"[Gaga Stigmata has] very modern, edgy photography to free flowing, urban narratives without censure to analytical essays, et cetera—like Gaga, imagination without ... limits. And the beauty is that anyone can submit work to the site, so artists and writers from all over the [world] have joined this experiment." -The Declaration.org

"Since March 2010, [Gaga Stigmata] has churned out the most intense ongoing critical conversation on [Lady Gaga]."
-Yale's The American Scholar

Monday, February 7, 2011

Anatomy of Fashion

by Meghan Vicks

When asked during the May 2010 SHOWstudio interview which of the outfits created with Nicola Formichetti was her favorite, Lady Gaga replied,

From that evening [the 2009 Video Music Awards], my favorite piece that we made, created, and designed all together was the performance outfit, the one that bled on its own. As a piece in itself, as an art piece, the garment would bleed on its own, even on a mannequin. It’s such a strong statement of fashion and art. The clothing is alive, it tells a story, it lives and breathes – the soul of the work. That piece was very special. That’s my most favorite we have created.

There is certainly a living, bloody vein that has threaded – or, pulsed – its way throughout Lady Gaga’s ever-evolving fashions. Many of her outfits literally refuse to stay still, from her living dress to her smoking cigarette glasses; and many embody the transience that is so indicative of a living (read: mortal) thing – recall her raw meat dress that evokes a sense of imminent decay, or outfits fashioned entirely from plaits of human hair. Her fashion rejects the notion that clothes are inert, lifeless material, mere coverings for the human body; rather, they become one with Gaga’s flesh. “She’s sleeping,” Gaga told an interviewer, referencing her now-iconic hair bow. Yes, fashion sleeps, bleeds, grows, moves, smokes, and lives in Gaga’s world.

And now, it dies too. And not as a metaphor, as we might refer to the death of last year’s fashion trends. With the release of “Anatomy of Change” (directed by fashion photographer Mariano Vivanco), which previewed the latest collection from Mugler’s menswear that was influenced by the creative vision of Nicola Formichetti, and set to music made and remixed expressly for Mugler by Lady Gaga, it seems that Gaga’s forthcoming album Born This Way and its accompanying performance will feature fashion that dies just as much as it lives. Aesthetics of the waking dead. Life, death, and rebirth – all at once. We’re still dealing with monsters. But now the clothes revel in, or reveal, their capacity for death.

The clothes and images featured in “Anatomy of Change” bring death to the forefront. Formichetti has said that his vision for the collection focused upon “darkness, Berlin, rebirth, and death” (source). Emblematic of this vision is the video’s centerpiece – model Rico “Zombie Boy” Genest, who has lately become famous for having tattooed his entire body to look like a skeleton. The film’s first shot of Rico presents him covered with a black, latexy skin, which he peals away to reveal his skull, his ribcage, his muscular structure – all that is normally covered always by the skin, and most times, by fashion.

The image of Rico reveals the human body literally laid bare, and this is the template upon which Mugler and Formicetti construct their fashions. Think Lear: “Is man no more than this?” But in Mugler/Formicetti’s vision, bare, “unaccommodated man” becomes one with fashion. After all, the skin is literally removed, but the fashion is not. As if to say: fashion has become more a part of human anatomy than human skin. Human skin is superfluous, but fashion is essential – become part of the essence of the human body. Anatomy of change. Formicetti has said of Rico, “he’s like a literal, visual interpretation of what is under the skin as well as a celebration of what’s covering it”; notice that there’s no focus on the skin itself. The barrier is overwhelmed by what it pretends to divide.

Other images in “Anatomy of Change” reiterate this fusion of human anatomy and fashion, wherein fashion takes the place of the skin (as Rico’s tattooed body suggests that he is skinless). Rico, revealed ribcage, and black leather jacket.

Rico’s skull masked by pearls.

Rico, bare-chested, wrapped in a black veil that is reminiscent of a shroud.

But underneath that shroud, Rico’s body – tattooed entirely with signifiers of death – is vibrantly, even defiantly alive. The body reborn from fashion, perhaps. Or maybe, the borders between fashion and the body are now so blurred that we can no longer tell where the body ends and fashion begins. As much as these fashions are about darkness and death, and as much as Rico’s body is marked as a corpse, they are also, as Formichetti’s vision dictates, highly animated. The veils are constantly in flow, in movement, over and above Rico’s body; the strings of pearls appear to asphyxiate Rico, only to jolt him to life. As the lines between body and fashion become indistinguishable, so do the borders between life and death. Which brings us back to the notion of the monster, who so very comfortably resides in these border zones where traditional dichotomies collapse. This liminal place where distinctions between body and fashion, life and death, break down, this zone where the monster resides, is the ultimate creative place – where one can be born this way out of death, out of fashion, out of life, out of the body.
This notion – that fashion is a living, breathing, and now dying part of the human body – has been proclaimed by Lady Gaga every day since the very beginning of her career. Isn’t this partly what she means when she tells us, again and again, that Lady Gaga is no different than Stefani? That the image is her truth? And now, fashion is skin.

It is also shit, but shit refigured in a positive way. Gaga’s music for the video, a remixed version of the track “Scheiße” from her forthcoming album Born This Way, begins with Gaga proclaiming “I don’t speak German but I can if you like.” The lyrics that follow have been fiercely debated on various Internet forums. Many who claim to be natively fluent in the German language say that Gaga isn’t singing in German at all, but in some nonsensical language that mimics German. Others have said that she sings, “Ich bin mir absolut klar, Ich trag den Namen Monster, Wir sind alle Familie,” which translates to “I am absolutely clear, I bear the name monster, We are all family.” For the former group, Gaga’s lyrically – and literally – singing “shit” – senseless, ambiguous gobbledy-goop; words that don’t mean anything, other than non-sense. And for the latter group, well, isn’t she singing about metaphorical “shit”? Because monsters are traditionally the freaks and outcasts of society – all this shit that official life withstands. She declares that we are a family of monsters; we are a bunch of shits – or the shits. The song and the video, then, become lyrical and visual love letters to shit: “Scheiße, Scheiße be mine! Scheiße be mine!”

Which brings me to some parallels and predictions:

Prior to the official release of “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga debuted the song at Alexander McQueen’s runway show at the Paris Fashion Week in 2009. A month later, Gaga released the video for “Bad Romance,” which, not surprisingly, featured many pieces from McQueen’s latest collection. Heels that turned Gaga’s feet into hooves, that crystallized her body, shaped her into praying mantis – clothes that Gaga doesn’t wear, but that become Gaga. Implode the line between the body and the garment – this is Gaga’s fashion.

January 2011. Gaga previews “Scheiße,” a confirmed track from her new album, at the Mugler menswear show. Once again, Paris Fashion Week. You know what I think? Jo Calderone’s going to appear in the video for “Born This Way,” become flesh in those Mugler fashions that so dominantly featured death. He has only existed as an image till now; as Cheryl Helm has written, Jo Calderone is thus far “a construct, a static image on a glossy page; or like an empty suit still bagged up and hanging in Gaga’s wardrobe closet.” And as my friend Roland Betancourt has suggested in an article to be published in Gaga Stigmata’s upcoming book project, Jo Calderone was “born this way” – this referring to the process of taking images – in a photo shoot for Vogue Hommes Japan, styled by Nicola Formichetti.  

If my gut is right (or, maybe I should say, if my fashion is right), Jo Calderone will become animate – or, incarnate – in the most paradoxical of ways: in these Mugler fashions that take their creative inspiration from death. He will be the image that kills death by materializing in it. He will be immanently, essentially born this way out of fashion, photo shoots, and music videos.

And he will be just as much Lady Gaga, as Lady Gaga is Stefani Germanotta.


  1. "Or maybe, the borders between fashion and the body are now so blurred that we can no longer tell where the body ends and fashion begins."

    That's a major visual theme in Gaga's fashion performances. In so many of her wardrobe choices, I've noticed, that the fashion literally shapes her body and face, does in fact become a kind of skin.

    I'm blown away by this article. It's certainly the very best I've seen on the 'Anatomy of Change' collaboration, and its potential meanings for the work of all three, and most certainly, for Gaga. You've really given me a whole new realm to contemplate when I'm contemplating Gaga's fashion and what she's doing with it.

    That the Mugler show may play a prominent role in her Grammy performance is hinted at by a rumor that she'll be wearing Mugler and not Armani as originally planned. But she's also supposedly planning on five wardrobe changes, so most likely, her performance of fashion will probably run longer than the song, and I'm looking forward with bated breath to both.

    And thanks to your oh so excellent superb wonderful mahvelous essay, I'll be viewing her performances with a different eye. Thank you.

    And ps: Gaga's score really complements the theme sonically and structurally. It's quite elaborate. Part of what she's doing with the glottal stops and gutterals of her faux German, is using the cadence of her voice and the words as beats laid over the top, and sometimes underneath, the instrumental tracks, and they rise and fall like breath. Sometimes you don't hear them at all and yet, you *almost* can, as though she's imprinted them by repetition so you hear them even when they're not there.

    Just as fashion has become skin, voice has become the beat.

    Similarly, people hear German when most of what she says is not German, at least not any coherent formc. But because the listener EXPECTS to hear German, s/he does...unless she is fluent in German in which case, after hours of trying to make sense, s/he will throw up her hands and yell "Scheiße". Which, in fact, on one level, it is.

  2. So....where was Jo Calderone in the Born This Way video?

  3. Meghan, nice prediction! That would have been fierce if Jo Calderone had appeared in the BTW vid.

    As a longtime Gaga fan and follower of Gaga commentary & critical analysis, I am a little shocked that I'd never heard of Jo Calderone till TODAY!

    Where the heck was I? I feel all sorts of displaced. I guess I wasn't checking GagaStigmata frequently enough in the last few months....


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.