Fashion is ephemeral, but some looks live forever. Take leather, for example. In real and faux form, it seems to grace looks season after season. But where is your leather sourced? As Marc Bain writes for Quartz, it could soon come from a lab—grown from the DNA of late designer Alexander McQueen.
The project, reports Bain, is the brainchild of Tina Gorjanc, a recent fashion who wants to explore the intersection of luxury and genetics. “Pure Human,” writes Goranjc on her website, “aims to address shortcomings concerning the protection of biological information” while looking at how technology might change the luxury goods of the future.
Part art, part macabre science project, Pure Human will use authenticated DNA of McQueen to grow human skin. Goranjc will then tan the skin and use it to create jackets and bags. The human-made leather may in fact be the ultimate luxury commodity—unlike animal leather, it will be susceptible to sunburn which may give each piece a unique look and feel. She used pig skin to simulate the final process for her St. Martin’s graduate collection, where she was runner-up for a creative talent award for the project.
At first blush, the proposal may seem whimsical, but Goranjc's concept is dead serious: she has applied for a patent for a process that extracts the DNA, implants it into a cell culture and harvests the cells for skin tissue. She’ll get help from McQueen himself. Though he died in 2010, the designer went to the same school that Goranjc did. His graduation collection at St. Martin’s, Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims, was inspired not just by his family’s historical connection with the serial killer (a relative owned an inn where one of his victims lived), but by his own life. McQueen made labels for each Victorian-inspired garment that contained locks of his own hair, inspiring not just the fashion world but Goranjc, who can be sure that the DNA she uses is authentic McQueen.
The late designer’s work was always deeply personal—throughout his bizarre and wildly inventive career, he drew on his own emotions to make clothing that provoked intense reactions in others. It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that Goranjc’s project will have McQueen’s tattoos and even his freckles. McQueen’s own brand, which continued after his death, was apparently fine with the project, too; Goranjc tells Bain that representatives have responded positively.
The young designer’s project has unleashed a fashion furor comparable to that McQueen himself managed to gin up in his lifetime. “A human skin handbag is not fashion—it’s a crime,” The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones writes. However, it appears to be legal in the United Kingdom. As The Telegraph’s Emma Spedding reports, Gorancj applied for the patent to prove that it is perhaps too easy to use biological material for commercial purposes—and argues that leather made from human skin could one day be considered an ethical alternative to leather made from animals.
Would you wear an outfit made of a dead designer’s skin? While you chew on that idea, ask yourself if the concept is really any weirder than, say, going to an exhibit that features an ear grown from van Gogh’s DNA or buying a new pair of wearing jewelry made out of crushed-up carbon. Whether you think it’s gross or gorgeous, the concept of lab-grown human leather is definitely a fashion statement on more than one level.