Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev are not your typical design team. Their bespoke suits are as painstakingly constructed as Viktor & Rolf's and as splashy as Dolce & Gabbana's but, at upwards of $68,000, they're far more expensive – and much edgier.
Southern and Moiseev head Final Frontier Design, a Brooklyn-based design house that creates space suits for NASA and commercial space travel. It's an exclusive market that the cutting-edge design duo is working to broaden with the development of a "ready-to-wear" collection of space-age gloves, jackets, headgear and compression garments.
Southern and Moiseev are one of those mismatched pairs that happens to work. The former is a lanky American fine artist with a background in costume design and the latter is a stocky Russian mechanical engineer with 20 years experience designing for Russia's national space suit supplier. As Final Frontier Design, they represent NASA's effort to engage small businesses in the growing space travel industry, and the tightly regulated agency's surprising openness to unconventional solutions.
"I have an MFA in sculpture but I've been the principal investigator on each of [our NASA] contracts," says Southern. "I think it shows NASA's willingness to open up the creative doors and allow new ideas into the industry."
To date, Southern and Moiseev have derived most of their operating funds from designing astronaut glove, elbow and shoulder components for NASA space suits. Over the last five years, they've been incorporating the technical innovations they've developed into a lightweight, flexible garment that Moiseev calls a "Next Generation Space Suit." The suit consists of three layers: an undergarment, a body-hugging pressure garment, and an outer shell constructed of Nomex, a protective, flame-resistant fabric.
"We don't sell very many of these," says Southern. "Zvezda, the Russian space suit maker where Nik worked for 20 years, made a record 13 space suits in one year. That was very large mass production for a space suit. We're still a pretty young company. Before 2015 we had sold two space suits total. This year we've sold four."
Southern and Moiseev anticipate steady growth in the commercial space travel industry over the coming years. Currently, however, NASA is their only customer. Consequently, when they're not working on NASA contracts, Moiseev and Sutherland are drumming up business by developing garments for earthbound markets.
"Gloves are how we got started so I see a lot of opportunity in terrestrial glove garments which I think have a lot of room for improvement," says Southern, citing firemen's gloves as an example. "We have some ideas about how to improve tactility."
A nonwoven Dyneema glove with a leather palm is another, more retail-oriented glove the company is currently working on. Southern describes it as "an interesting combination of a new material with an old, very tactile material. Very warm, but very, very thin." Dyneema is a lightweight, strong synthetic polyethylene fiber.
Other garments include communication caps for gamers, compression pants for long-haul truck drivers and acrobatic aircraft pilots, and lightweight bags and jackets, one of which is available for purchase as a prototype on the company's website.
"It's mylar bonded to nonwoven Dyneema," says Southern, taking the feather-light jacket from a nearby hanger and slipping it on like a foil wrapper. "It's very durable, waterproof, windproof, tear-proof and it packs up smaller than a sandwich."
As Southern and Moiseev continue to develop gloves for NASA in the year ahead, and perfect the design of lightweight, flexible, high-tech space suits for use in the not-too-distant future, the earthly nature of their spin-off garments casts them in a light that makes them look a lot like Abercrombie & Fitch did in the last century when that small company got its start selling upscale sporting goods and equipment.