Style Melbourne

The Fashion Underground

This article was originally commissioned by the wonderful The Spirit of the Black Dress project and appeared in the 2013 edition of their complementary magazine.

Designers sometimes fleet – at least ideologically – with death when creating a collection. One Rodarte collection was inspired by Death Valley and vultures. Givenchy have produced intricate ‘skeleton’ gowns. Or there’s the more enduring noir style of the gothic subculture. Pia Interlandi’s entire career revolves around death. This Australian fashion designer makes clothes to be buried in.

Designing for wearers who may never live to see themselves donning the garments is not as morbid as you might think. Pia started exploring the idea of fashion beyond death after experiencing the ritual dressing of a family member who had passed; thinking it odd that clothes would outlast the body. She soon discovered things like leather shoes inhibit the body from being reclaimed by the earth. Nylon stockings can mummify person’s legs while the rest of the body turns skeletal which Pia remarks is, “going to be an interesting look come the zombie apocalypse.”

She interned with Japanese designer Yoshiki Hishinuma who used ingenious dis-solvable thread as a sewing guideline. So Pia experimented with making entire garments from it. The idea was too successful; fabric began to disappear at the hint of water, the touch of sweaty palms or even an unexpected sneeze.

Eventually she settled on working with hemp which “grows quickly with little chemical intervention (as with cotton). I include elements of soft silk…a naturally lustrous, luxurious fibre that is still natural and entirely biodegradable.” To avoid using new silk, Pia takes commissioning clients to Ziguzagu, one of her “favourite Japanese fabric stores which sells vintage silk from Kimonos”.

Her soon-to-launch ‘Garments for the Grave’ line consists of shroud-like designs that aim to comfort loved ones by acting as a second-skin for the body. Designs can be personalised with embroidery or pockets that cradle mementos or letters. As one element of the holistic Natural Earth Burial movement, Pia’s designs help the body return “to ashes” according to a predictable timeline. This is the most significant part of what the designer does; encouraging people to think about how they can be “useful in providing nutrients back into the earth when they are no longer required for living”.

Ultimately, sustainability is about the legacy we leave behind. In fashion, this idea is never more literal and poignant than when considering our final outfit. It may just be time to ponder; exactly what will you be caught dead wearing?

Photograph by Devika Bilimoria

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