Behind the Meat Dress
There are people sewing the meat dress
interview by Heather Smith
LAST FALL, THE POP IDOL LADY
an evening dress made entirely of meat to the MTV Video
Music Awards. This attracted a lot of attention. “What
was she thinking?” many people asked. “Is there a deep
symbolism here that we are not parsing?” Lady Gaga would
later say that it was in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
— a sentiment that, while earnest, didn’t make much sense.
Meatpaper was puzzled in a different way. “Where did she
get that meat dress?” we wondered. “Where do meat dresses
come from, anyway?” And then we found just the gentleman
to answer our questions.
Franc Fernandez is the guy who
sewed Lady Gaga’s meat dress. He is also an artist and
designer based in Los Angeles. He obligingly spoke to
Meatpaper about the nitty gritty of creating bespoke
night she wore it, it smelled good. It smelled like meat!”All
right. To start, I should perhaps ask: What led to the creation
of the meat dress
was going to present at the Video Music Awards. It was the
first time that she would be at a show like that and not
doing a performance — so she needed an outfit that would
be a performance. Her stylist, Nicola Formachetti, gave me
a ring and said he wanted a meat purse.
began doing the research for that. But before I even began
that, he called me and said, “Let’s do a dress instead.”
how do you research a meat dress?
went to my family butcher.
have a family butcher?
I said what we were doing, and he said what cuts to
use. At first I was going to use carne asada meat — the cheapest.
But that’s too bloody, which means it would brown really
So my butcher told me to use — I’m not
sure what it is in English. It’s called matambre. I bought
all the matambre that he had — about 40 pounds. I sprinkled
salt on it to get the last of the liquid out of it, but it
was a greasy meat, so there wasn’t much to drain. And then
I picked out the cuts that looked best for the front, and
me and my assistant Lyndsea kind of draped it on the mannequin.
did you sew it together?
We used a corset as the base, and used a strong nylon thread
to stitch everything together.
you run into any problems?
If you’re making something out of meat, there’s only so much
— you may have a plan, but the materials are given to you.
You conform to the law of the material.
We wanted it to
look like a dress, not a freak show. And it turns out that
from far away, most people thought it was a dress, and then
when they got closer they saw that it was meat.
gotta ask — what sequence of events leads someone to a job
When I was younger, I went to a bit of architecture school,
a bit of art school and a bit of design school, and never
finished anything because I would get bored. But there was
a club in Los Angeles called Mustache Mondays, where the
kids would prepare all week for what they were going to wear
I started putting architectural models
on my head and wearing them there. And stores began to notice
and magazines began to notice. And then I was doing this
for a living. The way that I work is to just go with the
How do you make meat a comfortable thing to wear? Or is
such a thing impossible?
What’s funny is that she told me that it was the most comfortable
dress, compared to what she usually wears. It was essentially
just a corset that was hugging her.
We never had a fitting.
There wasn’t any time. We didn’t have time to make a shoe,
so we just wrapped meat around shoes that she normally performs
in with butcher’s twine. The hat was Nicola’s little touch.
I’d brought this extra meat with me, and he just looked at
her and said, “Throw another piece of meat on top.”
So did you have to cut her out
of it at the end of the night?
I don’t know how she got out of it. When she left at the
end of the night, she was still wearing it. I don’t think
she was completely sewn in.
How do you store a meat dress?
After I bought the meat, it was in and out of the fridge
for two days. There was sewing it and then and putting
it away. The night she wore it, it smelled good. It smelled
like meat! Gaga said it smelled good.
Then after she wore
it, it was out of the fridge for a few days. When I saw
it again, it didn’t smell, but it was starting to turn
I was trying to decide what to do with
it. Freeze it. Make jerky. Anything but throw it away. I
don’t consider myself an artist, but I thought of the Canadian
artist who wore a dress made of meat and then let it decay
in the museum. I liked that — a dress that changes over
time. I thought of Damien Hirst, letting a cow’s head decay
so that every time you saw it, it was a different sculpture
— one day you’d be there and the eye socket would be filled
with maggots, another time something else.
But it’s not my dress. It’s hers. It was about asking.
I was trying
to decide what to
do with it. Freeze it. Make jerky.
Anything but throw it away.The
dress is being preserved right now — like it’s going to be
taxidermied and embalmed. I found an amazing taxidermy artist.
He does things for natural history museums where they need
something more than just a stuffed animal — like where the
lions are jumping or the deer are drinking out of the water.
way taxidermy works is that you take all the bio out so that
it won’t decay anymore, which means that you essentially
take out all the blood. So the dress is completely gray now.
But he’s going to add the color back in.
Did making a dress out of 40 pounds of beef change the way
that you felt about meat?
I’m Argentinean. Even when I told my family, they said, “That’s
great.” It was never weird for me or odd. I just put it up
on my blog and watched it all roll in: the compliments and
the death threats. I still get the death threats to this
Gaga wore the meat dress onto the Ellen
show, and Ellen gave Gaga a bikini made out of vegetables,
because Ellen is a vegan. And not long ago, I met the girl
who made the vegetable bikini in a bar.
What are the odds?
You might think they’re not good, but L.A. is a small town.
HEATHER SMITH is
a contributor to the book Infinite City: A San Francisco
Atlas. She covers science, art, culture, shootings, stabbings,
various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings
for the news service Mission Loc@l. She remains enmeshed
in writing a book about humans, insects, and the various
misunderstandings that arise between them. She is also a
This article originally
appeared in Meatpaper Issue Fourteen.