Is Steampunk Mainstream?

As Set Designers, we do a lot of research. It is and has to be something that we love. Learning is good. We do research for specific projects and we do general research everyday. It makes the morning reading more interesting and positive. We look for trends and ideas. We look for the next big thing, as we like to bring the next big thing to our clients, just BEFORE it is the next big thing.

When appropriate, of course.

I don’t know that I could list all of the things that we look at for inspiration, but among them; blogs,comic books, film, literature. When they all collide it becomes something to watch.

I first became aware of Steampunk when I read the novel The Difference Engine (1991) by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. I had long been a fan of Gibson’s work and the Cyberpunk culture he explored. The Difference Engine explored a whole different world; the novel’s premise is that Babbage’s Analytical Engine, coupled with a steam engine created a computerized Victorian Society. Unlike in our own era, there was no miniturization. Computing was massive and mechanical.

Over time, Steampunk has gurgled and surfaced a bit here and there, generally as an underground fancy. There are numerous out growths of the idea and sub-genres. But Steampunk hasn’t seemed to be mainstream. Gears and pulleys and hardware aren’t really mainstream in a streamlined age symbolized by the iPhone.

Until now, maybe.

When I first saw a trailer for the Sherlock Holmes film released this past weekend, Steampunk popped into my head. Perfect. Even as this Holmes suits our time more than his own or the intellectual nature of the original stories. I haven’t yet seen the film, but I think that Sarah Greenwood’s production design may influence the mainstream. Not necessarily a Steampunk environment, but definitely Steampunk SFX. Not a first and not a last for entertainment designers changing popular tastes.

You might recognize the name Ruth Morely, but you would certainly recognize the clothes she created for Annie Hall and then a generation of American Women. Art Deco was popularized in America via film, paving the way for the Chrysler Building, Radio City, The Empire State Building and Union Station, St. Louis, to name a few national historic sites.

So, do I think that we will be designing Steampunk News Sets in 2010? Likely not. Might there be some mechanicalesque details? Perhaps. A Steampunk interview show or Variety show might be more likely, or an event, trade show or corporate meeting. But only for the right product or event.

Will Steampunk show up elsewhere in design during 2010, I think so.

In the meantime, I need to be off to the theater to see the Sherlock Holmes film and off to grab my Kindle. I did download all of the stories and novels. Always good to compare and contrast.

And apparently, Sherlock’s girlfriend, Irene Adler, is a ‘Jersey Girl.’

9 thoughts on “Is Steampunk Mainstream?

  1. Check out “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” – Steampunk design from start to finish. I think it’s peaked, but I also thought this at the beginning of the year. I like it and have made some pieces in this style – it’s very popular in jewelry on Etsy, that’s for sure.

  2. @OverTheTop, I’m not sure this idea has peaked, the look just keeps popping up here and there. Holmes is a monster film.

    @Chris, We seem to prefer action heroes to intellectuals in our society. Pity.

  3. This reminds me of a horrible 1960’s television show that was made into an even worse movie — Wild Wild West. They were both of passing interest because of design elements that combine the look of Victorian era technology with more modern concepts. Will steampunk ever inform the design of consumer products? I’ve seen some laptop and desktop computers rebuilt steampunk style. Will there ever be a hint of that at Best Buys?

  4. @Lee I always forget about Wild Wild West. I really want to see the film, if only for the production values. I don’t imagine that we’ll see Steampunk electronics in the big box stores. I did just see a Philco Television inspired PC design, that might sell to collectors.

    I do think you might see a Steampunk inspired restaurant or specialty retail installation.

  5. Thanks, Jan, I had some of those links, but ran out of places to link. Places that felt logical at the time, anyway!

    I think I’ll take my MBP over the Steampunk version.

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