Models in flowing garments bursting with bright, vibrating colors strode across the runway at the Academy of Art Institute’s graduate fashion show in San Francisco on May 11. The clothing collections “Psychedelic Renaissance” by fashion designer Laura Lambert and “Lucid Dreams” by textile designer Gina Ayala and pattern maker Amber Kuia debuted there, each line an effort to speak directly to the growing psychedelic public.
“This is about to be a really big trend,” says Lambert. “As more people accept psychedelics as a therapeutic, psychedelic fashion is going to be the natural reaction to the change.” She anticipates that people pursuing psychedelic therapies will update their style to reflect inner changes. “These fashions can be a symbolic way to state who you are,” says Lambert, similar to how enthusiastic new cannabis users may adopt hemp styles to signal a change in consciousness.
“It’s not just festival fashion. It’s not just hippie stuff,” she argues, “psychedelic fashion is a tool in society’s healing.” Lambert cites research from trend forecasting firm WGSN predicting a boom in “dopamine dressing,” a style of dress that incorporates bright colors to boost well-being. Coming out of the pandemic-restricted environment Lambert says, “we’re all in the healing state of collective trauma. These bright colors will give you a dopamine rush that can help you feel better.”
Uplifting Fashion You Can Sleep In
Lambert’s “Psychedelic Renaissance” collection is designed to be colorful, comfortable and uplifting. Its garments are made from drip-dyed hemp silk and accented with rhinestone mesh and printed Merkabah shapes. Lambert intends for the resulting clothes to be versatile, “something that’s comfortable and cute and beautiful to go out in, but you could sleep in.” She sees her looks being worn as “a spiritual piece of costume” within the psychedelic experience. “I want whoever wears it to feel beautiful, shiny, and bright – like their divine self is coming through,” Lambert says.
“Everyone is interested in psychedelics, whether they take them or not,” says Ayala, who developed the collection “Lucid Dreams” with Kuia. Ayala’s textiles are soft versions of the pattern fields that have come to visually signify psychedelic mindspace in pop culture. Her work is a swimmy mix of friendly textures: bold colors, faux furs, and printed shapes including stars, moons, globes, and even photos of the designers themselves. Kuia crafted the textiles into shimmering forms augmented by vinyl trim and accents that include hoods and backpacks. The resulting collection projects fluidity, capacity, and friendliness.
Ayala draws inspiration from her Huichol heritage, an indigenous culture that supports a thriving style of peyote-inspired art and fashion. Born in the Bay Area, she grew up between Nayarit and Michoacan in Mexico where she experienced a society that broadly accepted psychedelic use. “Just walking out of elementary school there were indigenous people selling their artwork,” she recalls. “The tribe uses patterns on their clothing and bags that represent what they see on their trips and ceremonies. Same thing with my garments. The patterns were meant to carry more than what you first see. At first it looks like colorful clothing, but once you look deep into what the patterns are, it’s animals, it’s moons, it’s stars, it’s everything that represents water, earth, and fire.”
Normalizing Psychedelic Images
Ayala’s approach intends to allow viewers to experience psychedelic images in reassuring, normalizing ways. “There’s a lot of people afraid of psychedelics,” she says. “I think being able to create collections and artworks like this helps people see the imagery and maybe makes it a little less scary.”
“It’s important to embrace this trend now and own it within the community,” Lambert says. “When high fashion tries to do psychedelic they’re not really expressing the experience. It’s like in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test when the feds were pretending to be hippies and got everything right but the shoes.”
For Lambert and Ayala, San Francisco offers the kind of community where their approach can find a market. While the so-called “doom loop” may be the trending San Francisco narrative, the city also supports a thriving local fashion scene of designer boutiques, pop-ups, and street fairs where makers are telling a different story. “A lot of people in San Francisco don’t really buy fast fashion,” Ayala says. “People buy one-of-a-kind pieces or try to upcycle thrifting.”
“The coolest fashion you’re gonna see is coming from Haight-Ashbury or the Mission where there’s boutiques owned by local artists where each piece has a story,” Lambert says. She cites Love on Haight, the designer tie-dye and Grateful Dead culture emporium on San Francisco’s historic Haight Street that carries products from over 175 local artists as a key champion for independent designers like herself. Kayo is also a well known independent local fashion designer with a shop on Haight Street.
The Post-Pandemic World
Both artists see their work as part of the culture shift into a post-pandemic environment. “During Covid, everyone was in loungewear,” Ayala says. “Today we’re seeing more exploration when it comes to style. Some of it doesn’t make sense, and I think that’s perfect. I think we’re gonna see a lot more of that.” Lambert agrees: “People are hungry to just be themselves. We’re finally at a time in society where people want to be able to express what’s inside them without feeling like there’s something wrong with it. I think the individuality and authenticity with this new idea of fashion will lead people to embrace their local designers more.”
Lambert also feels that the bright colors, comfortable fabrics, and individualized looks that characterize psychedelic couture position the trend in a continuum of liberating fashions after periods of austerity. She notes, “Post-World War Two, London designers came out with these really bright prints to bring out the joy in people. Then in the fifties, everything was the same silhouette with very muted colors, but in the 1960s, with the emergence of LSD, people started wearing really flashy clothes. That’s the same thing that this post-Covid psychedelic fashion can do for society. It can help us express the brighter versions of ourselves.”
Moving Towards Sustainability
While the designers embrace the uplifting possibilities of psychedelic aesthetics in fashion, they acknowledge that the industry has a long way to go in terms of its overall impact. “It’s a trend among fashion companies to say they’re sustainable, but maybe 1% of their process is actually sustainable,” Ayala says. “The textile process is harmful as well, so some of my collections have been done with cyanotype sun printing. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of sustainable processes that have been incorporated into high fashion production.”
Ayala notes that new textiles, such as fabric made from orange peels and leather made from shrimp shells, cactus, and mushrooms are emerging, but are far from being scalable. Ayala is currently working with shrimp shell leather as a textile designer in the automotive industry.
“Sustainable fashion is an oxymoron because fashion by definition needs new products,” Lambert says. “Let’s just be honest about it. We have to find some kind of way to scale towards getting people to buy locally. The same way they buy organic food, you might buy from your local tailor or textile designer because if they’re making their clothes here, they’re not doing it as part of the mass production that’s poisoning our planet.”
A former cannabis grower, Lambert advocates for more use of hemp and regenerative farming practices. “My dream is to one day have a farm where we actually grow our hemp, mill it, and create textiles on the same property so that it becomes farm-to-festival fashion.” But first, Lambert is heading to London for a year of study at Kingston University.