From haute couture to industrial fetish wear, Nier: Automata's fashion is fascinating

Why I love

In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Kimberley examines the scenes that inform Nier: Automata's bold fashion choices.

If you were to list three ideal qualities that futuristic androids should possess as standard, they would be intelligence, resourcefulness and, above all, beauty. In the world of Nier: Automata, beauty is key. Set in the aftermath of an alien invasion on Earth, humans have retreated to the Moon and created androids called YoRHa to fi ght back. They’re not just perfectly made subservient killing machines, but delectably dressed, in black lace, leather and gossamer. 

Instead of utilitarian uniforms you may expect from an army deployed for destruction, YoRHa look like ghosts from Gothic romance crossed with children’s toys. At times this feels far-fetched, especially when watching a woman fi ght machines in a gown and stiletto heels, but it’s also a celebration of contemporary fashion from Los Angeles to Milan. 

When we meet Nier’s protagonist 2B, she is a draped and ruffled china doll. She pirouettes across the screen in a billowing velvet dress adorned with a high collar and a delicate cut-out at the back, and is accessorised with thigh-high leather boots and black stockings. With her traditionally feminine, hyperwaisted silhouette, 2B’s uniform is not about practicality, but desire. She is the femme fatale of this planetary ruin. 2B’s style may have been inspired by Gothic Lolita, a Japanese fashion subculture. Like an elaborate play on Victorian fashion, young women don their dresses like tiered cakes, their bouffant skirts layered in ribbons and pleats. While the silhouette is similar, 2B’s costume is more adult, swapping a parasol for a svelte sword and Mary Jane shoes for killer heels.

Instead, 2B’s look emulates several haute couture collections. In David Koma’s 2017 Spring ready-to-wear line, for instance, the Georgian designer was inspired by the opulence of Russian 20th century court dress across a monochrome palette. Similarly, in its 2017 fall ready-to-wear collection, French fashion house Saint Laurent featured a line of dresses with ruffl ed shoulders, draped leather and belts cinched sharply around the waist. This brute-femme aesthetic is also a favourite of sister designers Rodarte, whose 2009 spring/summer line was a sewing box of romantic, wispy garments that juxtaposed tough leather with lace. 

We also meet other impeccably dressed women in Nier, such as A2 and Kainé. Although Kainé’s costume lacks the grandeur of 2B’s perfectly stitched gown, her babydoll dress still looks like high-end lingerie, its colour and cut like a Betsey Johnson garment. An American designer whose clothes evoke the summer days and slumber parties of adolescence, Johnson is known for tiny, fl ouncy dresses and skirts in sugary colours. A2’s look is even more revealing, jumping across the screen in stockings and a halter top.

In McQueen’s fall 2009 ready-to-wear collection, models were transformed into phantasmagoria, their faces chalked out and mouths blotted until their natural beauty was twisted into unnatural shapes.

Even Nier’s villains are given a runway of their own. One particular boss towards the beginning of the game looks like a model from an Alexander McQueen collection: skeletal, grotesque, but still beautiful, a red ball gown spilling over its thin frame. In McQueen’s fall 2009 ready-to-wear collection, models were transformed into phantasmagoria, their faces chalked out and mouths blotted until their natural beauty was twisted into unnatural shapes. McQueen, obsessed with fragmentation and decay, curiously littered the runway with glass and pieces of broken machinery, highlighting the idea of women as broken dolls. 

The idea of androids as playthings is heightened further by the echoes of fetish wear. In its prevalence of blindfolds, collars and black materials, Nier recalls Zana Bayne, a New York fashion house described as a post-fetish leather brand. Unlike typical bondage wear, Bayne makes luxury items in buttery black leather, such as harnesses, chokers and garters. 2B could easily be a model from a Bayne runway show, in boots that look like liquid latex and elbow-length gloves.

This distinct note of BDSM is a sharp reminder that YoRHa are fetish objects, created by humans not just to reclaim the Earth but also a kind of dominance. Whether this was intentional or not, the android design is unnecessarily sexual, from the cut-out that exposes 2B's cleavage and sharp slash that dissects the elegant hem of her dress to Kaine's nightgown, which falls open at the back to reveal tiny white panties. To be blindfolded also denotes total trust, perpetuating the idea that YoRHA were created to follow demands.

While the costume design in Nier has divided players, with some criticising its practicality and others the way it sexualises women, there’s no denying that its conceptual, cerebral fashion elevates the game. Fashion and videogames may be two starkly different disciplines, but Nier exists in its tantalising intersection.