Mr Wood’s winged creatures and the rise of taxidermy fashion
A popular staple of Victoriana, the use of stuffed and preserved animals in art and fashion has seen a huge increase in popularity in the last twenty years. Taxidermy fashion although no-longer confined to a gothic setting, these pieces have a certain morbid charm that tends to turn heads and spark controversy.
Since Damien Hirst first pickled a cow and Alexander McQueen introduced crocodile heads and vulture skulls into some of his most celebrated creations, the unapologetic use of animal products, though never quite reaching mainstream acceptability, has become a far less unusual sight. Unlike the less overt use of fur in fashion, taxidermy flaunts its animal origins and wears notions of death and decay on its sleeve.
Stylenoir caught up with taxidermist and milliner Loren Wood to talk about ethics, outrage and wearing his wings on his head.
“”I have always had an acute interest in zoology, particularly Ornithology. I have always considered my work as a ready-to-wear zoological specimens that you would find in a natural history museum. My work sympathetically celebrates the life and beauty of the animal kingdom.” Wood fell into millinery almost by accident. Word-of-mouth acclaim for his final college project led to an invitation to design and make hats for a show at London Fashion Week ‘09. Model Cecilia Lundqvist made a dramatic entrance, striding onto the catwalk for House of Blue Eyes wearing only a pair of Terry De Havilland shoes and one of Wood’s Raven wing hats, throwing his furry and feathered creations into the spotlight.
“Utilizing animals in this way is not a new concept, using real birds and animals in millinery reached its peak in during the Edwardian era, a time in which opulence addicted women wore giant hats adorned with a menagerie of tropical birds and foreign beasties. I source much of my inspiration from such by-gone eras and my work pays homage to this.”
As with many artists who use animal products in their work, Wood is used to people’s curious and sometimes rather hostile reactions to his craft, “One of the first questions people ask is how and where I source the animals. I receive anonymous donations from zoos and animal sanctuaries which enables me to acquire rare and unusual specimens and as I live in the west country, I have a steady supply of animals that have been shot during season or as a result of pest control which would have otherwise been discarded.” The rise in popularity in taxidermy has led to a renewed interest in the skill, with many individuals turning to Youtube tutorials and websites to learn how to do it for themselves “Ebay has become a good source to buy frozen specimens though I am not comfortable purchasing wild animals as I fear it will create a new era of ‘bodysnatchers’, it may encourage people to kill animals with the sole purchase to sell them to people who require them.” Some artists who do not have access to donations use remains found by roadsides to ensure that they are not supporting animal cruelty in sourcing their materials, “Many “Road kill” fashion designers claim that they only use road kill to justify using animals as they are not confident enough to declare they source animals that have been killed purposely. Sourcing road kill is very unpredictable and unreliable and it’s rare to come across a specimen in a usable condition especially in the summer months. I have no qualms using animals that have been killed just as long as they haven’t been killed exclusively for my work.”
As someone with a deep interest and passion for the animal kingdom, Wood rebuffs accusations that his work in any way promotes the mistreatment of animals, “I find (it) offensive as this suggests I lack any respect for animals or the environment. My work is sometimes compared to the meat and fur industry which I consider ignorant as unlike those industries, my work is morally and ethically secure. I do not sell my work commercially and my work is placed within an artistic context therefore it doesn’t support current trends or promote future trends of using (or wearing) animals for fashion.”
Following extensive use of bird-wings in his millinery, Wood has since moved to more creative and unusual techniques, including whole heads of birds. Recently he has begun to make use of reptiles, creating a head-piece involving a bearded dragon. His recent work has drawn inspiration from the period when taxidermy was at its height of popularity, “My recent collection was inspired by the Edwardian/Victorian cross over period and all the political issues at the time, mainly the fall of the upper classes. For my current pieces, I have been inspired by Victorian Scottish artist James Hardy Jr, he specialised in painting still life that included dead game. I recently purchases a huge lot of dead game off eBay so I decided to create a series of hats that are made of taxidermy game that are positioned to look as if they are dead (even though they are dead)”
So will taxidermy ever truly enter the mainstream, or will it always tread the line between the beautiful and the macabre, whilst getting PETA supports hot and bothered? “I believe I will always do taxidermy as it’s my hobby, I do do traditional taxidermy that I use as decoration within my house. As my work is very niche and many consider it Avant Garde, it makes it difficult to find a practical way of making it profitable as it’s far from commercial. For the time being, I’m enjoying the doors its opening.”
See more of Mr Wood’s Millinery here.
Photography – Matthew Whalstead
Styling – Ruined Lou
Model – Hazel Scott-Somme