Steampunk, we hardly knew ye.
Just as the gadgety Victorian-industrial aesthetic becomes a household term ? to the point that paint company Sherwin-Williams declared a moody steampunk palette a 2013 trend ? its very popularity threatens to make brass gears, pulleys and Edison bulbs passe.
Such is the fate of trends, alas. It's cool until too many people like it.
But here's the thing: Though Justin Bieber's steampunk-inspired Christmas video last year might have driven purists to claw their aviator-goggle-clad eyes out, fans of the old-world-meets-future-world style are enjoying a boom in steampunk design.
"It just seems like it's popping up everywhere now," said Bruce Rosenbaum, founder of the Victorian home-restoration company ModVic. This year he helped launch a Steampunk by Design team that includes an architect, interior designer, salvage expert and technologist who repurpose antique objects for modern means?such as an 1870s band saw they turned into a desk.
For the uninitiated: Steampunk began as a subgenre of science-fiction literature, evolved into a lifestyle subculture, and eventually the retro-futuristic aesthetic and ideas inspired film, music, fashion, art and decor. People generally know it when they see it?think corsets, bowler hats, clock parts.
Climb aboard our time machine to trace the evolution of the steampunk trend, from Jules Verne to Justin Bieber.
Trace the Steampunk Trend
1870: Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" imagines submarines before they existed, becoming an iconic steampunk example of technology ahead of its time.
1965: "The Wild Wild West" TV show pairs the19th-century American West with whimsical gadgetry.
1987: In a letter printed in the sci-fi magazine Locus, novelist K.W. Jeter coins the term "steampunk" to describe a period twist on cyberpunk literature.
1999: The comic book series "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" begins publication, bringing together classic 19th-century sci-fi heroes and villains.
1999: The movie "The Wild Wild West," starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline, becomes a classic example of the steampunk aesthetic.
2005: The goth band Abney Park transforms itself into a quintessential steampunk band, complete with a fictional back story (they became airship pirates after colliding with a time-traveling dirigible).
2006: Hieronymus Isambard "Jake" von Slatt (aka Sean Slattery of Littleton, Mass.) launches the blog The Steampunk Workshop (steampunkworkshop.com), a pioneer of DIY steampunk designs. Among the popular past-meets-future contraptions he makes is an elegant computer keyboard made of brass and old typewriter keys.
2006: SalonCon is the first neo-Victorian/steampunk convention. It lays the groundwork for more conventions, including Steamcon.
2009: Oxford University's Museum of the History of Science hosts the world's first steampunk exhibit. Art Donovan, who curated the exhibit, says "it gave the genre a mantle of academic integrity."
2009: The movie "Sherlock Holmes," starring Robert Downey Jr., presents a Victorian England with industrial machinery and whimsical inventions.
2009: Alexander McQueen's spring 2010 Plato's Atlantis collection includes shoes and ankle boots wrapped in mechanical gadgetry.
2011: Justin Bieber's music video for "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" takes place in an industrial warehouse of a Santa's workshop, while Bieber sports a robotic arm. The online magazine Motherboard says steampunk "has officially been murdered" by Bieber.
2012: Retailers such as Restoration Hardware embrace gears and other steampunk-inspired furnishings.
2013: Paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams' 2013 "Color Forecast" includes a steampunk palette called "Midnight Mystery" that includes "Earthy Plum Brown, absinthian Bottle Green, the metal gray of Outerspace, and Rustic Red evoking the houndstooth cloak of Sherlock Holmes."
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