Human beings have relied on the innate warmth and coziness of animal skins for ages, and back in the day with sub-zero temperatures swirling about and the threat of snarling, chronically hungry prehistoric animals at every turn, it made sense to make the most of what remained following a heart-throbbing hunt. Despite the eventual creation of a highly profitable industry built around raising creatures for the sole purpose of harvesting their lush coats, the practice is in our current day and age increasingly considered not only inhumane but also entirely unacceptable now that we’ve developed perfectly viable vegan alternatives. Those who are eco-sympathetic may feel that it is wrong to kill an animal and profit from the sale of its skin, but what about recycling perfectly usable critter body parts when random creatures have met their untimely demise underneath cars, as the result of ill-placed power lines or following a mishap with an immaculately clean office building window? As you will see below, there are more than a few fashion designers and their creative (or morbidly?!?) inspired compadres who pursue the darker side of animal recycling in an effort to craft left-of-center fashion statements that purportedly celebrate the lives of those whose candles have burned out well before their time.
It’s one thing to strut your stuff while wearing the skin of a sacrificed alligator or cow, but once you dare to literally hoof it while sporting recognizable body parts or dead-on, fully intact critters…wellllll, let’s just say that that’s where many fashionistas would easily draw the line. German artist Iris Schieferstein has certainly gone where no other creative minded animal recycler has gone before by fashioning what-the-huh? footwear out of hedgehog bodies, once soaring white doves and now dead-as-a-doornail horsie feet. Certainly striking, these inarguably practical fashion staples nonetheless provoke one to declare a piercingly audible, “Neighhhhh!!!!”
Reid Peppard’s RP/ENCORE
Unlike many of her taxidermy contemporaries who fail to clearly identify precisely how they source the subject of their works, Reid Peppard has long been very transparent about using city casualties that have been found rather than hunted. While it’s not surprising that many find her distinctive brand of fashion rather repulsive, the self-confessed vegetarian sees nothing wrong with transforming what would have normally gone to waste into beautiful personal adornments that might potentially have the power to change the general perception of city-dwelling vermin and garden variety rodents. Interestingly, Peppard has commented that many of her naysayers will “wear leather without thinking…eat meat, drive cars that pollute the atmosphere (and) then turn around and say that my taking waste and preserving it is somehow wrong.” Good point. Now who’s this close to buying her pristine white rat carcass coin purse? Hello? Any takers? Rat purse anyone?
For those who experience a serious case of the heebee-jeebies when it comes to the mere mention of the words rat purse, April Hale’s line of roadkill jewelry (with no heads attached) may be just what the doctor ordered. Why must we continue farming conventional forms of fur, anyway? Imagine going cold turkey on the fur industry altogether and instead repurposing the hides of anything that perishes due to natural or city-livin’ causes? There’s certainly a seemingly endless supply… Hale — who also happens to eschew meat — was inspired to pursue this unconventional fashion niche following an unfortunate incident in which a squirrel pulled a deer-in-headlights moment by freeze-framing underneath the tire of her car. She now pays her bills by transforming all manner of flattened critters (house pets excluded) into quirky adornments that celebrate the simple beauty of what we take for granted.
Brits tend to dabble in the quirky side of life (or death as the case may be), but in their defense, they are also far more likely to exercise sustainable behaviors due to a deep-seated eco-awareness that permeates their culture. Scotland-born James Faulkner initially applied his green inclinations on a grand scale by transforming a dearly departed magpie located on the side of the road into a show-stopping headpiece for a friend’s wedding. With ooohs, aaahs and many follow-up orders under his belt, Faulkner soon found himself smack dab in the middle of a dandy little business that allowed him to exercise his artistic inclinations while also honoring his belief in treading lightly on the earth. Stating that he hopes to “maintain the beauty of these creatures” with his hand-crafted millinery, he is opposed to “farming for fashion, which is why (he) sources all of (his) materials as much as possible.”
Fancy a gnarly-looking bird claw, set of critter choppers or a brawny black beak dangling from your neck? Then Lady Lavona is your gal, conjuring up all sorts of beastly anthropomorphic fashion adornments that pay homage to the macabre Victorian-era penchant for recycling bits and pieces of animals bagged in hunting excursions. While she sources some of her inventory straight from 16th – 19th century stockpiles — including vintage animal hoof necklaces and full spreads of miniature fangs — a great deal of what she sells is self-designed, such as her wildly popular crows feet amulets accented with an artful tangle of earth-toned semi-precious jewels. One thing that Lady Lavona wants prospective buyers to know about her collection is that her animal trinkets are legitimately recycled, unlike those of her competitors that “are bred in captivity for the sole purpose of being sold to human consumers…labs, pet stores, etc.” and yet billed as never being killed for the sole purpose of becoming one of their end products.
Judging from current industry statistics, the pork biz is doing oinkingly well — by golly, it’s the top animal-based protein source consumed in America! While the other white meat is deeply entrenched in our food chain, we rarely stop to think about how piggy parts are typically recycled. Aside from the bazillion rawhide ears that man’s best canine friends typically snack on in the span of one year or the potted pig meat wonder that we guiltily fry up in a pan (most commonly known as Spam) — porcine skin is also used in the fashion world…but how about pre-tattooed pig skin accessories? Wackadoodle Belgium artist Wim Delvoye has made this seemingly inhumane concept a very real reality on his Beijing-operated ‘art farm’ (the location specifically chosen due to the lack of animal rights concerns). It is there that he and his staff of master tattoo artists brand live (but fortunately sedated) pigs slowly but surely with all sorts of varied images and then allow them to grow to slaughter weight, tan their skins and then either sell the resulting canvases as art, use them as the foundation for custom fashion accessories or taxidermy entire creatures to sell to well-heeled consumers who think nothing of staring eye-to-eye at their specially ordered critter casualties.
Maximilian’s Pet Shop
Katie Higgs and Ella Kigour — the masterminds behind Maximilian’s Pet Shop — know just how ga-ga we are for our pets, so in a nod to the celebrity trend of dragging petite creatures along with us on mundane shopping excursions, the design team has conceived of a way for mere mortal no-names to do the same while employing a dash of conversation-starting-style. Sure, they have a few designs — such as their burrow friendly rodent accessible sweaters/scarves and bird cage purses — that enable still alive and kicking creatures to see the world with their pet guardians in tow. What is particularly creepy, however, is their Taxidermy Kitty Carrier which, while technically not a fashion accessory per se, still deserves to a place in the annals of extreme eco-fashion since those who are desperately smitten with their departed kittens might feel inclined to show the whole world just how sweet their whiskered face once was (and still is thanks to the modern wonder of well-executed taxidermy). Anyone squirming yet?
Loved To Death
Oh goodness gracious…squirrel paw and bird head jewels?!?! Oh sure, why not! The folks at Loved To Death — who by the way have been very publicly accused of misleading their buyers by claiming that no animals were intentionally killed to create their pieces — made headlines with their instantly heart-sinking Polly-no-longer-want-a-cracker pendant, and with good reason. The instantly recognizable parrot, often found in the homes of many-an-animal-lover, never did anyone wrong aside from randomly chomping down on pokey, chronically inquisitive fingers for no particular reason. Not that such an unwelcome action deserves being beheaded and mounted on a silver-plated shield. Sigh. Parrots of the world…be forewarned.
Julia DeVille’s Disce Mori Collection
‘Learn to Die’ doesn’t sound like a very nice name for a company, and yet Julia DeVille’s appropriately Latin-named taxidermy-based company isn’t billing itself as anything other than being a haven (or fashionista pedestal, if you will) for the preserved bodies and random parts of creatures that have passed over to the other side. The natural born Kiwi who now calls Australia her home intentionally utilizes “symbols of mortality” that have perished au naturel in an effort to inspire wearers to “contemplate their own mortal existence and, in turn, appreciate the significance of life.” The result is a collection of crumpled, bejeweled and tah-dahhh fashion statements that are oddly compelling yet flat-out freaky-deaky…great for the fashion-forward goth enthusiast or been-there-done-that rock star who really wants to get tongues flapping.
Custom Creature Taxidermy
Embracing a ‘waste not, want not’ mentality, wildlife rescue/rehabilitator/conservationist Sarina Brewer — who feels that animals are just as beautiful in death as they were while alive — proudly recycles every single animal body or component that passes through her hands. Typically reincarnating the bodies of creatures with varying circumstances (think roadkill, animals that are deemed as pests, pet trade casualties and discarded cattle), the Science Museum of Minnesota volunteer is an odd breed in that she is not only a self-confessed science nerd but also an artist who creates oil-based paintings, sculptural works and wearable fashion accoutrements. If her $45 grouse foot necklace doesn’t grab you, then her $55 coiled rat tail necklace, preserved raccoon heart or mummified kitten paw earrings surely will. The good news for sustainably-minded consumers is that you can take your eco-purchase one step further by repurposing many Custom Creature Taxidermy jewelry pieces as makeshift back scratchers — hmmm, on second thought, perhaps that extracurricular application might kick your itch into overdrive!