It's the year 1999. We're slightly concerned about the Y2K bug, but mainly, we're looking forward to the shiny new millennium. We're singing Robbie Williams and rooting for Michael Jordan, drinking too much Sunny D and videotaping Xena: Warrior Princess, and life is beautiful and...sorry, we just had to pause to weep into our iPhones and latte art for a moment. The end of the century was an optimistic time of change and transformation. The Utopian outlook was yet to be marred by events like September 11 and the July 7 London bombings. The world wasn't yet dominated by Apple or distracted by the Kardashians; the dot-com bubble hadn't burst, the financial crisis hadn't reared its white-collared neck, and we (and the things we were consuming) were shiny, young things. We were swapping our pagers for the first mobile phones, and ditching Pokémon for The Sims. The market was awash with glossy items like blow-up chairs, CD players, and glow-in-the-dark stars that stuck to our walls.
In fashion, we embraced leather trousers and mesh white shirts. We temporarily tattooed our necks with elastic chokers, and platforms were a must. We were happily making ourselves look like the robots of the future: modern, sleek, androgynous, and metallic. Then came John Galliano's seminal Dior Haute Couture show presented at Versailles in 1999. A runway made from water-pillows was trodden down by cyber-goths in PVC, floor-length coats, skirts, and gloves. Futuristic boots were laced thigh-high and black makeup was smeared across eyelids. Where had we seen this before? Post-show, Galliano told Vogue that he was “deeply inspired by The Matrix." So, why are we looking to The Matrix — particularly Trinity, its fearless female heroine — now? There are, of course, some reasons that don't just fall on the tired maxim of fashion being cyclical: Isn't the bug creeping and crawling around under Neo's stomach the same as the mobile technology we grip in our hands each day? The laptops we sit facing from sunrise to nightfall? Aren't we all trying to yank that plug out of the backs of our skulls? We are, according to mainstream media, a subculture-less generation; bereft of identity, reduced to selfie-takers with no hope of financial solvency.
Of course, this is a generalization. Aesthetically, kids now (and then) are taking a similar look at how human life and technology are conflating into one human experience, and that's evident in the art they're producing. Take London's PC Music, and the genre's stars, such as Hannah Diamond, whose sound seems crafted on a Yamaha keyboard, and who herself looks as if she's been freshly unpackaged from a Mattel box and dressed like a school kid from 2001. (Talking of 2001, the year Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within launched, this January saw Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton cast the game's virtual heroine, the sorbet-haired Lightning, as the brand's campaign girl.) In the past few years, we've been introduced to the style subculture of "health goths," and to the fashion house Vetements. The brand is the ultimate people's revolt (supposedly), with its long leather jackets, unassuming sports apparel, and models that all look like extras from The Matrix — with sunken eyes, shaved heads, clothes dripping off limbs, heavy platformed boots, slashed T-shirts, and leather trousers. Then, you've got Rihanna's Morpheus-style sunglasses for Dior, and The Met Ball's timely 2016 theme, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. It's impossible to disentangle Trinity and her appearance from any of the above. As the film's true protagonist, she remains the stand-alone heroine for the Y2K look — and her style, with good reason, is relentlessly copied.
Beyond Trinity's practical, genderless, and futuristic wardrobe that makes sense for now, she's also a fitting character for this moment: a powerful female trapped between a real and a virtual world, trying to make sense of it all.
Kym Barrett, who designed the costumes for The Matrix, told the LA Times that the brief she received for Trinity was simple: "We want it to be dark, we want it to be high-contrast, we want Trinity to be like an oil slick.” And that is what Trinity becomes: she is shifting, liquid vinyl; she is strong, nameless, faceless, and without a history or a context; she is everyone and no one. What I always liked about Trinity's style was that it borrowed so obviously from fetish clubs and the lubricated world of the dominatrix. Trinity is one of the many dominant female figures who presided over my youth. She is Buffy, Xena, Chynna — all of whom are synonymous with female autonomy and strength. Beyond her practical, genderless, and futuristic wardrobe, which makes sense for right now, she's also a fitting character for this moment: a powerful female trapped between a real and a virtual world, trying to make sense of it all.