“Language is a virus from outer space,” wrote William Burroughs in his 1959 novel Naked Lunch. The following decade, a young man named William Gibson would hit upon excerpts from the novel, “which made no sense to me at all. Like reading messages from Mars. But I could sense that it was in part built out of science fiction.” Two decades later, Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his short sci-fi story Burning Chrome (1982), and two years after that, he popularized the word with his debut novel, Neuromancer. “Cyberspace,” in Neuromancer, described a virtual reality dataspace known as the matrix—a vision which, it’s been argued, inspired the development of the world wide web.
Language is a virus. Words catch on, infect, spread, mutate. Fashion is a language. Gibson gets this.
William Gibson has written non-fiction about fashion, but he reserves his best thought for his speculative fiction. His novels, especially his most recent three (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History, all set in a near-present of their publication), show how fashion signs transmit and mutate. Gibson is interested in how objects become imbued with meaning. He’s attuned to the subtlety of semiotic coding—to how, for e.g., a pair of jeans can be read like a phrase, like how Japanese-made, raw, selvedge denim communicated an affinity for authentic (or nostalgic) Americana within a specific style conscious subculture c. 2008-2010 when he wrote about it in Zero History.
Gibson maps fashion like he mapped cyberspace, as data moving across bodies, as an iconography of our information age. He reports on and forecasts trends (Pattern Recognition’s protagonist Cayce Pollard’s look is totally proto-normcore: “What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion.”). This is why, when I’m asked, as I often am, who my favorite fashion writers are, I always respond with Gibson first. Gibson writes fashion like a meme.