A space-age fantasy of sheen and machinery and cleanly swooped lines, the acrylic shrug was developed in murky conjunction with San Francisco–based sculptor Mike Feeney and Seattle designer Banchong Douangphrachanh. Who exactly designed it? Banchong: "We collaborated on it all. I started it... and Mike added his input." Mike: "Banchong and I talked about [its] direction" but "I created the design." Who knows—but they both agree Mike constructed it.
The top has five pieces, and once he'd established their patterns, he cut them from a sheet, heated them to "floppy," and pressed them to a replicated torso that he'd cast from a fashion model's body ("She was a size 0 or something ridiculous like that"). The forms took her shape as they cooled, and Mike secured the parts with hardware-store accessories: bolts, acorn nuts, pin latches. The labor was enormous, and problems sprouted up. The material splintered or it rippled as it conformed to the breasts (which, in garmentry, are always right in the way). It took him four months.
Mike sold the finished work to Lady Gaga. Watch for it in her electro-pop-anthem music video "Poker Face," among images of nondescript mansions and gleaming bodies: seminaked, writhing. Soon after, Mike made a batch of hinged acrylic handbags, shown at Bryant fucking Park during New York Fashion Week.
Continuing along, Banchong's path was also strewn with unusual materials. She made a men's armored breastplate of acrylic, with nuts and washers suggesting button embellishments. "I was short on time, so I just used my oven and a heat gun to bend the plastic," she says, and she contoured the shapes with her gloved hands, causing a pileup of unpleasant drama: screaming, mostly, and some minor skin burns. (She is fine now, and the top looks smooth.) She also made a men's suit jacket of neoprene, the foamlike textile used in wet suits. "It's horrible: You can't iron it, it stretches, it won't lay still." When sewing became impossible, she glued the seams together.
"The only new frontier left in fashion is the finding of new materials," said Paco Rabanne in the midst of the 1960s synthetics explosion, as fashion visionaries used car interiors, paint rollers, Styrofoam ping-pong balls, casket upholstery, and spacecraft insulation in designs. Moving forward, there's Helmut Lang's rubber dress from 1994. "It makes a squeaky sound when you put it on," said Naomi Campbell in the New Yorker. For a 1996 show, Alexander McQueen presented a clear plastic bodice, encasing live worms against the model's skin.
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