The Wonderful World of Steam-Punk
Dr. Sunil Deepak, 22 December 2017
Steam-Punk is a fashion, literature and art movement inspired from the innovations in the 18th century which led to the industrial revolution. Our city Schio in the north-east of Italy organises an annual British Day, a day to celebrate the English culture - during the British Day celebrations, a group of Steam-punk enthusiasts are a regular part of it. That is where I saw them for the first time and was immediately captivated by their quirky costumes.
It was my introduction to the steam-punk movement - I had never heard of them before. All the images in this post are of the persons from the Italian "Steam-Punk Nord-east" association, clicked at the British Day celebrations in Schio.
Costumes and make-believe worlds
People have always loved dressing up in costumes, for example, in the Venice carnival or the traditions like the Behrupiyas in India. Persons in the West with their emphasis on individuality have often adopted quirky costumes to stand out and differentiate from others. The motorcycle riders with their leather clothes and bomber jackets were one of the early groups. The Punk style with striking costumes and colourful spiked hair styles made their appearance in the 1970s. In the 1990s, imaginary worlds of science fiction and fantasy, led to different movements like cyber-punk and diesel-punk. For example, during the 1990s, while living in Bologna (Italy), I came across groups of young persons, living as homeless urban vagabonds, with long matted hair and dogs. They were known as Punkabestia (beast-punk). The Steam-Punk movement also started in those years.
In more recent years, role-play games and fantasy worlds have become popular and are called Cosplay. I love the colourful Cosplay costumes. Schio also organises an annual Cosplay festival, which brings out some really colourful costumes.
All these costumes groups can be seen as attempts at making community groups and promote creativity, joy and celebration.
Steam-Punk ideas were influenced by writers like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and their fantasies about future inventions, which led to science fiction. Scientific advances made in the 18th century such as the steam-ship and steam-engines play an important role in Steam-Punk.
The term "steam-punk" originated in the late 1980s as a variant of "cyber-punk". Science-fiction writers of Steam-Punk, imagined alternative worlds based on coal and steam power. For example, American writer Paul di Filippo wrote a trilogy of steam-punk novellas in 1995.
Steam Punk is a retro-futurism - a retro (old) technology imagined as a future. It can mix digital technology with handmade art. For example, look at the amazing old rusty-looking digital camera used by the Steam-Punk enthusiast in the image below, which looks as if it is based on the old industrial technology.
The steam-punk brings together modern costumes and some elements from Victorian era such as corsets, gowns and petticoats for the women, and waistcoats, long coats, top hats and bowler hats for the men.
The costumes are accompanied by accessories such as old airplane goggles, parasols, stylish guns and sling bows. Anything which gives an idea of the old style technology like nuts, bolts and metal tubes are added to the costumes, including some which can be very complex and realistic looking.
Many well known fashion brands such as Prada, Versace and Dior have come up with clothes inspired by Steam-Punk. However, the real steam-punk enthusiasts invest a lot of resources and personal imagination in creating their costumes. For example, check the beautifully made complex hats worn by the persons in the image below!
Steam-Punk Nord-Est Association
The Steam Punk group whose members are featured in this post, are all part of "Steam-Punk Nordest". Their facebook page defines Steam-punk as a literary and artistic current which introduces elements of fantasy and fanta-science-fiction to the 18th century dressing styles.
The members of this association design and wear steam-punk costumes and show them off during the different cultural festivals in the region. They also organise symposiums to present their "steam-punk" inventions and creativity.
As our societies become more developed and as we have more free time, I think that movements like steam-punk will become even more common. They are a way of having fun. They are also a way of organising smaller communities around a common-interest, to escape from the anonymity of the modern urban life.
For me, it was an opportunity to learn about their striking and colourful world. Personally I like the idea of body paintings rather than investing in costumes, which require a lot more commitment. However, being part of such a group seems to be a great idea for meeting friends and visiting places. In any cultural events, they are invariably surrounded by photographers. So it is a great choice if you like modelling and being photographed.
Using your fantasy, if you could create an imaginary world based in your own cultural ethos and history, what kind of worlds would you like to imagine?
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