “Twin Peaks”), Katie Riley (“Prodigal Son”) and Analucia McGorty (“Pose”) sought to create looks familiar enough to communicate that the harsh climate realities depicted in the show may not be far-off.
The designers also tried to reinforce the show’s message: care for the planet matters — and it needs to begin now. All three designers relied heavily on finding clothes in thrift stores over buying brand-new pieces and used them to create looks that feel like they belong in the future. One episode, which features some striking nonbinary corporate looks, was created using vintage Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood.
In the edited conversation below, The Times spoke to Ms. Steiner, Ms. Riley and Ms. McGorty about what sustainability looked like on set and why they think clothes made of 100 percent cotton could be “the diamonds of the future.”
How did you use costuming to tell the climate story of this show?
KATIE RILEY: We knew it shouldn’t look like the Jetsons. We’re not all going to be wearing silver jumpsuits in the future. So how do you make it feel not too costume-y, while being heightened and interesting and relatable, and really driving the story?
NANCY STEINER: The future is everything; it’s not one thing or another. It’s all different types of people. And so I really hate futuristic shows where everybody’s wearing the same spacesuit. We’re not all going to dress exactly the same, ever.
ANALUCIA MCGORTY: Right now, a lot of kids are looking at early 2000s fashion; before that it was the ’90s. Things are going to repeat themselves. The question was, ‘How do we interpret that, for that far in the future, with so many different environmental issues being at the forefront of everybody’s mind?’
NS: In one episode, we had a school class of young children, and I designed uniforms that had heat protection because a lot of them had heat sickness. They would have a sensor that lit up when they were reaching their heat limit. Those costumes were meant to protect them and to identify children that were having problems with the heat.
KR: One of my episodes takes place in India, and it’s so hot that it’s illegal to go outside during the day. I was thinking, ‘How does clothing age differently when you’re in such crazy conditions?’ We imagined villagers hanging clothing out during the day and the sun stripping away color. You see the lines from where it was hanging on the clothesline, all bleached out — little storytelling details like that emphasize how harsh the climate is. We also used recycled bicycle tires on the bottom of shoes, which I’ve seen in Venice and Mexico. It’s about people using what resources they have.
Beyond silhouettes and tech, how did you think about what kinds of textiles and materials will be available in the future?
NS: One of the first things I thought of when I got this job was that cotton fields are going to go away, because the water is going to be gone. Eventually, those natural fibers will probably be too expensive for the common person. I think silk and wool will be very high priced at some point. Plant-derived fabrics might disappear and be replaced by manufactured fabrics.
AM: With Nick [Kit Harington’s character] being so wealthy, we were able to have more “natural” fabrics for him that would not be available for people in a lower economic bracket. It’s as though 100 percent cotton is the diamonds of the future.
How did you source the clothing?
AM: I take the environmental footprint of every production I do costume design for really seriously. I also think it’s important as people who have budgets to spend to be supporting local communities, small businesses, especially women [-owned], wherever we can. I have this massive vendor list of vintage vendors that I try to give a lot of love and attention to.
NS: There were some episodes I designed more for, and some that I didn’t use anything new. It was all used, mostly. I love to rent clothes or use vintage. I like mixing that with new.
KR: Brand-new clothes always look like brand-new clothes, and we spend lots of time and resources making them not look like brand-new clothes. So thrifting is a win ecologically, time-wise and budget-wise. We were so fortunate to have a tremendously talented tailor shop. When you’re building [designing and sewing in-house] you can control your fibers.
What other sustainability efforts were made on set?
KR: We tried to do things locally and did far less shipping than I’ve done in the past. It was also the first time I had a hybrid rental vehicle on a production, and we had scrap recycling in our shop, which I had never had before. On the wardrobe side, we cracked down on dry cleaning, which is a big chemical issue in our business. Ninety-nine percent of things don’t have to be dry cleaned.
AM: This is a big conversation. And it’s not a one-idea fix. But I like that we’re starting to talk about it — even the fact that we’re having this interview and not just talking about fashion, but talking about sustainable fashion, feels different. This is not exactly a sustainable business. But this is the first show [I’ve worked on] that at least is talking about that and trying to make some efforts.