Björk's swan dress. J.Lo's plunging green Versace. Cher's black feather Bob Mackie headdress ... all iconic red-carpet moments. But last year, they were all butchered by beef. Yes, we're talking about Lady Gaga's meat dress at September's MTV Video Music Awards, an ensemble that was at once shocking, seductive, meaningful and, perhaps most important, ripe for pop culture infamy.
Ever media-savvy, Gaga was very much aware that the ensemble's creator, Franc Fernandez, would be forever changed the moment her stylist tweeted his name to the universe.
"After she won, she said to me backstage, 'You're a sensation now,' " Fernandez remembers. "She just knew."
The rabid attention that followed might have been frustrating for some designers (how do you top something so outrageous?) but 24-year-old Fernandez never saw it that way. "I'm not a designer, I'm an artist, so it wasn't a concern."
Indeed, before that night, Fernandez was known for working with designers. "I fake it till I make it," Fernandez says, sipping coffee in his downtown Garment District loft. "Keep talking to the right people and eventually something can happen."
Fernandez was a fan of Gaga's stylist, Nicola Formichetti, who came up with the meat idea, first as a purse, then as an entire getup. They connected via email. That led to Fernandez's first collaboration with the pop star: the bejeweled headpiece and top seen in her "Bad Romance" video. Since the meat dress, he's done hats for Gaga and gone to Paris, where she wore his headwear for the Thierry Mugler runway show.
Paris runways are a long way from Sylmar, where Fernandez grew up in a close-knit Argentine household, fascinated by trends and technology. Though his most famous medium might always be beef (which he bought from his family butcher, Palermo Deli in Granada Hills), most of his work is decidedly less primal. He has a precise, futuristic aesthetic, nurtured by tech tools and communication. "My biggest inspiration has been the Internet. I can literally sit for hours on my computer, clicking through all these different worlds."
He pulls up a video he conceived and directed to be seen on the iPhone for a friend, Sam Sparro. Called "Pink Cloud," it's a visual feast of body paint, latex, masks and Fernandez's signature wild headwear. Currently he is working on stuff for Levi's and doing stagewear for the likes of Scissor Sisters and Fischerspooner.
Fernandez says he prefers the term curating to designing. Still, there's no denying that his frock o' flesh has elevated his status not only in the fashion world but also in the Los Angeles design scene.
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"I think L.A. has the best fashion," he says. "People in L.A. have more time to incubate ... in our cars and our homes, so we come up with more eccentric, theatrical things. When you go to art galleries and house parties, you realize really interesting people do live here, and they wear things you can't get away with anywhere else."