Bee Gees-loving taxidermist who saved Gaga's meat dress


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The Independent Online

It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the fashion statement of the year. But when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, acquired the little red dress which Lady Gaga wore to last September's MTV Video Music Awards, they faced a unique logistical problem: it was starting to decompose.

The outfit, made from 35 lbs of prime Argentinean beef, had begun to turn and, by Christmas, despite being kept on ice, it had also started to smell. Without drastic action, there was no way it would ever go on display next to such artefacts as Janis Joplin's Porsche and Joey Ramone's leather jacket.

That was when taxidermist Sergio Vigilato got the call. He earns a living as the entertainment industry's foremost preserver of dead animals. He explains: "They said, 'We have a meat dress. Can you do it?' I told them, 'I can do anything if the price is right.' I had never heard of this Lady Gaga. I'm into the Bee Gees, so I had no idea how famous this piece would be."

Mr Vigilato immediately set about treating, rebuilding and then hanging the outfit from a Gaga-shaped mannequin. He used a secret mixture of chemicals to stop it rotting and then borrowed techniques from Gunther von Hagens, the German pathologist famous for his displays of plastinated human corpses.

The cuts of meat were painted in the exact, bloody hue of the original dress, which was the creation of fashion designer Franc Fernandez and stylist Nicola Formichetti and was intended to demonstrate, in the words of Gaga herself, that: "I am not a piece of meat."

Layers of fat on the garment, which it was impossible to preserve, were recreated from rubber. The painstaking job of rebuilding it, using fishing nylon to stitch the preserved meat onto a corset, took several months.

"When I first opened the dress up, it was disgusting," Mr Vigilato recalls. "I had to ventilate everything. They were lucky no flies had laid eggs, because it would have had maggots. The oxidation from the air had made it blue. I spent six weeks just killing bacteria."

The dress was finally installed in the Hall of Fame last month.

Mr Vigilato is now considering what to do with the off-cuts. A few slivers of beef remain and he is hoping to get Gaga's permission to turn them into earrings to be sold for charity.

Asked whether the meat dress was the weirdest project he's ever worked on, Mr Vigilato says: "No. A film producer once came to me with a baboon he'd shot in the face. He wanted it restored to look perfect."