ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Glam Drugs and Human Handbags: How Far is Too far in Fashion?

The question of ethical boundaries and where we draw the line is one that is constantly being asked within the fashion industry. But as the industry becomes more competitive and there is an emphasised need to stand out, to make headlines, to provoke reactions, brands seem increasingly willing to push these boundaries further than ever.

Jeremy Scott’s most recent Moschino collection provides an appropriate (or inappropriate) example. The cleverly-named ‘Capsule’ collection is just that. It is a collection centred on capsule pills, its slogan being ‘Just Say MoschiNO’, a play on the ‘Just Say No’ anti-drugs slogan of the 1980s.

Whilst Scott is a designer known for causing controversy, this collection goes beyond his usual provocative style – it is irresponsible. What was intended as a “tongue-in-cheek joke” explicitly glamorizes prescription drug abuse. Clutch bags have been made to imitate blisters of pills, phone cases replicate pill boxes; the invitation to the show even went so far as being disguised as a ‘bespoke’ prescription.

To make matters worse, Moschino’s timing of the collection could not be more insensitive. The collection coincides with a US crisis in opioid addiction, a time at which overdoses are the most common cause of accidental death. How exactly would families of victims feel about the message that a brand as big and influential as Moschino are promoting? Not cool Jeremy, not cool.

Tina Gorjanc’s exhibition, “Pure Human”, takes this reconsideration of ethical boundaries to a whole new level though. The aim of “Pure Human” was to investigate the process of de-extinction, a process in which anyone can extract genetic information from an existing source and use it to biologically program another. In other words, Gorjanc’s exhibition proposed to use human skin, sourced from the late Alexander McQueen, to make a collection of leather goods. Yep, handbags made from human skin. Are you gagging? I’m gagging.

Gorjanc’s project initially transcends all boundaries then. But what differentiates it from other controversies (like the Moschino collection) is that Gorjanc’s has a broader motive. Although Gorjanc has not yet been able to make these goods – the technology is not currently available – this wasn’t the point she was trying to make. Instead, Gorjanc demonstrates just how little protection there is against biological exploitation. Thus, the already-intimidating invasion of our privacy could, theoretically at least, become inexorable. Even after death.

The project also highlights ethical problems already existing in the fashion industry, particularly those associated with the use of leather. Gorjanc prompts us to question why we are so disturbed by the thought of using human skin to create leather goods, yet find it acceptable – normal, even – to use animal skin in the exact same way. In fact, at least McQueen is dead already, he wasn’t killed specifically for this purpose.

Projects like “Pure Human” then, projects that turn societal conventions on their head, that swap animals’ roles with that of a human, act as crucial spotlights on the ethical boundaries that the fashion industry has already crossed. And it is this illumination that has arguably led us to the current critical crossroads in fashion. Finally, more and more emphasis is being placed on sustainable fashion, on fair labour, on animal rights. Thus, the pushing of ethical boundaries is not always a negative thing. It is, however, wholly dependent on which boundaries are being pushed and why. Basically, don’t do a Moschino, do a Gorjanc*.

*Without skinning any humans for handbags.


Beth Marchant

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