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From flesh boots to skin ruffles, how fashion embraces fantasy and horror

By Emma Fraser
NYFW A. Human

On the television series Orphan Black, science was manipulated to create something beyond nature. The many Leda clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany, were a big part of this, but there were other aspects of genetic modification depicted, which played into a larger ideology. Ideas of “individual evolutionary choice,” including body alteration, augmentation, and implants, are part of the Neolutionism ethos. This includes changes such as putting magnets in fingers, gaining a tail, and bifurcating certain organs. Piercings, tattoos, and contact lenses are not enough for those following this practice of altering genetic materials. Neolution is a secret group whose extreme way of looking at the world is in conflict with ethics guiding most scientific communities. They also have a private nightclub, like any good shady organization. Discoveries that cure diseases are one matter, but the lengths they go to are extreme (to put it mildly). Thankfully, Orphan Black isn't real — or at least, we don't think it is.

There are easier ways to alter one's appearance that don’t require invasive procedures or using science that (probably) doesn’t exist. Fashion, fantasy, and technology often go hand in hand, with some designers pushing the envelope in terms of what the body and clothing can do.

Alexander McQueen

In 2009, Alexander McQueen stunned audiences with the Plato’s Atlantis Spring 2010 collection. The Armadillo boot is an iconic design that took fashion by storm with its part hoof, part claw, part extraterrestrial aesthetic. Carved out of wood, with a 12-inch heel, these boots were not made for walking, but Lady Gaga hasn't let that stop her. Now Montreal-based designers Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran are taking the notion of extreme footwear to new heights (no pun intended) by invoking McQueen and putting a horror spin on it.

With over half a million followers on Instagram, Fecal Matter (even their name is pushing the envelope) have created a fantasy landscape in the real world. This isn’t Neolutionism technology; rather, it is expanding the realm of possibilities using prosthetics. It is as if visions from Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, H.R. Giger, and H.G. Wells have come to life. Mermaids, aliens, and monsters from the Upside Down all feature as part of this brand. A flower dress paired with Fecal Matter's now-infamous thigh-high skin heels looks like a twisted sequel to Midsommar.

The couple, who met at fashion school in Montreal, talked to Vogue about the concept behind their designs. Gender is one factor, but they are also exploring the labor and environmental cost of fashion, saying, “The relationships that humans have with material possessions is something that we are trying to play with.” A look this extreme garners a variety of responses, both positive and negative. It might read as more of Halloween costume or one-off style, but this is more than just holiday attire for the pair.

And if you want to get the Fecal Matter beauty look, there is a YouTube tutorial for this, which includes terrifying contact lenses that are not available in every country.

At the moment, the skin heels are only available on a commission (hence why they cost $10,000), but the duo has an affordable line on Depop. For fans of Hellraiser, there are some options for you.

Instagram isn’t just a breeding ground for influencers; it is also a place for designers to showcase their work and build their brand. Japanese designer Tomo Koizumi went from a few thousand followers at the start of the year to his work featuring at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the current Costume Institute exhibition (and worn by not one but two Game of Thrones actresses at other events). Earlier this year, balloons became couture and Instagram once again amplified the work.

Rick Owens

Prosthetics doubling for body modification in fashion isn’t just confined to the fringes and Instagram. In February, at his fall 2019 ready-to-wear show in Paris, Rick Owens hired 18-year-old Salvia to consult on prosthetic makeup to be used as part of his presentation. The models looked like they have just stepped off the set of Star Trek. Salvia has over 300,000 Instagram followers, and these concepts are even more out there than those by Fecal Matter. Fashion, horror, and fantasy converge throughout.

Celebrity endorsements aren’t necessarily needed to make someone a star on social media, but it doesn’t harm when big names signal-boost your work. A. Human is the brainchild of Simon Huck, who called upon Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen, and Tan France to sport some unusual accessories last fall.

Kardashian’s LED necklace flashed in time with her heartbeat and gave the illusion that it was implanted beneath her skin. Meanwhile, Teigen’s chest gained angel wings and France got the skin equivalent of an Elizabethan ruffle. The exhibition ran last fall with plenty of Instagram-ready installations to pose with (including the hands featured at the top of this post). Huck explained his vision to Vogue:

“When you think of the future, you think dark, dystopian — there are all these images that come to mind. I didn’t want to create a utopian world, but I definitely wanted to create a world that was optimistic or, at the bare minimum, neutral. We wanted to use the future of fashion and the future of self-expression as a way to look at the future.”

Once again, fashion and science fiction feed into each other — and while not all of these looks will appeal to the masses, at least you won't need to join an illicit organization if you want to grow neck ruffles or walk with heeled feet.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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