Are these unnerving body modifications the future of fashion?

Written by Stacey Lastoe, CNNNew York City

If you could reshape your foot and turn it into a platform heel, would you? Would you modify your fingers for the fall season, making them webbed and delicately lace-like? Or how about a statement piece consisting of soft, turquoise horns on either shoulder?

These are just some of the futuristic body modifications that conceptual fashion brand, A. Human, asks us to imagine with its eponymous show. The fantastical exhibition, which opens in New York City Wednesday, explores what it means to be human, with mock limbs shown alongside pieces modeled by live actors.

It isn’t always easy to tell which is which. And this sense of uncertainty — created by the blurring of fake and real — is actively encouraged, according to the show’s producer, Society of Spectacle (SOS). The month-long event is the first “tale” produced by the self-professed “live entertainment storytelling brand,” which offers immersive, theatrical experiences.

“Some of the (modifications) you thought were human weren’t,” said SOS founder Simon Huck during an interview in the dimly lit space. “And some of the ones you thought were fake were real people.”

The Empress: Lace-like finger webbing looks ethereal but is actually quite durable.

The Empress: Lace-like finger webbing looks ethereal but is actually quite durable. Credit: Courtesy A. Human/Luke Abby

It’s no coincidence that “A. Human” is debuting just a day before the start of New York Fashion Week. While the show raises questions around biology and technology, it is more about reimagining the future of fashion, Huck said.

“If you could change your body as easily as you would (change) your clothing, would you?” he asked.

A form of self-expression

Inside the exhibition space, Huck and his team have created a narrative around the project. The voice of A. Human’s fictional “owner,” A. Huxley, is broadcast to guests before they enter the show.

Corset: silouette-changing body modification covering the torso and bodice

Corset: silouette-changing body modification covering the torso and bodice Credit: Courtesy Luke Absolon

“Take your time, explore and ask ‘what if?” she instructed. “To my first-time guests, I humbly offer this advice: Keep an open mind.”

Huck won’t reveal much about the fabrication process behind the elaborate body modifications. All he’ll say is that they’re made from “special-effects” silicon and keratin.

But once you’re in the exhibition, the “how” seems hardly the point. It’s the “why” that matters here.

The designs explore the possible future of self-expression, Huck said. When asked if the creations — which include a skin-colored ruff and wing-like feathers that sprout from their model’s chest — are an attempt to normalize literal body deformities, he responded: “No, absolutely not.” None of A. Human’s modifications, he pointed out, are based on existing standards of beauty or real-world conditions.

In a way, he’s right: The modifications seem more like a dream than real life. Although the futuristic items are being presented as a fall fashion line, none of the pieces are actually for sale. For now, it’s a purely theatrical experience.

The future of clothes?

Nonetheless, the challenge was to present the modifications in an “inviting, stylish, sexy” way, Huck said. And while the creations were evidently inspired by science fiction (as seen with the alien-like necklace famously donned by Kim Kardashian), the designers also looked to the work of architects and fashion designers, like Alexander McQueen.

One piece, known as “The Pinnacle,” was created in collaboration with Italian designer Nicola Formichetti, former artistic director of Diesel. The modification takes the form of two turquoise horns emerging from a model’s shoulders.

The shoulder region is a part of the body Formichetti said he is “obsessed” with. Shoulders create “power,” he explained in a telephone interview before the exhibition’s opening. Indeed, the actress modeling the horns certainly appears powerful and alien-like though, up close, she possesses a soft, arresting beauty that makes the augmentation less creepy than one might expect.

The Nautilus Biological Heel: Here the foot's heel is reshaped in dramatic fashion.

The Nautilus Biological Heel: Here the foot's heel is reshaped in dramatic fashion. Credit: Courtesy Luke Absolon

“We might not even have clothes in 50 years,” Formichetti added.

A. Human” is showing until Sept. 30, 2018 at 48 Mercer Street, New York City.

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