There was a time — oh, let's call it last week — when wearing a dead man's skin as a jacket was the mark of outright depravity and, probably, insanity. Now, thanks to fashion designer Tina Gorjanc, human leather is headed out of Buffalo Bill's basement and onto the catwalks of high fashion.
The human leather in question will be synthetically grown from a sample of the person's DNA, not flayed from their hide. And the individual in question is none other than the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen (1969-2010). McQueen used some of his own hair in a 1992 silk coat titled "Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims," and Gorjanc plans to use this sample to seed the necessary reams of flesh. She'll have it processed into leather and even peppered with McQueen's distinguishing marks and tattoos.
First and foremost, let's remember this is fashion — more about pushing boundaries and provoking thought than giving you something to wear on date night. Likewise, Gorjanc's "Pure Human" project is intended to promote the ethical alternative of lab-grown leather and, perhaps more importantly, to get people thinking about how biological information is and isn't protected under current legal systems.
Because, as bioethicist Glenn Cohen pointed out on the website Quartz, the U.K. and United States afford little or no ownership protection to abandoned tissues. And famous and nonfamous humans alike leave a wake of discarded hair and skin as we blow through life, occasionally stopping to squeeze out blood and tissue samples. What's to stop someone from taking YOUR cells, growing YOUR flesh and doing anything they please with it?
In McQueen's case, "Pure Human" is approved by neither McQueen's family nor his fashion brand. Gorjanc snagged the DNA and has already filed a patent for the resulting leather material based on its singular source and creation process.
Watch the video above to learn more about the wild west of synthetic biology.