The Genteel
February 26, 2021


LAByrinth - "Wear the wonders of the world.  We shape the things we build, thereafter, they shape us. Create with responsibility." (Photograph courtesy of LAByrinth)

It may seem as though we choose what to wear based on our physical traits that are the result of the expression of certain genes, for example, to bring out our eye colour or to accentuate our body shape. And our charisma and intrinsic values motivate us to use fashion as a self-expressive medium to communicate our distinct personalities. It may seem as if these factors are mutually exclusive, but a unique fashion line dares us to look beyond the surface and explore the affective relationship between nature and nurture. 

LAByrinth is a biotech fashion brand founded by Canadian-born Chinese designer, Elaine Young. The "LAB" represents the scientific component of the project and "labyrinth" represents the artistic aspect of the communications studio. Inspired by the life sciences and the transformative power of technology, Young uses DNA samples and microscopic images as the main design elements of her two product lines.  

With AMULA DNA Jewellery, Young considers the historical role of jewellery "to declare one's identity and belief" and to bring "one closer to something or someone" - in LAByrinth's case, to bring people closer to science. AMULA DNA is a line of 21st century lockets, where instead of opening them to reveal a photograph (or a lock of hair), these highly personalised keepsakes contain the crystallised DNA of a person, plant or animal of choice, suspended in a miniature glass vial. All necklaces are made to order and the process of taking a sample from a loved one or pet is made easy by simply brushing the inside of the cheek with a buccal swab. LAByrinth works together with Hong Kong-based biotechnology company, Hai Kang Life, to process and certify the DNA.

AMULA DNA Jewellery, Palm -
two necklaces that magnetize
to become a whole

Within the AMULA collection, a special series called Map the Future features the synthesised DNA of plants and animals specially selected for their symbolic richness or status as endangered species (such as the reindeer, white tiger, panda, and butterflies). Each collectible item is delivered with a booklet of facts including the species' cultural, spiritual and genetic histories as well as the current status of their survival. A percentage of the proceeds are donated to conservation programs dedicated to the featured plant or animal. Map the Future symbolises the importance of preserving biodiversity to ensure that the world's richness can be enjoyed by future generations.

HOST - referring to a living organism or cell in/on which another lives/feeds - is LAByrinth's line of original graphics, clothing, bags and accessories, made from images taken with advanced imaging technologies. Vibrant and electric colours accentuate the intense beauty and microscopic intricacies of organisms such as the Honey Bee, the Flea, and the Eye. Exposing a world beyond our natural visual capabilities, HOST represents how all living organisms survive - on intimately symbiotic and co-dependant relationships.

By exhibiting the beauty of an organism's DNA in the material form of a pendant or magnifying what is invisible to the naked eye, each of these hand-crafted pieces are definite conversation starters. Young's objectives are fulfilled when simple questions like "What is inside your necklace?" or "Where does this image come from?" spark dialogue about science, technology, the spirit of invention and how they all fit together.

HOST, Aurora - digitally printed 100% silk
chiffon (Photograph courtesy of LAByrinth).

In an interview with The Creators Project, Young said, "What is disconcerting now is that 'who we are' is being challenged by a small group of people with very specialised knowledge who are making big decisions and claims that will affect everyone. From food to healthcare, the environment and birth, biotechnology has the potential to alter who we are at the molecular level, and there are no guarantees as to what may or may not happen. So LAByrinth is my way of reminding people to not take those things that we can and cannot see (for whatever reason) for granted."

As LAByrinth invites us to "wear the wonders of the invisible world," we are challenged to reconsider the significance of the things we cannot see and to look beyond our own physical limits, perspective, and understanding. Inspired by the effects of technology in creating massive shifts in reshaping the way we live and relate to the world, Young uses her observations to provoke us to ponder and appreciate how science and technology help us to better understand who we are as human beings, our relationship with our environment, and our relationships with each other. Nature inspires how we nurture and the way we nurture will be reflected in nature, so create with consciousness.

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