This week, SpaceX and NASA are set to launch the first piloted flight to orbit from U.S. soil in nearly nine years. (Inclement weather pushed the launch from Wednesday to this weekend.) It’s also the first space trip featuring a privately owned and operated spaceship. That owner, of course, is tech wizard, and Twitter power user, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The brash businessman is known for his showy antics—selling futurist flamethrowers is one of his more well-received publicity stunts, somehow—so it is a little surprising to see that the official SpaceX suits are…well, relatively tame.
Musk isn’t necessarily known for an interest in fashion. (Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, on the other hand, is a noted Rick Owens fan.) But Musk is a savvy marketer who knows how to get the internet talking when he wants to. Which makes it ever so slightly odd that the SpaceX Suits, designed by action-movie costume designer Jose Fernandez, are rather tame—straightforward and semiformal looking. A boxy white top with minor detailing, paired with boxy white pants with minor detailing? This is the International Space Station, not Everlane! And sure, there are some smart square lines and aerodynamic motifs at play, but the overall impact of the top-to-bottom suit is underwhelming. In some ways, the design feels deliberately trend-adverse, paying no mind to contemporary style or even the larger world of design. The New York Times reported that the singular inspiration behind the look came directly from Musk himself: He wanted the suit to have the uplifting effect of a well-designed tuxedo, and was quoted as saying, “Anyone looks better in a tux.”
If you follow fashion closely, then you know that it didn’t have to be this way—that all things space travel have become something of a trend. (Tuxedos, not so much.) Designer Heron Preston teamed up with NASA to create a line that’s heavy on the agency’s logo. Virgil Abloh sent a futuristic space poncho down the runway in his first-ever Louis Vuitton show. Elsewhere, the artist and frequent Nike collaborator Tom Sachs has been riffing on space travel for quite some time. (Sachs’s moon boot–inspired sneakers remain hugely popular.) Even mass-market chains like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 are stocked with racks of retro-inspired, officially licensed NASA products. All of this is to say that the high-profile uniforms for a significant space-faring event felt like a prime opportunity for a flashy fashion collaboration. There are certainly plenty of designers and brands that would have jumped at the chance to give their fashion-inclined take on a space suit. And NASA has proven it’s willing to let just about anyone play with its logo. Wouldn’t you kill to see an astronaut in a Rick Owens space suit?
Maybe Musk didn’t want to risk a buzzed-about uniform upstaging the astronauts, or the spaceship itself. Or perhaps he simply didn’t even think twice about it. When you’re working on sending the first American spaceship into space in quite some time, maybe hype takes a backseat.