Ashes to Ashes

coeio-mushroom-burial-suit-1-537x403For the human body, death is only the beginning. These meat sacks of ours are hothouses of chemicals, and not just the good kind. Pesticides, flame retardants, heavy metals, and other environmental toxins we’ve picked up in life continue to leach into the mortal coil long after we’ve shuffled off. Current cremation techniques don’t help, either. Fumes expelled during incineration are chock-full of carcinogens such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide, not to mention mercury from dental fillings. And let’s not even talk about the ingredients found in embalming fluid. The solution? Mushrooms, or more specifically, a mushroom-infused burial suit that accelerates decomposition of the body while neutralizing the pollutants within. In short, it turns corpses into compost.

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Composed of 100 percent organic cotton, the Infinity Burial Suit is a garment that’s been years in the making. Visual artist and MIT graduate Jae Rhim Lee spent the better part of a decade experimenting with different strains of fungi.

“We are using two different types of mushrooms­ edible and mycorrhizal,” Lee explained on her website. “Edible mushrooms are scientifically proven decomposers. These mushrooms break down material by emitting enzymes. The mycorrhizal mushrooms deliver nutrients to plant roots.”

By seeding the suit with these mushrooms, Lee is tapping into a documented process known as mycoremediation to degrade contaminants or otherwise render them inert.

“These various processes only provide positive benefits that save energy and resources,
improve the soil, and enrich plant life,” Lee said.

Through Coeio, the company she founded, Lee is already taking orders for the suit, which costs $1,500 and comes in three sizes in your choice of black or natural.

Soon there will even be options for pets, from the smallest hamster to the largest Great Dane. “The end result is the most dignified and ecological way to say goodbye to your beloved pet,” Lee said.

Morbid à la Mode

Mourning ensemble 1870. American. Silk.

Mourning ensemble 1870. American. Silk.

What might be sad is actually quite sartorial. Rebena wishes so much she were in the big apple to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition called “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire.” This cheekily-titled show has been a big draw for the museum as it explores what people wore to funerals in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Circa: 1910

“Approximately 30 ensembles, many of which are which are being exhibited for the first time,” the Costume Institute notes, “will reveal the impact of high-fashion standards on the sartorial dictates of bereavement rituals as they evolved over a century.”

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Mourning jewelry styles emerged made of hair from the deceased. 1830’s – 1910.

As gloomy as this sounds, there’s actually good reason to be interested.  Clothing and costuming shows do tend to be influential on fashion at large, inspiring trends like goddess dressing, surrealism, and, following its 2007 exhibition on Paul Poiret, a taste for theatrical orientalism and loosely draped dresses.

An entire commercial market centered around mourning accessories fledged by the mid 19th century.

An entire commercial market centered around mourning accessories fledged by the mid 19th century.

So let’s get excited about the aesthetics of death, which, curiously enough, is even the subject of a new museum that opened last month in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn called the Morbid Anatomy Museum, featuring death masks, Victorian hair art, and a lot of taxidermy.

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American Mid Century Mourning Dress

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Exhibit Entrance // 1890 Mourning gowns

The Costume Institute’s exhibition will include examples of mourning dress from 1815 to 1915, covering the appropriate fabrics and, its curators note somewhat ominously, the potential sexual implications of the veiled widow.
Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute, also notes that the mostly black palette of mourning attire will serve as a fashion history lesson, dramatizing the rapid evolution of popular silhouettes over that century.

Queen Victoria set the funeral dressing standard – she wore black for 40 years after her husband’s death.

Victoria set the funeral wear standard – she wore black for 40 years after her husband’s death.

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How Queen Alexandra’s wardrobe evolved once she was mourning.

In fact, mourning clothes often had cultural significance, particularly gowns worn by Queen Victoria (above) and Queen Alexandra that will be included in the show.
Victoria set something of an exaggerated standard for mourning dress, wearing black for about 40 years following the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, leading to similar social customs among all classes of her day (some who could not afford to buy an all-black wardrobe simply dyed their clothes black) to wear black for months following the death of a loved one.

In the later mourning stages, wardrobe codes became more lenient, as is the case with this black evening dress from 1981.

In the later mourning stages, wardrobe codes became more lenient, as is the case with this black evening dress from 1981.

Rebena wishes she could be there to witness the high fashion silhouettes, fashion plates, jewelry and accessories.  Mourning as a fashion phenomenon: It’s not morbid… it was just à la mode.

Sources: In Style, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

Marie-Thérèse Walter

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Marie-Thérèse Walter was the French mistress and model of Pablo Picasso from 1927 to about 1935, and the mother of his daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso.  Their relationship began when she was seventeen years old; he was 45 and still living with his first wife, Olga Khokhlova.  In Picasso’s paintings, Walter always appears as blonde, sunny and bright.  1Picasso and Walter kept their relationship secret.  Walter lived close to Picasso’s family, who lived in an apartment provided by and next door to his art dealer and friend, Paul Rosenberg, in Rue La Boétie. From 1930, she stayed in a house opposite Picasso’s at Rue La Boétie 44.  Picasso supported Marie financially, but he never married Marie. On October, 20 1977, four years after Picasso’s death, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide by hanging herself in the garage at Juan-les-Pins, South of France.

Another Bangladesh Tragedy

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Our thoughts today go out Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is dreadful that governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible, disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for western nations’ shoppers. How many more lives must be lost or crushed before ministers, companies and consumers act to stop these scandalous human tragedies? Shame on you The Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, Primark, New Wave Style, Ether Tex, Canton Tech Apparel and New Wave Bottoms. Since 2005, more than 700 garment workers have died in Bangladesh, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.