Cannibal Couture


Written by Betty Wood
Photos and illustrations by Charlie Le Mindu, Artidjana, Lauren Mayhew, Polly van der Glas, Betty Rae Case
11 Monday 11th July 2011

What’s grosser than toe-nail clippings left in the bathroom sink? Toe-nail clippings worn around the neck of your girlfriend. That’s just one of the many (bizarre) uses of human by-products, and here we run you through (from head to toe) the art of cannibal couture.

Left: Artidjana’s blonde creation. Centre: dress by Charlie Le Mindu. Right: skirt by Lauren Mayhew.

Hairshirts used to be worn as a form of penance, but it seems that folic-couture is making a come-back in an altogether less itchy way on the cat-walk. Croatian fashion-house Artidjana caused a stir back in 2009 when they used 165ft of human hair to create the dress (above left), but they’re not the only designers to send their models down the run-way adorned in silken human locks. Speaking to the BBC last year, French designer Charlie Le Mindu proclaimed “Human hair is beautiful to wear and it’s so interesting to work with. People just need to get over the fact they are wearing something from their body. They seem to think it is still living and that freaks them out.”

Freakiness aside, human hair is a difficult medium to work with in terms of its physical structure. Synthetic fibres are not only softer; they’re 100 times thinner than human hairs which as a result require spinning which in turn requires longer hair... On the plus side, hair grows at an average rate of 15cm per year which makes it one of the fastest growing renewable resources and it’s an ethical alternative to the use of animal hair (which ticks off its veggie and vegan credentials).

Jewellery by Australian designer Polly van der Glas.

Human hair isn’t the only human waste product getting a second lease of life post-detachment. Aussie Jewellery designer Polly van der Glas has been making jewellery out of human teeth since 2009. Taking donations from friends and family who’d had teeth removed as dental procedures, van der Glas sterilised them before setting them into Stirling silver as rings and necklace pendants.  With 25% of the British public suffering from some form of anxiety about going to the dentist, these pieces are literally at the biting end of acceptable couture and we don't really fancy having someone else's nashers sitting on our knuckles thank you very much...


If you thought molar-set jewellery was a bit weird, then American artist Betty Rae Case really takes the biscuit. Possessing an ‘outie’, I’ve never had the joyous experience of discovering my own naval lint, but having seen what Case does with hers then I’m pretty happy about that fact.

Case takes belly button fluff and (hand) shapes it into these (weirdly cute) teddy bears before putting them into glass bottles – naval lint is fragile y’know – and sealing them with a cork.  Each one is unique and takes 3-4 weeks for delivery. And if you thought it couldn’t get weirder than a lint-bear-in-a-bottle then how about a Siamese lint-bear-in-a-bottle. Two heads for the price of one - you’re welcome.

Jewellery by Betty Rae Case, human ivory and Beeswax resin

Okay so I’ve been putting off the next oddity for as long as I can but its time is upon us... We’re talking toenail clippings. Yep even those half-moon shaped pedal rejects get a make-over by Case who doesn’t just reconstitute belly-button fluff; she recycles fingernail and toenail clippings into what she calls “human ivory”. Naturally, she turns this into jewellery which is then worn as pendants or as rings.

And that’s the nicest example of alternative toenail use we could find, but other re-cycles of note include composting, a chewable aid to quit smoking and as a rather versatile pot-scourer. Yes, pot-scourer. A ‘how-to-guide’ suggests “collecting clippings and placing them into the twist of discarded pantyhose...produc[ing] a very effective scourer” for all your washing-up needs. For more details on how to make your own version of this money-saving eco-friendly invention, click here.

For some reason human faeces and urine recycling doesn’t trouble us as much as the concept of wearing someone else’s toenails around your neck, which is probably a good thing seeing as we produce on average 1-2 litres of urine and 106 grams of poop per day. That’s an annual average of 38.74kg of shit per person per year, or 3,114.9 kg of crap over the course of a lifetime. What do you do with that much poo? Well if you’re British artist Jammie Nicholas, your turn your own dung into perfume. That’s right, Nicholas’ scent Surplus is on sale for £40 a bottle and no, it doesn’t smell like roses. Instead it features a bouquet of aroma that encompasses the stench of faeces with a subtle mix of anal gland. He’s sold more than 25 bottles of his own brand (geddit?) proving that there’s a market for anything. Just excuse us if we’re not dabbing it behind our ears anytime soon.

Finally, there’s another type of dung we haven’t discussed yet that's produced a little higher up the human body. That's right, ear wax. Forget the scene on Shrek where he turns it into candles - they don’t burn as well as paraffin, we researched it - there’s an altogether more effective use for ear wax and that’s as a cure for the common cold sore. For centuries man has been plagued by the herpes simplex virus, that tingly, burning sensation on your mouth that’s invariably followed by an unsightly blister and a yellow scab. Why not try rubbing a small amount of earwax onto the affected area overnight? Apparently it helps to diminish the size of the cold sore as well as the length of time you’ll have it. It’ll also give your girlfriend yet another reason for not wanting to kiss you whilst you’re infectious...

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