Ashley Rose Couture’s collections have always been a mix of the bizarre and the Harper’s Bazaar, but on Tuesday the Massachusetts-based designer really outdid herself by debuting a new line based on the medical specimens at Alamo Drafthouse’s creepy House of Wax.
Backstage at the funereal Brooklyn bar, models consisting of artistically-minded medical students waited for the show to start. They couldn’t move much, since the fabric of Rose’s floor-length gowns would wrinkle with too much movement, and the strands of artificial hair tied to the bodices would tangle. At first glance, the bodices– made from cast, wire, cheesecloth and wax— looked like elaborate corals, or even desert roses. But they were actually meant to convey the appearance of flayed skin.
Rose described to us how she had been inspired by the 19th century wax figures that oddities dealer Ryan Matthew Cohn acquired in Germany and installed in the Alamo’s dimly lit bar. Her main muse was The Anatomical Venus, a Botticelli-like figure whose belly is splayed open to reveal her organs. “The whole point of it was fascinating: they created these wax sculptures of beautiful women, adorned in pearls and braids and gold tiaras, and the point was to make them as beautiful as possible, to hide how horrific the body was,” Rose told us.
In an era where it was impossible to keep cadavers refrigerated for anatomical studies, medical students had to make do with these wax figures. To mimic them, Kat Von D’s Artistry Collective went for a “very dewy” look, per makeup artist Steffanie Strazzere. Whereas the collective’s previous work with Ashley Rose Couture has been soft and subtle, it now consisted of full faces of makeup, with gems and hues matching each girl’s gown. Strazzere noted that the monochromatic palette made it seem “almost like the piece is taking them over.”
The whole presentation fully came together thanks to Cohn, who curated the set: its central piece was an altar-cum-casket dubbed Vanitas. With its feathers, skulls, candles, and red, purple, and mauve flowers, the still-life display was reminiscent of something a Dutch master could have painted.
Cohn and Rose first worked together three years ago, on a photoshoot where Cohn curated the set. “Ashley’s aesthetic [is] very anatomical,” Cohn told Bedford + Bowery in the pre-show calm. “She has a very classical feel, and her modern sensibility mixes with my antique sensibility. When the two genres combine, they become something special, it makes a lot of sense. My vision starts as a backdrop and when you put the two together, you get the entire painting.”
Indeed, when the models positioned themselves around the altar-like display, it looked like a hyperrealistic Victorian painting had come to life. Many people were elbowed for the sake of a decent photograph.