Fecal Matter on Authenticity, Inspiration, and their Otherworldly Style
"We love being uncomfortable. I guess we seek discomfort. It’s where we feel vulnerable and that’s where the creative juices flow for us."
It’s hard to think of an Internet duo with a more expressive style than the Montreal-based designers Fecal Matter. The artists, Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran, are known for their transformative skin boots, eye-catching body alteration pieces, and an aesthetic that is once otherworldly, utterly human and singularly their own. The pair are currently in the midst of designing their Spring 2020 collection, which, like their previous work, challenges perceptions of the body through silicon extensions.
PERFECT NUMBER Mag talked with the couple about censorship, expanding notions of gender identity, and just why living with authenticity may be the most radical act of all.
PN: I want to go back and talk to you a little bit about your history and how you came to work together. How did you first meet? What were you like at the time?
Hannah Rose Dalton: We met at a school here in Montreal and it was very technical and not creative at all, to be honest. We looked totally different. We both had hair, eyebrows, the whole shebang.
Steven Raj Bhaskaran: We stood out still. I was really, really into Japanese designers at the time and I was really starting to experiment with gender, but it was really subtle. It was baby steps. I was so scared. I lived in a really horrible neighborhood in Montreal at the time. I would get harassed and abused sometimes, not even for dressing up, just because of my mannerisms, like my typical way of walking.
PN: Sometimes, just how you are is radical to people.
SRB: Exactly. For me, I was already super scared of just putting heels on in public. Hannah always had a personal style, but I think you, Hannah, were also on your own with the different battles you were facing as a woman. You were clinging onto your hair.
HRD: Trying to represent femininity in the way that you grow up being told that femininity is. I feel like I was really trapped in that when I was in school. I guess until I was 18.
SRB: You looked like a Barbie.
HRD: Yeah, very Barbie.
SRB: Very Burberry Barbie.
HRD: I was honestly a bit lost. But what was keeping me together and how we became friends was really more about our values. And that was what we were on the same page about. Even though we looked totally different and it didn’t even seem like we could be friends or in the same friend group, because our values were the same and why we were in fashion was the same, that’s really how we became friends. So, we started talking about child labor and all the environmental issues that fashion causes, the discrimination that is happening in the industry. And this is why we created Fecal Matter: to have a place where we could express ourselves and express those opinions through our garments.
SRB: It’s cliché, but I think our passion for change was really the key motivational factor. Honestly, it really started with just a conversation with each other and that’s when the transformation started happening because I wasn’t scared anymore. I had somebody telling me that I’m beautiful and she was like, “Oh, Steven you’re drawing all these ideas, why don’t you wear it yourself?” It was really this push and motivation that I had never had in my entire life coming from Hannah where she was really supporting me to embrace my inner self. Then I was doing the same for her. We were literally in our own fantasy world at school. Honestly, that’s where it became a bit difficult. We were in a very technical design school, it wasn’t like a CSM type of program. It was really all about building you to be a seamstress at Michael Kors. It was really hard on us, but it makes sense why we were bursting out with so much creativity and ability to be ourselves—we were being oppressed so much. I used to get kicked out of class for wearing skirts.
PN: Once you started coming together and experimenting, what were some of your first pieces?
HRD: The first collection we did was actually for our exit exam. In order to exit the school, you have to make a collection. Usually, an exam you have to do of course on your own and it’s a very singular project. We asked the school if we could do it together. We didn’t even want to do a business together at that point.
SRB: We were like best friends. We were also starting to fall in love. It was really also just a scheme to spend more time together.
HRD: So, we asked, could we do the exit exam together? And by some grace of god, they let us. And that’s where we built our collection. It was all about human nature: what is a human without religion, without how you’re brought up, without your education—without all those factors that influence you.
SRB: Technically, how we translated that was we really went into the insides of garments. We started deconstructing all these very classic pieces and the one common thing we found was this textile called fusing. Fusing is basically what makes a collar stick. For us, it represents this strength of the garment. It was kind of parallel to the strength of the human mind and human nature. In fashion school, you’re always told, never show the fusing. It’s a mistake if you can see fusing. We created an entire collection out of fusing. We started having fun playing together. It was really an organic process. It then translated into the beginning of Fecal Matter.
After we graduated, we called it Fecal Matter. We wanted to have a statement that materialistic statements and desires are really the same thing as the digestive system in the sense that you consume, you consume, you shit. It’s just an endless cycle of consumption.
It was only until the first year that we started realizing how difficult it was to be a brand called Fecal Matter. That’s when we were starting to get interest from Vogue and different platforms, but they didn’t want to use the name, so they didn’t include us. That’s really when our Instagram was born because we realized that nobody was going to help us.
HRD: We had to take it in our own hands.
SRB: And have that power to deliver our own message and deliver our own point of view without anyone telling us what to do.
PN: Where do you go for inspiration and ideas?
HRD: We always love nature and surround ourselves by nature as much as possible. The colors, the shapes, the lines are something that brings endless inspiration for us. Also, we do a lot of research. I’m always reading the news. What’s going on in the science world. What’s going on in philosophy.
SRB: That’s our passion.
HRD: We always bring those elements into the design process.
SRB: For me, this whole journey has been really a journey to embrace my inner self and the same for Hannah. And really facing a lot of the fears that we have of being judged and being disowned by our family, and all these fears of being rejected and being hated on. Being a target on the street every day. I used to see people dressed up and be like, oh my god, how can they do it? I really wanted to be them, but now I am like those people, and we’ve obviously taken it to another level. A big part of our creative process is finding inspiration: a lot of times, it’s what we’re going through in our personal lives. And that’s really why we are so grateful to have a connection with the audience that we do: a lot of the trans and gender non-conforming people all over the world. They fully understand what we’re feeling. We understand what they’re feeling. We’re in such a lucky space. But then another aspect— it sounds really weird, I guess, but we love being uncomfortable. I guess we seek discomfort. It’s where we feel vulnerable and that’s where the creative juices flow for us.
PN: You’re challenged.
SRB: We’re in a position where we’re just not stable, and that’s a big part of where we find inspiration in creating pieces that do make people uncomfortable: thinking about that, analyzing why people are uncomfortable with this piece. What’s the value behind this piece that makes somebody react? Honestly, that does fuel a lot of ideas.
PN: That makes total sense. There are people who are going to be threatened and uncomfortable who act in angry or aggressive ways but then there are also people who are going to be incredibly inspired and feel like they can be themselves just by seeing you.
HRD:That duality is always important to us.
SRB: That’s really why we continue. No matter how difficult being alive can be for us sometimes, we fully realize that what we’re doing is also very helpful for a lot of people. Honestly, all we ever wanted was to be able to see change and present different perspectives and alternative points of view for others so they realize there are more options than what the media is presenting right now. It has always been this fuel to keep going.
PN: Are there any people or looks that have deeply inspired you?
HRD: We actually have a lot of friends who are much older, who don’t even have Instagram, but who live their lives so honestly and purely. That’s what keeps me going.
SRB: I think it’s all the individuals who are not afraid to be themselves. Sometimes, it’s not even to do with how they look, just personality. With some people, their personality is just out there, and it’s like, how are you able to be so real and honest and truthful and yourself? You’re so yourself. Those are really the people who motivate us to go to places that we are too afraid of going. In terms of public figures: definitely Leigh Bowery.
HRD: We’re also really obsessed with people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. These are geniuses and visionaries of the future who are really pushing for the greater good and we really look up to people like that.
PN: You also make music, right? Is there a connection between your music and your fashion?
SRB: Totally. When we did our first presentation, we needed a soundtrack, and we just did it ourselves. It wasn’t really professional but it was exactly what we wanted and it translated. Our issue with going out has always been that we wanted the music that we listen to to be played at the club. That’s why we started DJing. We wanted a good time for ourselves, and the only way to do it was to actually be at the DJ booth.
HRD: We don’t drink or anything.
SRB: Going out was always about dancing. The people and the music. We listen to a lot of heavy, hardcore music mixed with trance. It’s very rare to find and if you do find it its usually at very niche places. So, for us playing with that kind of music was really the start. But then creating our mixes and doing all that—that’s something that we’re still kind of developing on and honestly because our fashion line has become so much work, there is still that yearning for something that is fun. That’s our music for us. We don’t really take it too seriously.
PN: What would you like to see in the future, both in terms of what you’re creating but also more broadly? What are your hopes?
HRD: I just hope that people can be more open-minded. I don’t expect people to shave their heads and shave their eyebrows and wear high shoes and wear all this skin stuff. That’s not really my fantasy. But what I do desire to see is for people to just be open and allow others to express themselves.
SRB: More acceptance. A broader vocabulary of what a human identity can be. I don’t want a world where everybody is gender fluid. If you’re straight, that’s fine. If you don’t want to wear a skirt as a guy, don’t wear a skirt. I don’t want anyone to force anyone. And that’s really the goal: Everyone has the ability to be themselves. I think censorship is the biggest obstacle we face right now. That’s the key reason why we decided to call our brand Fecal Matter. We hope to see more people challenging censorship and taking the risk of putting out work that is not safe. In terms of technology and how humans interact with one another, I guess we hope to see more of a connection. Whether it’s through social media, through real-life or whatever—for all of us to really connect with each other authentically. At the end of the day, that authenticity is really the fuel for love, for creativity, all the good stuff of being human. If we remove that, we are just going to be robots.
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