Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin lifts off with fashion

Buzz Aldrin (centre) models pieces from his collaborative collection with Sprayground, a youth-oriented streetwear label.
Buzz Aldrin (centre) models pieces from his collaborative collection with Sprayground, a youth-oriented streetwear label.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • If anyone can restore proper awe to the notion of space travel, Buzz Aldrin can. At 87, Aldrin, who made history in 1969 when he set foot on the moon, has hung on to his plain-as-folk charm and easy, infectious enthusiasm.

Those attractions may well factor into pop culture's resurrected romance with the pioneering astronaut, who raised his profile in recent years with guest spots on shows including The Simpsons and Dancing With The Stars, and an appearance at the Summer Olympics in Rio last year.

He recently embarked on yet another life chapter: Last winter, he strode the runway of menswear designer Nick Graham, showing off a silver foil jacket with distinctly aerodynamic loft. This autumn, Sprayground, a youth-oriented streetwear label, enlisted this all-American hero to give a shoutout to its wares. And, improbable though it may seem, Aldrin, an outspoken proponent of travel to Mars, attached his name, and his myth, to a Mission to Mars fashion capsule collection of coats, duffels, backpacks and the rugged like.

"Buzz was the man who gave us a taste of space in the 1960s," said Mr David Ben-David, Sprayground's founder and chief executive. "We thought it would be cool to see where his head's at now."

Aldrin, a space evangelist preaching the gospel of interplanetary travel through his Space Share Foundation, said he had little practical input into the products' design. Their value, he maintained, is less in pushing the wares than in promoting a vision.

"The idea of flying around in space, even though it seems a little far out, certainly catches young people's attention," he said in a telephone interview. "Especially when you jazz it up by carrying a briefcase that lights up in your hands."

This quirky rag-trade partnership resonates in popular culture, which is celebrating its own astral moment.

"Everything streams from the zeitgeist," said Mr Daniel H. Wilson, a robotics engineer and author of science-fiction novels, including A Clockwork Dynasty and Robogenesis.

In the world of sci-fi publishing, he said, there has been a tendency to forsake gloom-and-doom scenarios in favour of more exhilaratingly upbeat fare. The objective, it seems, is to revive the optimism of the late 1960s, when a lunar landing spawned a generalised blue-sky optimism.

In a currently divisive, often chaotic socio-political climate, "space exploration offers a vision of escape that's really appealing", Mr Wilson said. "If reality is dystopia, why shouldn't our dreams turn utopic?"

Fashion is celebrating its own return to the galaxies. This year, Alessandro Michele of Gucci introduced autumn 2017 advertising images of UFOs and teleportation platforms. Karl Lagerfeld, in his autumn show, offered the spectacle of a simulated rocket launch to highlight a collection of sparkle tights, dresses and cap-toe boots, and a silver Mylar space blanket.

But the appeal of the cosmos is not all nostalgia. Mr Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, who aims to ship colonists to Mars in a decade, has said he plans to send two tourists on a flight around the moon as early as next year.

Mr Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has reached deep into his pockets to finance his rocket company, Blue Origin.

Aldrin, who predicts settlements on Mars by 2040, has loftier aims, some founded on his indelible recollections. "You'll always remember the times when you launch and when you're in a coasting condition - zero gravity," he said. "There is the view of other spacecraft that you're close to and, of course, the landing, touching down on soil that in hundreds of thousands of years has been ground to a little fine dust.

"You can't find anything like that here on Earth. It is exciting to see something that is so absolutely unreproducible."

He hopes to inspire a youthful generation, "obsessed", in his words, with "the short-term payoff", to participate in a larger, more ennobling scheme.

Mr Ben-David of Sprayground wants to share in that dream. But for now, he said: "My goal is to make the ultimate backpack. And the ultimate backpack is a jet pack."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2017, with the headline 'Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin lifts off with fashion'. Print Edition | Subscribe