The Profound Subversiveness of Zombie Boy

The Profound Subversiveness of Zombie Boy

The heavily tattooed male model was a living effigy of nonconforming.

The heavily tattooed male model was a living effigy of nonconforming.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

When Rick Genest, the model and body-modification zealot who reportedly passed away at 32 yesterday by suicide, emerged on the scene in the late aughts, he cast a potent albeit brief spell over the fashion industry. He resembled something out of a dream, his skin etched in a global sheath of ink. Rendered in x-ray-like detail, his tattoo mapped the anatomy of the human body—ironically obscuring Genest’s God-given form.

Despite his extreme appearance, Genest became an unlikely darling of the fashion industry—one not known for rewarding extreme difference. While literally performing in sideshow acts back in Canada, Genest caught the eye of then-Lady Gaga stylist Nicola Formichetti, who cast him in her “Born This Way” video. Genest, who became known as Zombie Boy, later appeared in Formichetti’s 2011 Fall/Winter ready-to-wear collection for Mugler—singlehandedly embodying the campaign’s theme, “Anatomy of Change,” and inspiring a video that featured Lady Gaga’s theatrical ode to self-expression “Scheiße."

With his boundary-pushing, hyper-macabre look, Genest was a walking, talking talisman—like an Alexander McQueen skull come to life. He went on to inspire the still-epic, decidedly NSFW Steven Klein shoot for Arena Homme, “Anatomy of a Murder,” and remained a friend of Formichetti’s into the designer’s poppier solo venture Nicopanda (though whether or not he inspired those “zombiepanda” rings remains uncertain).

Given his uncanny stamp on the fashion industry, it’s no wonder that Genest’s passing sparked an outpouring from the likes of Lady Gaga, Formichetti and more. But despite being one of fashion's most distinctive muses, Genest’s untimely death highlights the importance of being seen.

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