Taking the city bus, Hannah Rose Dalton, 23, and Steven Raj Bhaskaran, 26, sit side by side, both bald and brow-less with colorful hair extensions glued onto their bare scalps. The whites of their eyes are blacked out with sclera contacts, and their thigh-high platforms elevate them a foot above the rest. Steven's purse is slung over their shoulder, only the strap is replaced with a giant double-sided dildo ("The BBC Dick Bag"). Next to the average commuter, they look like aliens crash-landed on Earth, devils awaiting their exorcism or maybe superhero villains attempting to assimilate.
"Bank tellers ask us if we're homeless, or we'll go to the grocery store and the airport and get all this extra negative treatment," Steven says. "But we only view it as a reminder that there's still so much to fight for — we can't rest."
(On Hannah) Clothing & Boots: Fecal Matter, Necklace: Vintage Screaming Mimi's (On Steven) Coat: Valentino, Gloves & Boots: Rick Owens, Headpiece: Fecal Matter
As lines increasingly blur between IRL and URL, Hannah and Steven similarly exist in two worlds: the physical one, where their style seems especially extreme in contrast with socialized norms, and the internet one, where they're followed by nearly half a million people on Instagram — a mix of like-minded outsiders and curious spectators. While the archetypal influencer turns on a persona for likes, Hannah and Steven have committed to their identity on and offline, using fashion to challenge our understanding of what's possible when the confines of society are lifted.
Their normal might resemble your nightmare, but through consistent provocation, much like exposure therapy, Hannah and Steven hope to redefine normalcy by asking questions: What is freedom? What is human? What did you believe as a child, before the world destroyed your most perverse traits?
In order to disrupt the machine, you must first be an expert in it. Hannah and Steven met while studying fashion at LaSalle College in Montreal, where they live now. "It was very technical," Hannah says of their education. "How to pattern-make, how to sew, how to drape, how to draw garments and then be able to create them." Back then, they looked completely different than their polarizing image of today — Hannah had long hair, among many other changes.
Clothing & Bag: Givenchy, Boots: Fecal Matter, Necklace: Vintage Screaming Mimi's
When the couple met, they instantly connected (both creatively and romantically) over their shared frustrations with the fashion industry and society at large. "It was really the first time we felt like we could be ourselves," Steven says. "That connection gave us the confidence to transform into who we wanted to be, and who we always felt we were. It was an eye-opening conversation, because it was like, Oh my god, we both see things the exact same way."
The two transformed their bond into a collaborative platform called Fecal Matter (@matieresfecales), which has since worked to fight luxury fashion's wrongdoings, in terms of sustainability and inclusivity. Their upcycled designs incorporate radical — sometimes controversial — imagery, addressing everything from racism to sexism and queerphobia in an effort to push the boundaries of what's considered beautiful. The name alone is a critical response to the industry's tradition of championing design houses that pump out collections at a rate that's destructive to our environment, that's devoid of truly original thought, and that's, in many ways, comparable to human shit.
"It's always been our dream to infiltrate not just the fashion industry but society."
"Our goal is to have a multi-disciplinary platform where we can express ourselves and present our ideas true to our own terms, and not work for a brand," Steven says, emphasizing the importance of Fecal Matter's independence. "In the beginning, it was difficult because a lot of people didn't understand the name, or why we looked the way we looked. Through social media, we've reached a point where we have a community of people that support us."
There are many vehicles for shaking up the world, but Hannah and Steven argue that style has the potential to have the greatest impact, mostly because it's a universal language that speaks to your identity louder — and more immediately — than words. The tools of fashion and beauty have historically been used to mass-communicate ideals but many working designers today "portray beauty with a very limited point of view," Steven observes.
Which is why Fecal Matter's mission is so rare, using a direct-to-consumer model on mobile marketplace Depop that brings their wildest designs into the hands of their followers — no compromising their creative vision for mainstream appeal, no stressing over business pressures to sell out and, through tactful made-to-order craftsmanship, no unnecessary waste production. "The fashion industry shapes the way people view themselves, so we want people to love themselves no matter what they're seeing," Steven says. "It's always been our dream to infiltrate not just the fashion industry but society and change the way people perceive themselves by presenting alternative versions of what's beautiful."
Fecal Matter's Depop features designs that double as cultural commentary, as underlined by their brand bio, which reads simply in all caps, "PROVOKE SOCIETY." Their designs include one piece that combines two men's dress shirts and examines "how corporations mimic and copy one another for power and funds"; a metal face-harness that pulls the cheeks back to create a permanent pucker — the ideal expression in a post-Instagram landscape; a sheer top with dashes that resemble markings a patient might receive before getting plastic surgery, meant to spotlight "the constant scrutiny we all face by the media and society"; and a unisex bracelet fashioned from a rubber gag mouthpiece, with metal rings and mini buckles.
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Hannah went viral in 2018 for Fecal Matter's $10,000 skin boot that blends into her legs, with exposed toes and a fleshy heel descending from her foot. It was unclear where the shoe started and stopped, like an alienesque extension of her body. Vogue, an outlet that operates as the traditional fashion gatekeeper and represents a system that Fecal Matter has actively worked to dismantle through their designs, took notice. Steven talks about the misperception some might have of how quickly a massive, mainstream platform like Vogue could change the way people think of individuals like Fecal Matter: "You'd assume a platform that has so much power would change the perception of the everyday person, but it doesn't. It's going to take a long time for people to understand what we do, appreciate it and view it as something beautiful or positive."
(On Hannah) Clothing: Rick Owens, Neck Brace & Boots: Fecal Matter (On Steven) Coat: Rick Owens
The sorting between what's "normal" and "not" begins early in life, which is why Hannah and Steven have a special relationship — and fascination — with kids. "I always find that children do not judge because they are too young to understand the norms of society," Hannah says. "It's usually the parents who will cover the eyes of their child. They're the ones reinforcing the fact that a child should be afraid and then take actions upon that."
"Children do not judge because they are too young to understand the norms of society."
Many kids, according to Fecal Matter, are thrilled to see them out on the streets, because they look like all the characters in their favorite fantasy picture books or television series — the fictional heroes and villains of a world that disregards reality altogether. "They laugh, they love it, and it's super cute," Steven says.
(On Hannah) Dress: Erdem, Headpiece & Boots: Fecal Matter (On Steven) Coat & Boots: Rick Owens
A change begins to happen throughout their teens — more judgment, more fear — and "they start to see through the same lens as society, the media and their parents," Steven says. But they don't blame them; when they were their age, they recall feeling the same way. "I was afraid of someone like Marilyn Manson, I was afraid of homeless people, I was afraid of anyone who looked quote-unquote 'dangerous' or anyone who wasn't a part of my existing vocabulary."
While some fears are instinctive and others are learned, many are taught. Hannah and Steven are comfortable with Fecal Matter helping to rewire the world's cultural understanding, even if that means oftentimes being at the center of public scrutiny. "We've been doing this for so long that we've definitely gained a lot of wisdom to understand when somebody's trying to hurt you and when somebody's trying to understand you," Steven says — a nuanced difference that's often grouped together when dealing with fear. "Sometimes they'll do the same things — laugh, throw insults, whatever — but they're trying to cope with their own mind, because we've just shattered their entire bubble of what is reality, what is life."
On the internet, their mission moves even faster, but visibility online comes with similar pitfalls as being unapologetically themselves in the physical world. "We wouldn't have a platform if it wasn't for social media," Hannah admits, although she still describes it as a "sacrifice."
And despite being loud with their style, Hannah and Steven are noticeably shy. "The main reason we document ourselves during the day is because we want to give access to those who aren't able to be themselves," Steven says. "We're a daily reminder that it's possible because they see us every day [on their feeds]."
Dress: Fecal Matter, Gloves & Boots: Rick Owens
Hannah and Steven are often asked for life advice from very young kids ("like 11- and 12-year-olds") whose parents don't know they're following Fecal Matter. "They'll message us saying, 'I really want to dress up, but I'm scared to. How do you guys do it?'" Steven says. "That's ultimately why we're on social media."
Their polarizing popularity, met with as much love as hate both on and offline, has come to define Fecal Matter's experience as artists in the digital age. "We'll be headlining a party [as DJs] and the bouncer doesn't let us in, or we'll miss our Uber driver because he saw what we look like [and drove off]," Steven says. "But we've [also] experienced the fandom aspect of social media, where people go crazy viewing you as non-human and treating you based off how many followers you have. It would definitely lead us on a dark path if we started to pretend that what we're experiencing on social media is real life."
Dress & Boots: Marine Serre, Neck Brace: Fecal Matter
Fecal Matter's Instagram purposefully dramatizes their position as outcasts to better make space for repressed followers. One caption reads, "Just a regular Monday for us," featuring the two in skin heels, an oxygen mask and mermaid-green hair extensions. A smiling, young girl passes by on the street, her mom walking anxiously ahead (50k likes). Another reads, "Taking my cat out for a walk," as Hannah stands naked in towering stripper heels and a transparent PVC dress (50k likes).
"I wish that when I was younger, I could've seen somebody doing something different or expressing themselves so I'd have the courage to do it," Hannah says. "We don't necessarily want you to look like us, with shaved heads and flowers glued to your scalp. All we want to do is show another perspective, otherwise we'd all be looking the same."
Dress & Robe: Vintage Screaming Mimi's, Accessories & Boots: Fecal Matter