by Emily Spivack and Christina Badal
“What do Michael Jackson, King Tut and Leonardo da Vinci have in common? A penchant for sequins.” So began the December 2012 article Emily Spivack wrote for Threaded, the clothing history blog she created for the Smithsonian, in which she explored the cultural history of the shiny little disk.
Yes, King Tut was buried wearing gold disk-encrusted garments to provide him with wealth in the afterlife. Michael Jackson did wear sequins to meet the President of the United States of America in 1984. Sequins were made from the same ingredient used to make Jello. And they are plastered all over everything from Ugg boots to cotton t-shirts. Most noteworthy, though, was the sketch Emily stumbled upon on WikiMedia Commons entitled “Device for Making Sequins,” which was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci.
Even in the 15th century, wealth was displayed by wearing clothes that were shiny, reflected light, and grabbed attention. The sequin’s symbolic association with glamour, brilliance and luster represented a desire for power. That’s why the influential Milanese Sforza family likely commissioned Leonardo’s sketch. Bling has been around for centuries and sequins were just one manifestation.
The Sequin Project translates Leonardo’s sketch into a never-before-made machine that will produce sequins. In the process of interpreting the sketch and constructing a working version available for public use, the object, and the discrete, identical units it produces, will explore the sequin’s transition from prized object to a commonplace thing, juxtaposing durability with ephemerality; homogeneity with individuality; accessibility with exclusivity. Through the sequin’s dilution of cultural value, a new currency has emerged.