Incorporating a uniquely handmade flesh-imitation textile into their pieces, Lena M Áine’s garments feature experiments with gore-inspired imagery to create looks that present the realm of horror with an erotic edge. Their work channels a fascination with anatomy into wearable art, producing gender-neutral clothing that invokes carnage whilst remaining intricately constructed, crafting corsets, dresses and accessories that appear to drip with blood and flesh. Having amassed significant attention towards their work online, Lena M Áine has now launched their own brand, using social media to connect with fans of the label and unveil the storytelling behind their vision. With the likes of Julia Fox and Rico Nasty being spotted sporting Lena M Áine creations, things only seem to be on the rise for the designer. Here, we talk to them about their background in fine art, modernising the industry into a direction that’s more gender-inclusive, and navigating the world of fashion.
Could you begin by introducing yourself, and explaining what first drew you into the world of fashion?
My name is Lena M Áine and after a few of my graduate designs gained social media attention in 2022, I now run my own brand LeMÁine at 24 years old. I originally studied fine art and illustration, spending time before my degree completing a multi-disciplinary art course. Growing up in a military family I originally didn’t have much of an interest in fashion at all and initially planned to study a fine art degree, however during the first term of my college course I began to research wearable art and textiles in relation to the human body and gender identity, and then experimented with embroidery and textile techniques before performing further research into the work of iconic designers such as McQueen and Mugler. Although I had planned to continue studying fine art with painting and illustration for my college course, I ended up falling in love with fashion as an art form and switched my discipline last minute. Before starting my degree I’d never pattern cut and only had very limited experience using a sewing machine - I had no expectations of myself to make fashion, I just wanted to use garments as an extension of my art and ended up accidentally obsessed with the whole world of fashion.
Your work features a unique experimentation with textiles to produce gore-inspired visuals on the body. What drew you to create from a world of artistic extremism?
I’ve always had a love for horror, and even as a child my favourite movies were horror and sci-fi. At school I really excelled at science, particularly biology - I remember telling my mum I wanted to be a surgeon when I grew up. I’ve always been fascinated by the human body, and I took life-drawing lessons as a teenager; I had sketchbooks filled with studies of the body and sketches of bones and skeletal structures. For one of my Art GCSE projects I drew two 6ft tall skeletons and I went on to study artists like Ken Currie and Francis Bacon. I just love the humanness and emotion held within the parts and shapes of the body. I like seeing people’s reactions to our own bodies because, yes, it is gore, and it is slightly horrifying but it's also completely natural and within us all. My interest in blood in art came from wanting to form a concept that linked body horror to political movements, using art to convey the suffering and bloodshed arising from certain events.
The extensive process of coming up with your own material has been documented on your social media, with the entire textile design being produced by hand. Could you describe how you were able to reach this point in your artistry? What inspired the journey of coming up with the imitation flesh textile?
It was during my final collection for my degree that I designed the flesh textile. This was the second Covid-19 lockdown and although I had sketched and designed ideas that were more focused on tailoring and complicated patterns, I didn’t have access to my university’s fashion studio as everything was locked down. I had to think of a way to represent the human body in fashion with no technical equipment and with what little material I could buy online. I ended up creating a kind of SFX inspired body cast with a very rough version of the first flesh fabric, just by myself in my bathroom. When the facilities at my university opened again the first thing I did was refine this textile over and over to see if I could make it into something sew-able, which luckily, I was able to do. I created the now nicknamed flesh dress and a few toiles of some flesh corsets and posted them on social media, not thinking too much of it. The next day I had thousands of new followers thanks to someone who’d reposted my designs on twitter, and a lot of people trying to contact me to see if they could buy any of my pieces. It was this that enabled me to keep refining the flesh to the standard it’s at today.
There’s a nod towards this notion of contrast that runs throughout your work, with horror-inspired imagery being fashioned into pieces with a nod to sensuality, such as corsets. How do you use this juxtaposition to your advantage when designing?
There’s definitely an established link to sexuality within the horror genre that’s played within horror movies and other horror media, not only within the realm of gothic-romanticism but also in a lot of modern gothic and alternative subcultures. The materials used to make fashion that’s considered alternative is usually darker colours, leather, latex, fabrics that have been distressed and cut to reveal the body underneath, lots of metal hardware and gender-bent styles; these are also considered more sensual and sexually expressive materials. I think I’ve just taken things a step further into something that's more explicitly body horror.
As a completely independent designer running the brand on your own, how were you able to propel your brand to the heights it has reached?
Luck mostly! I didn’t plan to start a brand at all, I had plans to further my studies and to do a master’s degree. I was just very lucky that someone liked my designs enough to repost them on twitter and then enough people also liked them, kick-starting my career. I remember taking a few orders and getting my work in a few publications and thinking, “okay, I’ll take advantage of this while it’s still going, but when the attention is gone and everything slows down I’ll go back to apply for my masters” – but it just hasn’t slowed down. If anything, I can’t keep up with the demand! It was completely by accident and completely unplanned – I’ve said yes to every opportunity that's crossed my path because I was convinced that I’d just sell a few corsets and that would be it.
Could you tell us about the experience of dressing big names including Julia Fox and Rico Nasty? Is there anyone else you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
It’s definitely been unexpected and I’m very grateful to stylists for reaching out to work with me. Again, as someone so new to the industry it’s always exciting to be connecting with big names so early on in my career. I like to cast trans models for my product shoots, so I’d love to collaborate with more trans and queer people in the industry that I look up to, like Hunter Schafer, Emma D’Arcy and Dua Saleh. As a horror fan, I’d also love to dress some of the current horror scream queens like Mia Goth and Jenna Ortega.
You’ve stated that you opted to study both menswear and womenswear for your degree; the fact that the world of fashion is still divided by this binary approach speaks to the fact that it can still, at times, adhere to some outdated ways of thinking about clothing. What steps do you think the industry could take to modernise its conventions?
Being non-binary myself, the problem I face most commonly with buying clothes is the lack of accessible sizing for gender non-conforming people. For example, a lot of ‘menswear’ doesn’t stock in sizes and styles myself and other transmasculine/FtM people to fit into, and a lot of ‘womenswear’ isn’t accommodating to transfeminine/MtF bodies. I think even just by having a lot of clothing styles run bigger and smaller sizes or having clothing that’s more adjustable or unisex fitting, the industry could become a lot more inclusive for all across the gender spectrum. To also have a range of body types modelling work can be very helpful for people to understand how a style will look on them.
What was the experience of growing your brand through social media like? How were you able to harness the power of online spaces to project your work internationally?
I think people really respond to hearing about the concepts and reasoning behind forms of art, it’s interesting to know about an artist’s background and what influences them when creating. I enjoy using social media because it’s a very direct way to communicate with my audience and talk to them about my motivations and ideas, and to inform about what’s going on in my life personally, which can in turn influence how I design. It’s been a little scary to put so much of myself on the internet and be vulnerable to thousands of people, but my art has so much of my identity of its own that I don’t think my work would be as powerful if people couldn’t connect it to who I am as a person and the ideas I believe in. A lot of being successful on social media has to do with just being brave enough to put yourself out there and accepting that, in doing so, you’ll be opening yourself up to criticism.
You’ve already grown LeMÁine so much, branching out into accessories as well as incorporating various experiments with shapes and silhouettes, all of which include your iconic flesh textile. What’s next for yourself and your brand?
The next step for me is to release a full collection, not just one-off pieces, and I’ve been wanting to create designs that fit outside of flesh for quite a while now. I have a lot of ideas sketched out on paper that I’m just waiting to have enough funding to act on. As much as I love my flesh designs, I’m looking forward to doing something new.
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