Clockwork Orange and Its Fashion Legacy

Drugs, ultra-violence and crime were the personality, while bowler hats, suspenders and canes were the aesthetic behind the gang of “droogs”. This strange fusion of depravity and class was birthed by the mind of author Anthony Burgesss in his 1962 and was brought to life in film by director Stanley Kubrick in 1971. The cult classic A Clockwork Orange, a tale of a sadistic gang of ruffians in a society of senseless violence and government sanctioned psychiatry brought together one of the most iconic looks to ever be seen in film. The twist of chic depravity within the designs were just as darkly charismatic to the world and fashion industry as the protagonist and ring leader of the movie Alex; the designs played so simplistically on elements of class and danger, rebellion and conformity, and the depraved yet desirable. Following the film’s release, the wardrobe of the film took full grasp of the neck of the fashion industry.

Yet, film and fashion are no strangers. Before the designer Milena Canonero began work on costume design in the film industry, she was a well-known Italian fashion designer. Following her debut in costume design with A Clockwork Orange, she would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Costume Design in films like Marie Antoinette and The Grand Budapest Hotel. A Clockwork Orange, however, stands out for its iconic look because it went on to define the look of London street gangs for decades to come. The film’s look became so closely associated with actual street gangs in London that the film was banned from circulation in the UK, beginning its rise to cult acclaim.

Despite its underground nature, A Clockwork Orange was so prolific in its look that famed musicians Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Madonna brought it to the public eye. Yet, within fashion, it had no greater influence than on Jean Paul Gaultier, who was mesmerized by the look and began to incorporate its theme as early as 1990. His obsession with the theme culminated in his 2008 menswear show. Rife with bowler hats, canes, and suspenders, the looks in the show brought about a resurgence in A Clockwork Orange’s influence on broader pop culture.

From the 60s all the way to the present, fashion and youth culture have been mesmerized by the dualities in the film and the vision it created. Even now, fashion collections inspired by A Clockwork Orange have captured the runway. Junya Watanabe’s Undercover 2019 Fall/Winter menswear hails back to the vision behind A Clockwork Orange. In a new colorful take on the simplistic yet classy perversions found in the film’s wardrobe, Watanabe brought out an air of depravity onto the runway. Colorful masquerade masks and hats hide away the faces of the models and bring about an air of conformity, all the while striking the audience with a look of rebellion defined by the audacious and colorful designs. Meanwhile, trainers covered in IV tubes and prints of the characters of A Clockwork Orange wearing bloody scowls are found all over the collection. The mixture of rebellion and class permeates the collection with a dark charisma to captivate the audience, perfectly capturing the vision behind A Clockwork Orange.

The air of reckless rebellion combined with simplistic class continues to captivate the youth culture of any era because of its timeless nature. It is no surprise then that the audience was fully captivated by the looks that walked the runway. Though youth style can change from generation to generation, in its nature, culture and fashion has a deep fascination with danger, sexuality and rebellion-- the hallmarks of A Clockwork Orange.