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Time To Reload The Matrix: Why Trinity Is An Icon For Now

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Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
It's the year 1999. We're slightly concerned about the Y2K bug but mainly, we're looking forward to the shiny new millennium. We're singing Robbie Williams and rooting for Alan Shearer and drinking too much Sunny D and and videotaping Xena: Warrior Princess and trying on our Kickers – oh my god sorry, we just had to pause to weep into our iPhones and latte art for a moment there.

The mood at the end of that particular century was best observed by the art it produced. It was an optimistic time of change and transformation. The Utopian outlook was yet to be marred by the events that were September the 11th and the July 7th bombings. It was not yet a world dominated by Apple and distracted by the Kardashians. The dotcom bubble hadn't burst, neither had our gobstoppers; the financial crisis hadn't reared its tanned, white-collared neck yet, and we were shiny young things, and so were the things we were consuming. We were swapping our pagers for the first mobile phones, ditching Pokémon in favour of The Sims; The Simpsons became Futurama and we began leaving our Nintendos at home to make room for our Walkmans in our Nike swim bags. The market was awash with shiny, hard metallic stuffs like blow up chairs, CD racks, stainless-steel kitchen tops, Mini Disc players, UFO stickers and glow in the dark stars that we Blu-tacked to our walls.
Photo: Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images.
John Galliano's 1999 Dior Haute Couture show
For fashion, we embraced leather trousers and mesh white shirts. We temporarily tattooed our necks with elastic chokers and platforms were a must. We were happily making ourselves look like the robots of the future: modern, sleek, androgynous and metallic. Then came John Galliano's seminal Dior Haute Couture show presented in Versailles in 1999. A runway made from water-pillows was trodden down by cyber-goths in PVC floor-length coats, skirts and gloves. Futuristic boots were laced thigh high. Black makeup smeared across eye-lids. Where had we seen this before? Post show, Galliano told Vogue that he was “deeply inspired by The Matrix".
The dystopian, underground, futuristic aesthetic that we now recognise as belonging to the Y2K period, was probably best encapsulated by that one film: The Matrix. The main character's name 'Neo' summed it up: a new frontier, a robotic landscape, where humans are locked in battle with androids who have outsmarted them and are attempting to enslave them. The Matrix is dystopian, dark, shiny, dangerous and sexy. From the opening titles – the shifting streams of neon-green computer code – to the PVC clothes and greased hair, this aesthetic began to redefine 'cool'.

In The Matrix, anything was possible. Coders and geeks were transformed into hackers and ravers, machinists and time-travellers. Rage Against The Machine, a band whose very name suggests a reluctance to embrace the increasingly tech-heavy world, provides the film's raucous and rebellious soundscape to a story about a small and isolated community of humans fighting the machines that now rule the earth; a place where babies are used as batteries. Neo, the hacker and sometime raver, played by the constantly surprised Keanu Reeves, is our protagonist and entry-point. When he follows the white rabbit, so do we. When he swallows the red pill, we swallow too.

There have been attempts to revive the gamer uniform since the year 2002. Vapourwave, an online sub-community that appeared mainly on Tumblrs in 2010, celebrated that Microsoft Windows desktop screensaver-chic and for a moment caught light. Superimposed images that mimicked the pre-photoshop digi-art of the early noughties and dissembled the symbols of corporate branding of the nineties ad-world (think golden arches and astronauts) formed pastiched pop-art for the internet age. Then big business cottoned on and pirated the aesthetic that had attempted to erect a giant massive-middle-finger in their direction in the first place. And so Vapourwave disappeared down again with the emergence of apps like Instagram in 2010 – and the internet served up cakes, cats and pornography like it was 1999 all over again. Our wardrobes followed suit.

So why are we looking to The Matrix, and Trinity now? For obvious reasons that don't just fall on that tired maxim of 'fashion is cyclical'. Isn't the bug creeping and crawling around under Neo's stomach the same as the mobile technology we grip in our hands each day? The laptops we sit facing from sunrise to nightfall? Aren't we all trying to yank that plug out of the backs of our skulls? Are we not now living in an era of cyber-war that closer resembles The Matrix than any other time before? Is this moment not somewhat dystopian?

We are, according to mainstream media, a subculture-less generation; bereft of identity, reduced to morbid selfie-takers with no hope of financial solvency.

Of course, this is a generalisation. Aesthetically, kids now (and then) are taking a similar look at how human life and technology are conflating into one demi-digital human experience and that's evident in the art they're producing. Take PC Music, and the genre's stars, like Hannah Diamond, whose music sounds like it was crafted on a Yamaha keyboard, and who herself looks like she's been freshly unpackaged from a Mattel box and dressed like a school kid from 2001. Talking of 2001, the year Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within launched, this January saw Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton cast the game's virtual heroine, the sorbet-haired Lightning, as their campaign-girl.

In the last few years, we've been introduced to the style subculture of health-goths, and the fashion-house Vetements – the ultimate people's revolt (supposedly) – with their long leather jackets and unassuming sports apparel, whose models all look like extras from The Matrix with sunken eyes, shaved heads, clothes dripping off limbs, heavy black platformed boots, slashed T-shirts and leather trousers. Then you've got Rihanna's Morpheus-style sunglasses for Dior and The Met Ball's timely 2016 theme, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.

It's impossible to disentangle Trinity and her look from any of the above, and it really is Trinity, not Neo, who is the film's protagonist. Trinity remains the stand-alone heroine for the Y2K look and her style, with good reason, is relentlessly copied.

Kym Barrett, who designed the costumes for The Matrix, told the LA Times that the brief she received for Trinity was simple: "We want it to be dark, we want it to be high-contrast, we want Trinity to be like an oil slick.” And that is what Trinity becomes; she is the shifting, liquid vinyl; strong, nameless, faceless, without a history or a context, everyone and no-one.

What I always liked about Trinity's style was that it lent so obviously on fetish-clubs and the lubricated world of the dominatrix. Trinity is one of the many dominant female figures who resided over my youth. Trinity is Buffy, Xena, Chynna; all of whom are synonymous with female autonomy and strength. Beyond Trinity's practical, genderless and futuristic wardrobe that makes sense for now, she's also a fitting character for this moment: a powerful female trapped between a real and a virtual world, trying to make sense of it all.
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