Fashion Culture

The little black death dress: What Would You be Wearing for the Last Time?

The famous little black dress that the french designer Gabrielle Chanel modernized in 1926 is an undeniable go-to for several occasions. Elegant and timeless it will follow you everywhere even for the last day of your life. Have you decided what would you be wearing for the last time? An Australian Designer has thought about that and invented a whole new vision for the death.

The little black death dress is a concept brought by the Australian designer Pia Interlandi, holding a PhD in architecture and design. Her interest for fashion and death together started during a research made during her PhD. This research explores the ways fashion design can directly approach the realities of the dead body, and specifically, the moments between death and disintegration. It is in 2008, when her grandfather died and she decided to dress him for his funeral, that she started to affirm herself as a designer and her vision using fashion as a tool. 

Interlandi asked herself : “Why are we trying hard-wearing clothes that were designed to be lived in while they aren’t going to be used by the original purpose?” Indeed, rather than using regular clothes she thinks about creating pieces using biodegradable materials such as protein-based wool, cotton, silk and linen. It is also a question of ecology and expression rather than comfort because a person wearing his last piece won’t feel anything.

I began to wonder how we could use clothes to invite families to dress their deceased loved-one in a way that is physically easy, give that it is a process heavy with emotion.
– Pia Interlandi for Roman Road Journal.

She was working on her doctoral research called (A)dressing death:fashioning garments for the grave composed of three main projects: ‘Dissolvable Garments’, ‘Body Moulds’ and ‘The Pig Project.’ In the Body moulds project, she began with grass seeds and soil placed in body-shaped molds and then tried with a lot of different materials. She placed the body mould faced to the grown and remarked that a growth occurred inside. Those were a test at the beginning and became real sculptures.

For the Pig Project, she required 21 dead pigs and used them as human cadavers to see how her creations involve through time and on a body. Interlandi and her team washed the pigs, dressed them and sprayed a rosemary scented oil to signify remembrance. She explains that using pigs are a great alternative to human bodies: “they have similar skin depths, fat deposits, and organ arrangement, and lack of heavy fur.”

In the Dissolvable garments project, she has been using a special type of textile as a method of exploring the notion of transformation and disappearance. This became the basis of her current PhD study at Melbourne’s RMIT University, entitled ‘DISSOLVING BODIES: DISSOLVABLE GARMENTS’ She created veils and a fabric composed of biodegradable fibers that are made to be used in burials because they can be transformed into food and fuel for organisms within the soil.

Her creation “The Little Black Death Dress,” a black embroidered body bag overdyed with ink was part of an exhibition called “Items: is fashion modern?” exposed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City from October 2017 to January 2018. With this exhibition she wants to show the world that death is a controversial subject that don’t need to be hard to talk about. She wants to lift the taboo surrounding death.

Through cremation, the garment is still going to be part of the ashes or whether it’s through burial. And it’s a tool. It’s a tool to talk about what you value and what you value in death, but mostly what you value in life.
– Pia Interlandi during an interview with the Museum of Modern Art.

The black dress has an immense history and meaning. Indeed, it is nothing but Little. Queen Victoria was the precursor of the little black dress. She wore it 40 years as a mourning dress after the death of her husband. Black became popularized and standardized during the Victorian period and became more and more a symbol of luxury as many popular figures were wearing a black dress as a cocktail dress.

Nowadays, the Little Black dress is an item part of our wardrobe and is worn everyday but will still remain a powerful symbol for the rest of ours lives. 

And you, what would you be wearing, for the last trip? 

If you want to see a little more, here is a video!

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