Remember last year's school girl look? The trend had females nine to 29 frolicking around in crisp white shirts and pleated skirts and feeling fashionable in the archaic conformity.
Older "girls" teased up the parochial school uniform look, approaching it a la Lolita, and guys knew how Humbert Humbert felt.
But as time edges onto a new millennium, some designers and trend makers have traded in their Mary Janes and plaid skirts for vinyl boots and neon plastic dresses. Labels such as Mondorama, Odyssey, Deep Space Time, F8 by X Collection, Serious and Lip Service have finally found a wider audience responsive to their versions of "soft wear." The future is here, they insist, and the mild-mannered school girl has a new identity as Cyber Girl.
"Think of her as a super heroine from the future dressed in what you'd envision someone would wear being inside a computer in a virtual reality game," says Jeff Cohen, co-owner of Chemistry at the Lab in Costa Mesa, a choice source for plastic fantastic club and street gear for either sex.
The boutique, boxed in walls of polished corrugated steel, is a techno head's dream closet: there are racks of colored plastic vests and dresses, stretch vinyl jeans and silver mesh sheaths.
Metal and glass cabinets hold loads of watches by Storm of London, some that look like wrist walkie-talkies; lighters called Space Guns; Icognito wire and zyl eye wear for the 21st century, and plenty of accessories bearing the holographic Astro Boy logo, which zips off shelves as soon as it gets in.
Japanese adventure comic characters such as Astro Boy and the wide-eye Dirty Pair, Yuri and Kei, are models of inspiration mainly for their foreign aesthetic. Japanese animation and the lettering that appears on the products recall all those B-movies featuring unearthly creatures, some being the end result of technology gone awry.
But it's technology that is enabling designers to realize their futuristic fantasies. Softer plastics and metallic stretch vinyls are the result of advances in synthetic fabrics.
Deep Space Time has marveled fashion and cyber fans with its holographic clothes. Serious has experienced brisk sales with its Mylar-wrapped fleece jackets and pants, and Lip Service will soon unveil several styles made from aluminum-wrapped polyester.
Cohen sees the trend as having "to do with the counterculture always going against mass culture. Everyone is into natural fabrics and natural colors, so there's a backlash to go to the extreme with plastics and vinyl and the loudest brights."
Mondorama cut a reputation for its use of obviously synthetic fabrics, including good old-fashioned polyester. Co-designer Ezra Gould concedes their application of these fabrics is "antithetical to cotton clothing."
He and partners Kari and David Miller draw inspiration from seminal films as "Logan's Run" and "Blade Runner." Their plastic jackets are a take-off of those worn by the civil servants in those films.
The obsession with uniforms plays into Mondorama's collections, as well.
For fall, Mondorama offers the New Space dress, an A-line silhouette patched with three shocking brights of an advanced polyester blend. "It's for the '50s-diner waitress in orbit."
The Post-Mod jacket is a spin-off of the drab green nylon bomber jackets popular with the scooter crowd done instead in a shiny orange nylon for that "Mod on Venus" effect.
"We're kind of vicariously living through these movies with our designs," Gould adds.
Designer Donna Lobato of Lip Service, who has been working with vinyl for a decade, sees the trend's recent enthusiasm as a result of the attention the media and public have invested in the Internet and other computer communication networks.
"Cyber everything is everywhere," says Lobato. "I guess it subliminally worked into my designs, because I don't even own a computer and I've never seen the Internet."
What she can directly refer to are her ideas of what the future would look like when she was a kid, partly influenced by the space-age, Mod fashions of 30 years ago.
"I'm not a real retro fan, but I've always admired the looks Courreges and Cardin did in the '60s. But the plastics we're using today are softer and more colorful," she says.
Another flashback is the '80s jogger sneaker, updated in the wildest colors and textures. It's bulky shape resembles a sporty moon shoe. Later this summer, Converse's neon candy brights and Airwalk's patent alligator models will arrive in stores. If you can't wait, find silver, gold and black patent pairs from Cosmic at Leed's stores.
Mondorama's Gould considers the past in his designs, but says when creating his super-spacey collections he shuns the current craze for nostalgia. "It's just a re-creation of a memory rather than a projection forward, so it often comes with no substance."
Likewise, he says the term "cyber punk" has become an abused word. "It's become a fetish love for technology--even among those who don't understand anything about it."
Gould practices what he calls the "absolute value vision." It considers a positive and minus to design--say, going back 20 years and at the same time going forward 20 years. "People look at our outfits and say 'Star Trek.' That's where the plus and minus--the future and past--is illustrated. It's obviously more exciting to look forward."
Adds Lip Service's Lobato: "Clothing speaks as a sign of the times. Not all people will assimilate technology and not all people will like these clothes. But it's the younger generation who is connecting with technology and these are the people who want the clothes."
* Styled by ROSE APODACA JONES