I am so in love with the Mugler/Zombie boy story. You can read a great interview with Mugler Creative Director, Nicola Formichetti, here but the long and short of it is that Formichetti found Zombie Boy AKA Rick Genest on Facebook and used a picture of him as a muse when designing his debut men’s collection for Mugler. All along, he thought Genest was just in incredible make-up but then he discovers that he is, in fact, tattooed like a skeleton from head to toe.
He flips out, contacts Montreal-resident Mr. Zombie himself and–despite Genest’s homeless punk rock debt issues–further redesigns his fancypants collection to incorporate a goth flair, flies him to Paris and eventually they shoot some awesome video:
And THEN, to make this hyper-outsider-rags-to-riches parable complete, Lady Gaga gets super into Zombie Boy, remixes a song for his debut at Paris Fashion Week and eventually incorporates him into her super anthem, “Born This Way.”
I love the Zombie Boy story. There is something so queer about his body and, thus, his gender and Formichetti and Mugler (and Gaga) seem to get that that’s exactly his appeal. Check out this campaign for Vogue Homme Japan:
That’s gorgeous! And again:
I love the pearls, the neo-goth formality, the Victorian zombie aesthetic. Somehow it just works. And that’s what so cool about this story, from another angle: it’s a great creative achievement. Formichetti says people thought he was nuts to incorporate a heavily tattooed street punk into a debut formalwear collection, but his inspiration overrode their anxieties and he was 100% on point.
And Genest! He obviously uses his body as a canvas. To have that kind of commitment to creating the body you want is familiar to all of us on the trans-spectrum but the sheer height of his body visibility is pretty stunning (case in point, after posting something about his story on Facebook, a former student of mine in New York commented, “Amazing! My friend got hit on by this guy last night”). Even the Brad Pitts and Madonnas among us can walk the world more privately than Zombie Boy, and that is, of course, part of his appeal.
Cynics might say that this twenty-five-year-old will grow to question his choices, but I doubt it. Or, that is, I doubt he’ll question his body and the way he’s lived any more than all of us do–queer, trans and even the most clean-cut among us who have their, “This is not my beautiful wife” mid-life moment. I applaud Mugler for giving us all an opportunity to question notions of beauty, masculinity and the body ideal in both of those tired arenas.
More than anything, I wanted to be a love letter to Zombie Boy himself. In a culture that’s intent on normativity, you made one of the boldest choices I’ve ever seen. I hope that fame and happiness come to you in equal measure, and that your days as a Zombie Senior Citizen are full of uncompromising aesthetics and bad-ass love.