This article was originally submitted on the 28th March
Final year fashion student at ECA Isabelle Taylor, she/her, @is4belle.t, is working towards their graduate collection, on show in London Fashion Week June 2022.
In my quest to be sustainable and innovative, whilst taking advantage of the natural resources available in the coastal city of Edinburgh, I am using the bi-product – salmon skins- for my fabric. I stumbled across Eddie’s Edinburgh when I moved to Marchmont a year ago. I would always see a little queue outside, even when the streets were bare and wondered why it seemed so popular. One day, on the way back from a long day at the studio I popped my head in and saw an array of the most stunning fresh fish. I asked if there were any discarded skins I could take home to experiment with and I have been back regularly since then, to explore the potential of this incredible textile. The team has been so incredibly supportive towards me by freezing the skins until my collection to keep fresh. In my practice, I have used the fish skin to create tiles of the fish leather that are sewed onto fabric to create patterns. This uses the natural gradient of the fish skin to create an illusion print, cutting the fish leather in polygon shapes to achieve this.
In fashion it is important to know where you are sourcing your fabrics as it reflects one’s design practice. Therefore, it has been such a pleasure to source my fish skins from Eddie’s as they are exceptional in terms of quality and sustainability: their salmon is from Loch Duart which is world-leading in terms of their quality and welfare and the tuna is caught with line and pole. The fish they sell is in fact sashimi grade, so when I am handling the skins, it does not seem gross, but instead feels like a beautiful, sleek textile.
I have always had a fascination with fish as I grew up in a family which encouraged snorkeling in the sea as opposed to sunbathing next to it. For the majority of my art projects since IGCSE I have studied fish both dead and alive, using my love for underwater photography to inform oil paintings and drawings. It seems fitting that now I have specialised in fashion, I am using waste fish skins for clothing.
Fish out of water: after seeing fish leather at a fashion student’s graduation collection long ago, I was excited to try this textile medium myself to help bring it back into the industry. After some research, I discovered that fish leather clothing is a key part of the culture involved in indigenous groups such as the Nivkh people, living in the lower regions of the Amur River. Using internet sources as a guide, in addition to a large amount of experimentation, I came up with my own fish leather preparation method. This involves descaling and fleshing the skins using a knife. I then submerge the skins in bicarbonate of soda and apple cider vinegar, creating a natural bleach to clean the skins. I then use a variety of different natural plants that contain ‘tannins’ which are essential to stop the skins from smelling and disintegrating fast. For example, witch hazel, black tea, and beetroot are a few of my favorites to use. I then wait a few days treating the skins in various solutions before draping them over objects that I want the skins to mold to, like a mannequin, for example, to create a body-fitting garment. When dry, the skins create a translucent, light structure that holds its shape strongly, whilst being thin and light. If treated properly, the fish leather is odourless.
My graduate collection is to illuminate my fishy sculptural forms with programmed LEDs. Once illuminated, the skins reveal an unearthly textile, highlighting a natural gradient and texture.
Images Courtesy of Isabelle Taylor