For London’s most intrepid fashionistas the go-to shop for the next big frock isn’t Vivienne Westwood or Harrods. Instead they are heading to Jazmine Miles-Long’s taxidermy studio.
In an unlikely merger of fashion and taxidermy, a craft that uses scalpels, toe probes, and brain spoons, is attracting chic women in London who want their sundresses and throw pillows patterned with taxidermic finches, plovers, crows, foxes, and lambs.
These days the qualities that make taxidermy appeal to naturalists—a love of wildlife and the beauty of organic forms—also appeals to stylists and cool-hunters whose outlook is more Victorian wonder (animals as exotica) than creepy (props in Psycho and Dracula). “I love animals and appreciate them,” said Miles-Long, who calls herself an ethical taxidermist because she will only preserve creatures that have died naturally or in an accident: birds that have flown into a window or became a cat’s lunch or are road kill. “It’s the only way I can be comfortable doing taxidermy.”
Or it was, until she met illustrator Lilli Cowley-Wood (above, seated) last year and they decided to channel their mutual love of British wildlife into what they call their Taxidermy Textiles, a line of clothing, totes, and house wares. Miles-Long’s desire to make dead animals look peaceful again appealed to Cowley-Wood, who was raised by a pet-obsessed mother who filled the family home with hedgehogs, parrots, dogs, cats, bats, and ducklings that she had adopted from the animal shelter where she worked. Cowley-Wood’s illustrations, which resemble pen-and-ink drawings, are sketched from Miles-Long’s taxidermy, and are hand-printed onto cotton drill and canvas fabrics.
Nothing in the line is as over-the-top as Icelandic singer Bjork’s infamous swan dress that she wore to the 2001 Academy Awards. The Pink Dress (worn by Miles-Long, above) is hand-printed with lambs and finches and has ribbon straps that crisscross in back. The Sea Bird totes and throw pillows are adorned with terns and plovers and other avian beachcombers. A few custom items, however, such a fabric-lined box, come with actual pheasants or a fox, lovingly preserved by Miles-Long. Though taxidermists themselves appear unwilling of late to relinquish their denim aprons, tail-splitters, and Cabela’s caps for satin-trim, hip online retailers like Supermarket Sarah’s in London are smitten.
To purchase: http://www.supermarketsarah.com/wall.php?wall=72
Melissa Milgrom is the author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy, reviewed in Audubon's May-June 2011 issue.