Human Leather

Published January 23, 2021, 5:00 PM

by Jules Vivas

Experimental fashion designer launches human body-inspired collection

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In 1957, Ed Gein was arrested after authorities discovered a museum of horrors inside his farmhouse in Plainfield, Wisconsin: Various human body parts were used as fixtures and accessories like skulls as bedposts, salted vulvas kept in a shoebox, “leggings” formed out of leg skin, a belt made out of nipples, and even wastebaskets, chair seats, and masks pieced together from human skin. The handyman admitted to the murder of two women, and of being a body snatcher who stole female corpses from local cemeteries in an attempt to develop a bodysuit of human flesh to slink back into the skin of his deceased mother, Augusta. He would later be called the Butcher of Plainfield, and would inspire a slew of horror films such as Psycho (1960), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) among others.

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The idea of human leather makes the skin crawl. This, however, is not a story of horror, rather of the impressive creativity and ways people can translate a concept or idea.

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“What if the human skin can be used as material for clothing without the judgmental social hiss on cannibalism? What would it look like in the modern day?” avant-garde fashion designer Kelvin Morales ponders. The question led him to explore the anatomies of the human body as well as the essence of its movement and touch through a thought-provoking experimental collection labeled Human Leather.

Fueled by this curiosity and passion for the wide array of possible materials, the young contemporary artist set on his extensive research and embarked on crafting boards for various moods, fabrics, silhouettes, and colors.

FLESH FASH Experimental fashion designer Kelvin Morales

This is not the first time that human leather was conceptualized and applied in fashion. In 2016, London-based artist Tina Gorjanc came up with a human leather collection that included jackets and handbags made from lab-grown skin from the DNA of renowned fashion designer Alexander McQueen. The fashion line titled Pure Human was created to send a message that “even though the legislation states that isolated genetic information can’t be patented, you can go around this kind of thing and patent a material that uses this genetic information. Slowly by genes, and then by larger organs, people are allowed to own a person, as it happened in the days of slavery,” explains Gorjanc. Her collection altered pigskin to have McQueen’s freckles and tattoos. It was exhibited at London’s design college Central Saint Martins, where the two finished their studies.

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If you’re wondering whether actual human skin was used in Morales’ fashion line, the answer is no. The 14-piece collection, instead, exhibits the peculiar beauty of human skin through a seamless combination and incorporation of tattoo-inspired embroideries, colorized human hair, handembroidery, the traditional beauty of local fabrics, and nifty bespoke details that embody the conceptual and tactile qualities of individuals.

SKIN IS IN Dragon Tattoo Embroidered
Silk Scarf (front and backside views)

“Clothes should be an extension of one’s self,” notes the alumnus of the Fashion Design and Merchandising Program of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in his look book. “With this collection I took that literally.” Morales interprets skin as clothes, and to translate this concept he produced garments that look and feel like skin. “This [collection] contextualizes the human body and the function of fashion in a different way, dismantling the stereotyping of beauty.”

BACK TAT Embroidered Dragon Tattoo

“I wanted to highlight the diversity of human skin and equality of different races and colors,” he ends.  

‘What if the human skin can be used as material for clothing without the judgmental social hiss on cannibalism? What would it look like in the modern day?’

Morales is currently gearing up for PHX 2020-2021, an upcoming incubation project of the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for young and emerging Filipino designers to showcase their original works in Tokyo. @kelvinmmorales |