Ben Szenfeld designs.

"In difficult times fashion is always outrageous," Elsa Schiaparelli famously observed. Times must be exceedingly difficult, judging by the 21st-century fashion in the eye-popping new compilation, Otherworldly.

The work of Melbourne designer Nixi Killick hovers on the book's cover. But her digitised patterns and laser-cut surfaces only hint at the high-tech collection of cutting-edge designers inside.

Where Schiaparelli outraged 1930s society by constructing the black Skeleton evening dress, in which the spine and rib cage seemed to protrude, Dutch designer Iris van Herpen​ updates it in a free-floating bodice of bones constructed entirely from 3D printed material.

Fashion designers once mixed with musicians, artists and dancers for inspiration. Today designers such as van Herpen – who describes her atelier as a "laboratory" – also work with biochemists and architects. For Hussein Chalayan​'s spectacular 2006 transformation show, the British/Turkish Cypriot designer worked with British engineers 2D3D to integrate microcontrollers into his garments. The technology allowed Chalayan's five cheap formal dresses australia to morph through three decades of fashion as hemlines rose, cloth gathered and zippers closed.

But off the runway, who wears this "haute technologie"? Performers mostly. Pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Madonna and performance artists like Theo-Mass Lexileictous​ (aka Cypriot performance artist Alexis Themistocleous), Otherworldly's co-editor.

Lexileictous may be the contemporary equivalent of influential 1980s Australian Leigh Bowery. Both question traditional ideas of beauty, playing with fashion's masks and messing with clothing's silhouettes. For Lexileictous, synthetics and the high-tech – holographic film, plastic, metal, latex – are his materials of choice. "I avoid natural materials," he says in a promotional video, preferring the tech in textiles.

Technology certainly seems fashionable. A forthcoming exhibition at the Met in New York also explores the relationship between the two. In Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, curator Andrew Bolton aims to reconcile the oppositional role between hand and machine. "It's worth noting that the advent of haute couture coincided with the advent of the sewing machine," Bolton says.

Today you don't need a sewing machine but a 3D printer, as many designers in Otherworldly attest. Indeed, Lexileictous ponders a future where we design and 3D print our own designs or buy the downloadable designer blueprints off the rack – "print-a-porter".

If science and technology inspire today's designers, nature and mutation are also intrinsic to its evolution.

"I like to explore high-tech scenarios, but I use very low-tech ways of presenting it," says Australian "body architect" Lucy McRae, who finds illustrious company in Otherworldly alongside fashion icons Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen. "I treat technology as a membrane and I treat the skin as a canvas for technology."

Like McRae and van Herpen, Viennese designer Marina Hoermanseder​ also turns the anatomy inside out. A white jacket resembles brain folds and fissures, while her strap skirts and tops allude to medicine. Just what the doctor ordered, if he was committing you. Her straitjacket-tight bindings reside somewhere between the sexual and the psychotic.

With this predilection in mind, locating the book's "otherworld" is easy. It's Venus – in furs. Lexileictous' selection mixes the futuristic with the fetishistic. Corsetry, bondage buckles and fetishistic leather straps remain collection perennials. Throw in some allusions to plastic dolls, prosthetic appliances and retro-orthopaedic corsets and the future looks very uncomfortable. Not that that's a bad thing. Just that if sci-fi fiction helps us understand the present, what does sci-fi fashion reveal about us now? The dominance of domination in Otherworldly suggests something beyond a subcultural movement.

Does this tech-inspired fashion still have the power to outrage?

"There'll always be an avant-garde at any particular point, but the form it takes in this instance is definitely unlike anything that's gone before," says Katie Somerville, senior curator of fashion and textiles at the NGV. "It's hard to imagine where it can go next that's more radical. But it will."Read more at:formal dress shops brisbane