As a fashion designer who works at an osteological supply company, people often ask me if my two jobs ever overlap with each other. Oftentimes people ask if I wish to incorporate bones into my work, perhaps thinking of a very direct transfer of bones being stitched to fabric, or something similar.
In reality, the ways my two lines of work intersect are much less direct. At JonsBones, I have learned to appreciate the skeleton and its modes of movement, and I feel this has informed the way I make things for living bodies. Making clothes that allow bodies to exist comfortably, while being perceived as art, is deeply important to me.
I also notice bones in fashion more than I ever used to. Sure, I always knew about Alexander McQueen’s skull print, and other brands routinely drawing upon the skeleton for inspiration. But as I learned more about fashion in college I became aware of designers such as Iris van Herpen who used 3d printing to emulate bone structures in their work.
Iris van Herpen’s “Skeleton” dress made a particular impact on me when I saw it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Manus x Machina” exhibition in 2016. When reading about the preservation of the object, and how 3D printed nylon degrades quickly, I am now in my current job left to wonder about the practice of synthetics in replacing genuine bone. Both bones and plastics degrade, but the degradation of bone is far less toxic to the environment, and happens much more slowly. While genuine bone does carry more ethical conundrums than synthetic replicas do, they are seemingly much easier for museums and regular people to preserve.
But ultimately, the way the skeleton seems to influence fashion the most is from an iconographic standpoint. Artists like Phoebe Bridgers use the skeleton routinely to demonstrate the ephemerality of life itself, caught between building a lasting legacy in life, and accepting that this too will end someday. Skeletons in fashion provide shock value, tongue in cheek humor, and macabre intrigue to designs. I might not personally have much use for a skull print or a ribcage applique, but they create an easily accessible shorthand to a designer’s inner monologue: establishing a presence and embracing inevitability.
Working at JonsBones has made me incredibly aware of the skeleton, and I see it everywhere in fashion now. Perhaps because the skeleton evokes such a strong response in the average person, it becomes a powerful tool in a designer’s skillset. It is something I consider often.