Meat Dress


American pop singer Lady Gaga wore a dress made of raw beef, which was commonly referred to by the media as the meat dress, to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Designed by Argentine designer Franc Fernandez and styled by Nicola Formichetti, the dress was condemned by animal rights groups, and named by ‘Time’ as the top fashion statement of 2010. The press speculated on the originality of the meat dress idea, with comparisons made to similar images found in contemporary art and popular culture. Architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, for example, had designed a meat dress in 2006.

As with her other dresses, it was archived, but went on display in 2011 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after being preserved by taxidermists as a type of jerky. Gaga explained following the awards ceremony that the dress was a statement about one’s need to fight for what one believes in, and highlighted her distaste for the US military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

Fernandez was approached by fellow designer and stylist Formichetti to produce the dress, with it planned out over the course of a week. The dress was asymmetrical, with a cowled–neck. Fernandez specifically chose cuts to ensure that the dress kept well. Flank steak was chosen as the material, with the meat coming from his family butcher. The dress required Gaga to be stitched into the outfit backstage. Fernandez said of his design, ‘I knew the dress would be one of other amazing pieces Gaga wore that night. It’s very well made and looked great on her, on and off camera. We didn’t get a chance to have a fitting. The only time she had it on was for the VMAs. Only when I saw it in the monitor did I know it would be big.’ Fernandez reporting Gaga’s opinion in an interview said that Gaga herself said it smelled good, because it smelled like meat. Previously, Gaga had worn a bikini made of meat on the front cover of the Japanese edition of ‘Vogue.’

Following the VMAs, media outlets attempted to analyse the meaning of the dress with suggestions by ‘BBC News’ ranging from anti-fashion, to feminism, aging and decay, and society’s attitude to meat. Chef Fergus Henderson explained this meat attitude as ‘People often don’t want meat to look like meat. They want it to be neatly wrapped in plastic from a supermarket.’ PETA condemned the dress, releasing a statement that said ‘wearing a dress made from cuts of dead cows is offensive enough to bring comment, but someone should whisper in her ear that more people are upset by butchery than are impressed by it.’ The Vegetarian Society also condemned the dress, releasing a statement that said ‘No matter how beautifully it is presented, flesh from a tortured animal is flesh from a tortured animal. Enough animals die for food and they should not be killed for stunts like this.’

Another controversy surrounding the dress was the question of its originality. Many in the art and fashion press remarked on its similarity to ‘Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic,’ a meat dress made by Canadian sculptor Jana Sterbak in 1987 exhibited to considerable controversy at the National Gallery of Canada in 1991.

Some media sources proposed that the dress could be interpreted as anti-vegan. Vegetarian singer Morrissey stated that he felt the dress was acceptable as long as it was a social or political statement, and not just a ‘loony idea,’ pointing out that artist Linder Sterling had previously worn a meat dress in 1982 to protest against what she believed to be the perception of women by men. Ellen DeGeneres presented Gaga with a bikini made of vegetables when the singer appeared on her talk show, and the singer used the platform to respond to the controversy surrounding the dress saying, ‘… it has many interpretations. For me this evening, if we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights pretty soon, we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat.’

Karen Rosenberg from ‘The New York Times’ compared the dress to a series of photographs of Francis Bacon posing with sides of beef attached to his torso like wings in 1952, while ‘The Daily Telegraph’ compared the dress to the original cover of The Beatles 1966 album ‘Yesterday and Today,’ and noted its similarity to the cover of a 1983 album by The Undertones album called ‘All Wrapped Up,’ which showed a female model wearing cuts of meat (mostly bacon) held in place with plastic wrap, long gloves and a sausage necklace.


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