A student has patented lab-grown skin borne from the late fashion designer’s genetic material.
In an eerie plotline seemingly ripped straight from the pages of The Silence of the Lambs – with a dash of Brave New World thrown in for good measure – graduate student Tina Gorjanc has created a line of “human leather” goods. And the leather isn’t from just any ol’ human, but from the skin of iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen who died in 2010. The project includes McQueen’s DNA from locks of his hair that were sewn into his first collection "Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims."
Sounds pretty creepy and reprehensible, right?
But it’s more than just a shocking sensationalist fashion stunt. As part of a critical design project titled Pure Human 0.01, Gorjanc, is exploring the legal and ethical issues that the world hasn’t really had to consider before. Gorjanc writes:
The Pure Human project was designed as a critical design project that aims to address shortcomings concerning the protection of biological information and move the debate forward using current legal structure. Furthermore, the project explores the ability of the technology to shift the perception of the production system for luxury goods as we know it and project its implementation in our current commercial system.
Gorjanc says she was able to create the collection and file the patent because there are currently no laws limiting the commercial usage of human genetic materials.
"If a student like me was able to patent a material extracted from Alexander McQueen's biological information as there was no legislation to stop me, we can only imagine what big corporations with bigger funding are going to be capable of doing in the future," she tells Dezeen Magazine.
She refers to a legal case in which biological material for samples were taken from a leukemia patient in 1990 and then patented by his doctor. Although the patient filed a lawsuit, the jury decided that bodily tissue obtained by samples is not considered stolen, and belongs to the institution that extracted it, reports Dezeen.
For the Pure Human project, Gorjanc has been working with a lab to extract the genetic material and implement it into a cell culture, then harvest the cells into skin tissue. Although still in conceptual phase, the skin tissue would be tanned and processed into human leather for use in the creation of bags, jackets and backpacks. She filed a patent application in May 2016, which would cover the material made from McQueen's genetic information.
In the meantime, she created mock-ups using pig skin for the Central Saint Martins' Material Futures MA end-of-year exhibit, adding freckles and even a McQueen tattoo.
We can’t help but wonder if the fashion genius enfant terrible himself would be amused or appalled, either way, Gorjanc is pushing the envelope to bring bizarre but fascinating issues to light. Do we have a right to our own DNA? And how far are we willing to go in the unquenchable quest for increasingly exotic luxury? When the hides and fur of endangered animals are no longer novel enough to satisfy, could lab-grown human skin be the next ultimate twisted luxury item? It would certainly give a whole new meaning to saying, "I'm wearing my favorite designer."