These days, unless you want a tofu pie to the face, you might want to think carefully before answering ‘yes’ to the question “Is that real mink?”
Indeed, the use of fur in fashion has always been a debate to guarantee (quite literally) the sharpening of claws on both sides of the moral argument. Anna Wintour has fiercely defended the use of fur since putting it on the cover of Vogue in the 1990’s, whilst PETA demonstrators screaming ‘Murder’ have continued to be a Fashion Week staple each year. It is a ‘moral dilemma’ that many a fashionista will struggle with, and one that many will no doubt forget fairly quickly at the sight of a Burberry Prorsum fur trimmed coat!
However, incorporating animal fibers into her work has been a practice adopted by Philadelphia designer Beth Beverly ever since she can remember and now this licensed taxidermist and founder of Diamond Tooth Taxidermy is taking the debate in a different direction with her striking headpieces that incorporate preserved chicken heads, bunny rabbits and pheasants.
Even though she ensures that her specimen are sourced ethically and humanely she holds ‘no judgement for others who have a different set of values when it comes to the food chain’. Here she tells us about her love of animals, her love of clothes and how working so closely with the two generates an ‘appreciation for the food that winds up on your plate’. Which goes to prove that the fur debate is far from being merely black or white, perhaps being closer to a shade of mink…
Taxidermy seems an unusual career choice! Where did the fascination begin and how did you get started?
I’ve always incorporated animal fibers into my work; the earliest I can recall is painting mother-of-pearl shells from the beach and stringing bunches together to wear as earrings. I couldn’t resist any feather whose path I crossed; everything went in my little Oshkosh B’Gosh pockets and was used in some crafty item or another. When I started working a job in the city center, I began to notice birds on the sidewalk, dead from the impact of having flown into the tall office buildings. It only felt natural to scoop them up and take them home; learn how to preserve their beauty.
Where did you study and what did you get from that study experience?
After dabbling in it for ten years, it became clear to me that this taxidermy thing wasn’t just a whim, so I enrolled in Bill Allen’s Pocono Institute of Taxidermy. It was a two month long 8 hour/day course that required me to live temporarily in the mountains because of the distance from my home in Philadelphia. I It was a rewarding experience, basically putting my own life on pause and immersing myself in a completely foreign situation.
What are your ethical considerations when working with the animals??
I understand and appreciate the fact that my sheer existence/lifestyle comes at a price, and sometimes that price is the lives of other living creatures. For this, I am thankful and move throughout my day with an awareness I wouldn’t trade for all the blissful ignorance in the world. Plus, I love animals, I really do. I wouldn’t have gotten into taxidermy if that weren’t the case. My work in the field of taxidermy has brought me in touch with hunters and butchers alike, and through my interactions with these folks I have gained an appreciation for the food that winds up on my plate, an appreciation I never had as a child. When I’ve met the animal whose life was extinguished to feed myself (or my cats), I value the meat so much more. The responsibility of using each part to its fullest weighs so much heavier on me than if I’d bought some prepackaged beef from the market. All I know is what’s right for me, and if I’ve learned anything in my 33 years on this earth it’s that the no two people should be expected to share the exact same moral compass.
How did you and fashion first ‘meet’ and how did you turn taxidermy into wearable pieces?
I basically sashayed out of the womb covered in fur. Well, actually it was my own hair- I looked like a monkey, apparently, but I’d like to think that set the wheels in motion for a lifelong obsession with What To Wear. To me, expressing oneself through fashion is non-negotiable. I can’t NOT be aware of what I’m wearing. People and their bodies make sense. It seems only natural to me to make pieces that can be worn, and head pieces are the most practical way to execute this.
Your biggest inspirations in terms of your designs?
I’m all about eye candy. Conceptual design eludes me. Perhaps I was a starling in a past life, because if it sparkles, it holds my interest. Provocative shapes, eye-catching colors, and shiny things. That’s what inspires me. These elements come together for me best in the various headdresses of women who dance for ceremonies, from Turkey to India to Thailand and Russia. I like that they incorporate sound (bells, jangles, chimes) into their costumes as well. This is something I’m currently exploring.
Your current obsession?
A fact about yourself that not many people know?
I am missing two vertebrae in my lower back as a result of a drastic surgery which makes my torso freakishly short. I have two sizable scars from the operation and when folks ask what happened I tell them its from the separation procedure I went through with my conjoined twin. Am I spinning yarns? Maybe…maybe not.
Your favourite era for design and why?
Hands down the “siècle des Lumières” in which Marie Antoinette reigned supreme. Dressing oneself was such a ritual, and of utmost importance. More sparkles, more volume, more sheen, MORE! And none of it was cheap. Everything was custom made, hand crafted, and took as long as needed to be created. If something was imported from China, it was a luxury. I’m honestly disgusted by how little people care about their appearance and where their clothes even come from these days.
Your favourite piece that you have designed?
If my house were burning down and I could grab one piece, it would be my Montera with Chicken Head. That hat kind of came together in a weird spurt of mindless creativity, and I think shes beautiful. I catch a decent amount of flack from folks about chicken heads being ugly, and a turn off, but I think this item illustrates how beautiful they can be. Oh, and I’d grab my Starling Amish Bonnet because I have two hands and it’s my fantasy so I can do whatever I want.
A few likes and a few dislikes in terms of design and style aesthetic?
What irritates me and always has is mediocrity, thoughtlessness, and the trickle down dipshit crap being mass produced in China and funnelled into every mall in America. Basically, the attitude of cheap. I like: people who dress for themselves, and with gusto. Plus, I’m forever a sucker for a man with cuff links.
What do you get up to when you are not designing? what else do you like doing?
I am also an aerialist and I perform with a hoop, or lyra. I don’t get too much paid work from it but I enjoy just spinning around and teaching myself moves in a warehouse, suspended from a forty foot high ceiling. It’s a delightful form of expression. Also I’ve been spending Sundays with some of my best gals sipping champagne.
How has social media affected your business? Which platforms do you use?
Social media is everything for me right now. I’m still flailing around online, but if it weren’t for my blog, I’d be in the dark. Also, as resistant as I was to join the twitter parade, it’s not what I feared it was. It’s what you make of it, and I found a great bunch of folks to follow and expose me to new things.
Plans for the future?
I’m currently just embarked on a project I call 20 for 20, in which I send “fan mail” to twenty people I’ve never met, but am inspired/influenced by. It’s bringing out some insecurities I have about being perceived as a stalker; trying to get these addresses!
Also I’m working on my second “pet” project, the beloved cat of my best client.
In the coming months I’d like to springboard myself to a financial position in which I’m able to afford renting a storefront/studio space outside of my home. It’s getting crowded in here.
Your tombstone will read…?
I plan on living into my 120s so I may be the last one standing. But, once I got a fortune from a coin-operated gypsy on the boardwalk which said “You are basically a good person”. I think that kind of says it all.
Stocked at: Diamond Tooth Taxidermy