On a boiling August day, I meet MA Textile Futures graduate Amielia Katze in one of High Barnet’s lively cafés. A few gory details about her project excited me for our rendezvous. A smile as warm as the weather greets us; we lounge on a not-yet-decaying chocolate Chesterfield sofa and glance at the menu. “Ha, this sounds like an interesting dish category: a mind body spirit experience.” I say, quasi-joking, only realising a second later I’m meeting a woman with a good sense of sarcasm when she earnestly claims: “That might be necessary after showing my project”.
After watching Kevin McCloud’s A Man-Made Home, Katze stunningly discovered that deer cullers have no use for the skins after a deer has been killed. With conservation, and recycling being the watchwords of the twenty-first century, the belief of not wasting whatever we kill played a big role in the genesis of a small fashion project-turned-huge fashion adventure, in the outskirts of London. After mashing deer brains and contracting salmonella, Amielia met her business partner whilst sky-diving, and is set to launch her own brand soon…
Did you actually nearly die?
I got salmonella and couldn’t figure out how to get to a hospital. I didn’t eat for six days and was just so ill, I can’t even describe it. I lost so much weight- maybe this idea should be introduced to Weightwatchers. The first thing my tutors said when they heard it was: “Brilliant, how has the relationship between you and the project changed?” [laughs] “Well, they killed the deer, and now it tried to kill me…”
Deer cullers don’t do anything with skin, they take the meat and sell it to farms, because obviously they’ve got a big… deer fetish there [laughs] and literally throw the rest away. I’m not one of these hippies, I just appreciate when something lives, and you’re gonna kill it: use it all. With all the toxic waste that we have now, all [of the] plastic and pollution, it just seems stupid just to throw leather away.
When I got to the cullers’ place, they had already skinned the animals, for which I was kind of thankful…
Exerpt from the small book she wrote, ‘Project Bambi’: “Then he took me to the storage bin. Chris hesitated and said that it might smell a bit when he raised the lid. I told him I had a strong stomach.
He opened the lid. The stench that instantly flooded the room was so strong that I could taste it. I almost threw up. Then I saw the elegant slender deer head, its beautiful black eyes staring sightlessly at me.”
I decided to take the head, together with four skins. Back on the train, the antler kept poking out of my bag and I had to hold it back with my foot, thinking “oh god, I’m gonna piss everybody off.”
What if you’d actually have died?
Well I would be famous, wouldn’t I?
We briefly talk about the process of removing the fur from the skins (with hydrated lime and water solution), scraping flesh off with a rusty little vegetable knife, removing countless ticks and mashing the brain with a plastic fork (as to naturally tan the hides with).
All of it was done in the backyard, bordering a big park where lots of people stroll around with their dogs. Often I resembled the Fenton video. It must have been the stench of deer that had become my natural odour. Dogs loved me, in fact, they were my only friends for about five weeks. It got a bit lonely when working with my deer; Bambi wasn’t very chatty.
When I finished making leather, my tutors said, “Great. What’s next?”
I made tools from the leftovers of the deer’s body. Jawbone was turned into a knife; the metal workshop assistant made a vile from scratch, teeth were casted in the jewellery department (in the old days they used to chew leather to make it soft, and because I had already salmonella from scraping the leather I thought “there’s no way that’s going near my mouth”), and put into little tooth hammers. I used the antler to make a bodkin to pierce the leather. It’s a part of the project to make people aware that there can still be use in the things we throw away. I used my leather, which is not what one expects of deer leather (quite stiff and dark, partly of experiments and mistakes) to make a wrap to house my tools. After that, I decided to make a few user-friendly items, such as a cardholder, a coin pouch and a bookmark.
At this point [having real leather product] after all of these months of work, it just looked like a dead deer. I was really miserable.
So when you see this [pointing at tool wrap], you think about dead deer?
Yes- and [it’s] flesh side. I know that is the flesh side. It just brings back the salmonella.
… which obviously would’ve meant that the business side of things would’ve gone to pot- you know, being dead and all. Tell me about the business aspect of your work.
I met my business partner, Paul Rigby, whilst skydiving. He is an actual engineer, doing air traffic control systems. He asked me, “What are you doing after this? Because, I love your stuff and I really want to have a new challenge. Do you fancy going into business together?” And I was like, “You know what, why not?”
He is so business minded, it’s amazing, because I am a typical artist. You know how we work: a bit here, a bit there, and he’s like, “well how’s that going to work in production? What’s your strategy?” and I’m like, “I don’t know! [laughs] Work it out!”. He’s the MD [managing director], and I am the creative director, so anything that’s a bit too managerial for me, I respond with, “sorry I am the creative director”. We’re at the stage of business plans now, which is horrific…
We’ve just designed the logo, had meetings with banks, we bought drying racks, painted floors; we’ve got all the anti-bacteria in the world now, aprons, (fibre) masks, goggles, hairnets. The deer are ready to come. We are not paying for them- just using cullers’ waste. All around Hampshire, companies are offering their skins. It’s all about using waste, as opposed to producing waste, and getting rid of any chemicals at all. For example, we will use wood ash from stone-bake pizzerias instead of hydrated lime.
The goal is to have a shop in London and do the messy work in Hampshire. In two and a half months time [November 2013] there will be a product to be sold. We aim for consumer friendly leather goods with a lifetime guarantee, although characteristics might change. We have got a few customers already. We have already got an order for mouse leather.
Why textile futures at CSM?
After my three years weaving BA (Woven textile designs at Winchester School of Art) and 28k of debt, I realized I wasn’t a weaver. There were two options. I would join the regular army as an officer, but I also felt like my portfolio didn’t really represent me very well.
Textile futures looked so broad, and when you’ve done something that’s so narrow like weaving (which was amazing), you’re immediately sold when someone says “you can do anything you want“.
Caroline Till (course leader) is a tough love kind of teacher. At Winchester School of Art, they tell you how wonderful your work is, but your marks don’t reflect it. At Saint Martins they would never do that. Although really hard to take sometimes, you appreciate it. I would not have gotten where I am now, and trying to set up my own business had it not been for them really pushing you to the limits. [/twocol_one_last]Of course there are tears, and I thought that my hair was going to fall out, the stress was immense, but not everyone has a masters and there’s a reason for that.