We hosted a fantastic panel last night here at Gizmodo's Home of the Future, getting an extraordinary and quite strange glimpse of the ideas and technologies that will shape our clothes in the years to come. Simply because of my own ignorance of the fashion world, I had expected it to be more about dresses and perhaps 3D printing, but we started off on an awesomely unexpected note: the cloning of extinct land animals not in the name of science but simply to make new clothes from their leather.
Designer Asher Levine broke the ice on this surreal topic by raising the possibility of "chimeric leathers," or leather produced from the bodies of genetically mixed organisms, or chimeras. These would presumably be creatures cultivated and assembled in laboratory-like farms—in this case, specifically for the purpose of serving the fashion industry of the future.
Of course, it's worth noting that Levine's infernal, morally troubling vision was presented more for the speculative value of its imagery (I hope!), rather than as an actual, let's-go-build-this proposal for what we'll all be wearing in thirty years. He asked us to imagine wearing a jacket made from the fur of a resurrected wooly mammoth, describing a scenario in which extinct megafauna could walk the Earth again... only to be transformed into garments for the nouveau riche.
It's a disturbing but oddly realistic scenario. In some ways, in fact, it seems obvious that cloning will simply go where the money is—bringing with it an absolutely bonkers vision of genetic engineering, where it's actually Parisian fashion houses with the money to afford it who are bringing long-dead species back to life, a kind of nightmare vision of species-on-demand.
Imagine a world where it's not museums, university research institutions, or even zoos resurrecting lost species, but the wealthy private bank managers of tomorrow raising long-unseen animals and chimeric hybrids in their leafy gardens outside London and New York City.
The very idea that a Jurassic Park-like scenario might emerge this way—that we'll bring an animal back to life in some unearthly moment of secular resurrection, only to slaughter it and use its skin on a Paris catwalk—seems hilariously believable and Levine's giddy energy as he smiled about this vision, surrounded by bicycle helmet-wearing mannequins, seemed the appropriate approach.
In other words, this isn't something we should try to make happen; it's a cautionary tale for where genetic engineering and the fashion of the future might intersect.