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Ahimsa silk organza garment featuring spun glass and wild rubber embellishment, 2018


While the use of animal materials in contemporary fashion was fervently debated during the period of this research study, fur and exotic animal materials (such as feathers and reptile skins) remained appealing resources in the creation of fashion embellishment. The researcher’s prior experience working for fashion brands which incorporated fur and exotic animal materials was that existing imitations did not encompass the decorative qualities and appeals associated with high fashion. Embellishment alternatives to fur and exotic animal materials had not previously been documented through research.

Applying the researcher’s skills and tacit knowledge as a fashion textile designer, the aim of this practice research was to develop non-animal textile embellishment alternatives to fur and exotic animal materials. This was achieved by determining the design appeals of fur and exotic animal materials as decorative embellishment, and through the implementation of an unusual range of materials and experimental textile embellishment processes to create samples and artefacts. The researcher articulates embellishment as being hand manipulated textiles and additive elements with the broad aim of decoration.

An inductive, reflective practice technique was implemented in order to gain new knowledge through the successes and failures of alternative textile embellishment sampling. The practice was informed through historic archival research and engagement with industries associated with the contemporary use of fur and exotic animal materials. Furthermore, through discovering inspiring exotic animal species in the Amazon Rainforest which further informed practice developments, and by creating artefacts which were disseminated in exhibitions, including the ‘Fashioned from Nature’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum (2018-2019).  As part of research dissemination, a practical workshop with students from London College of Fashion was also created which inspired reflections on future embellishment in view of the appeals of fur and exotic animal materials.

This thesis contributes to knowledge through the development of two novel embellishment techniques developed and documented by the researcher: ‘Adapted wig making with embroidery’ and ‘threading rubber.’ In addition, this research maps values relating to the designer appeals of fur and exotic animal materials, an area the researcher evidences as being under explored. This research therefore leads primarily to new understandings about approaches to textile embellishment practice, and aims to inspire fashion and textile design practitioners to consider the use of creative alternatives to animal materials. For academics and industry, the value lies in further developing fashion textile design research methods and the challenges of emergent issues in contemporary society. The final presentation is a written and illustrated thesis with embellishment samples, determining a range of alternative materials and textile embellishment processes.