Lady Gaga’s ‘Floral Alien’ has landed at Kerry Taylor Auctions

16/11/2020     Victoria Ward     Exceptional Fashion

Video still from '911', copyright Karina Akopyan/ Lady Gaga

Two costumes designed by artist Karina Akopyan, worn by Lady Gaga for her music video ‘911’ will be sold on Tuesday 8th December at Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Lucy Bishop, Specialist at the auction house says:

‘This is the first time a costume worn by Lady Gaga has ever come onto the market in the UK and it presents a rare opportunity to acquire a piece of music and fashion history. Lady Gaga is - without question - one of the greatest artists of our time, and Kerry Taylor Auctions is incredibly honoured to be handling the sale of these two artworks’.

Karina Akopyan is a Russian born multi-disciplinary artist of Armenian descent, based in the UK. With an aesthetic rooted in fetishism and the decorative style of Russian folk art, her work depicts a world of pain, euphoria, frustration, invented memories and sexual fantasies, often intertwined with political references to her native homelands. She is usually the one wearing her own creations. However, when she was contacted by Lady Gaga’s design team and asked to loan her work for the video, she did not hesitate in saying 'yes',

‘There are many artists - both very well-known and not so famous - that I would actually be very happy to see in my costumes, if they share my energy, and Lady Gaga was one of them. When the opportunity presented itself, I felt if not her, then who? She is a chameleon, and a mega talent who inspires so many people to be more comfortable in their skin - to be truly themselves’.

Lady Gaga has divulged that the song ‘911’ is about an antipsychotic medication called Olanzapine, which she is prescribed: ‘It’s because I can’t always control things that my brain does. I know that. And I have to take the medication to stop the process that occurs’ (Apple Music, 2020). Filmed in August 2020 under Covid restrictions in Valencia, California, the video was directed by visionary filmmaker Tarsem Singh and was a meeting of minds, drawing inspiration from the cinematic style of Armenian film director Sergei Parajanov and his 1969 Soviet art film ‘The Color of Pomegranates’.
 
Lot 296, Floral Alien’, is a hand-painted and appliqued leather body-suit. It comprises eight separate pieces, which when joined and tightly laced, encases the body entirely. The ensemble is constrictive to an extreme degree and transforms the wearer into an imposing alien-like creature, towering at over 10ft tall, the body disguised and distorted by the extreme proportions.

Lot 296, a Lady Gaga-worn 'Floral Alien' leather ensemble by Karina Akopyan, 2017, estimate £15,000-20,000

Right: video still from '911', copyright Karina Akopyan/ Lady Gaga

This is one of two one-off ensembles designed by Karina Akopyan and selected by Lady Gaga to feature in the music video for ‘911’, the third single from her sixth studio album ‘Chromatica’, released on the 25th September 2020. Her design team initially requested four looks, with ‘Floral Alien’ being allocated as their priority selection. Made in 2017, ‘Floral Alien’ plays with themes such as femininity and aggression, combining traditional folk art with sadomasochism. The pointed shape of the headpiece is based on that of the Russian Kokoshnik, and the floral pattern adorning the leather is inspired by a Khokhloma spoon. Akopyan describes this body of work as: ‘a bold questioning of tradition, religion, ritual, iconography, sexuality and fetishism – in all their jarring coexistence, yet inevitable convergence’.

Prior to the project’s conception, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey for Elle magazine in 2019, Lady Gaga opened up about her pain - both physical and mental: ‘I have PTSD. I have chronic pain. Neuropathic pain trauma response is a weekly part of my life. I’m on medication; I have several doctors. This is how I survive….. I had a psychotic break at one point, and it was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. I was brought to the ER to urgent care and they brought in the doctor, a psychiatrist. So I’m just screaming, and I said, “Could somebody bring me a real doctor?” And I didn’t understand what was going on, because my whole body went numb; I fully dissociated. I was screaming, and then he calmed me down and gave me medication for when that happens—olanzapine. Yeah, so I take methocarbamol, and olanzapine, which is probably the most important—it helped me that day, and that man and all my friends, they saved my life’ (Elle Magazine, 6th November, 2019).

              

Video still from '911', copyright Karina Akopyan/ Lady Gaga

Director Singh revealed that he first conceived the idea more than 20 years earlier for another artist: ‘I thought this would fit an idea for Massive Attack…I love their song ‘Angel’. But our schedules never workedI didn’t realise how close the idea was to what happened to her (Lady Gaga). When she told me (what the song) means, (the concept) fit like a glove. I made it not about blood loss, but about the opposite of being high on drugs: basically, a lack of a drug…The original idea had more to do with blood loss. My friend said, ‘It’s basically The Wizard of Oz without the first act.’ At the end, it’s like, ‘And you were there, and you were there!’ So, to build the first act, [we went] abstract. In the end you realise the images were abstractions because she’s had an injury. They’re talking to her in the middle of blood loss. These images are of people who were trying to help her…. When she’s in that phase, she’s seeing and imagining different things’ (Entertainment Weekly, 22nd September 2020).

Reflecting on the surreal costumes featured in the video, and the unusual conditions under which it was filmed, the director recalled how ‘Floral Alien’ in particular presented practical challenges: ‘I’ll tell you what was dangerous, that I had to fix in post-production: the leather suit she’s wearing is a gimp/erotic-asphyxiation suit, and the temperature was 118 degrees…we did two takes [of] her giving the gestures of 9-1-1 with her hands up, and after three takes, I think she was ready to pass out, so they took her head gear off. I said, “I need one more take!” and she said, “Oh, please, do you have it?” But I said 'no' because her hand with the “1” was against her black mask, and I couldn’t see her finger, and she said, “Do you really need that?” and I took one look at her, she looked so red that I said, “We have it.” So, I cut in her arm from a previous take’.

Karina Akopyan, reflecting on the visual impact of ‘Floral Alien’, has described it as a tortuous, performative art piece, which assumes the hollow shell of a body when not worn. The artist states this creation is: ‘figuratively representing death itself, like a body that decomposes on the ground, from which flowers grow, eventually starting a new cycle of life’.

Video still from '911', copyright Karina Akopyan/ Lady Gaga

Lot 295, the ‘Red Bleeding’ look, is worn by Gaga in the same video. Her design team initially requested four looks from Akopyan for this project, selecting the bra and skirt from two different existing ensembles from the artist and combining them to create the final costume, which was worn with a headpiece by It-Spain.

Video still from '911', copyright Karina Akopyan/ Lady Gaga

The latex skirt is an original creation made by Akopyan in 2017 as part of her ‘Red Priestess’ costume. The bra is by London-based luxury leather fetish-wear brand Carapace and was initially acquired by Akopyan in 2016 to form part of the original ‘White and Red Devil’ look, as part of her body of work entitled ‘Cossacks writing a mocking letter to the Turkish Sultan’.

      

Lot 295, a Lady Gaga-worn 'Red Bleeding' look, comprising red latex skirt by Karina Akopyan and Carapace patent leather bullet bra, 2017, estimate £3,000-5,000

Right: video still from '911', copyright Karina Akopyan/ Lady Gaga

In an Instagram post announcing the music video, Gaga shed further light on its significance: ‘This short film is very personal to me, my experience with mental health and the way reality and dreams can interconnect to form heroes within us and all around us’. She went on to thank her devoted fans: ‘I’m awake now, I can see you, I can feel you, thank you for believing in me when I was very afraid. Something that was once my real life everyday is now a film, a true story that is now the past and not the present. It’s the poetry of pain’.

When asked why she has decide to sell the two costumes, Akopyan answered:

‘I don't feel it's right for me to wear those any more after this project or to give them to someone else to model as they are now part of Lady Gaga's artistic story, as well as mine. They should continue their journey, but not with me’.

 Video still from '911', copyright Karina Akopyan/ Lady Gaga

 

Passion for Fashion, Tuesday 8th December 2020, 2pm UK time


Lot 295, a Lady Gaga-worn 'Red Bleeding' look, comprising red latex skirt by Karina Akopyan and Carapace patent leather bullet bra, 2017, estimate £3,000-5,000

Lot 296, a Lady Gaga-worn 'Floral Alien' leather ensemble by Karina Akopyan, 2017, estimate £15,000-20,000