Julia DeVille Dressing the Dead


Written by Siobhan Morrin
31 Monday 31st January 2011

For some designers, notably Alexander McQueen, the skull emblem is not something to be feared. This season, skulls, bones and other memento mori elements have crept into various catwalks, possibly as a consequence of McQueen's sad passing.

It can be as subtle as a bony charm on a bracelet, or as dramatic as a whole wearable dead animal, as in some of Julia deVille's work. We got in touch to find out more about her intriguing mix of taxidermy and jewellery.

How did you get into the Memento Mori concept?
I spent my jewellery education researching jewellery of the past. Memento Mori and Victorian mourning jewellery both caught my attention. The ideas, aesthetics and symbolism used in these styles really resonated with my own ideas about death. I was already working in taxidermy so I saw my own work as a “Memento Mori” and began developing my own ideas and taking inspiration from the concepts of the past. 
When do you see you pieces being worn and by whom?
I really make my work for myself. I just make things I like and would want to wear or have in my house. I’m just fortunate that other people seem to like them too.
I find the idea of designing with a “target market” in mind, dishonest. The only way I can create is in a very organic and free way.
In regards to the people that do buy my work – it is so varied I cannot describe my typical client. I have everything from conservative older women wearing my work to younger gothic kids and everything in between.
Death can be quite an upsetting subject, and some might find these kind of pieces slightly morbid . How do you respond to that kind of reaction? How do you feel about death?
I use death as a tool to accentuate life. If we can accept our mortality, we can in turn, appreciate the significance of life – not just our own but of all living things.
I agree my aesthetic maybe dark or morbid but my message is anything but. Life and death are one in the same. You cannot separate them.
Have you noticed an increased interest in taxidermy and the use of memento mori recently?
Yes! When I first got into taxidermy about 13 years ago most people though I was quite odd. The topic was often a conversation stopper. Now every cool bar and shop has a piece of taxidermy and there are many artists working in the medium. In a way it can be annoying to feel like something that was my own little eccentricity is now a fashion trend but it is good for business….
Your materials are pretty unusual - like the kingfisher wing, above. Where do you get them?
I’m a vegetarian (basically vegan) and an animal rights activist so all creatures used have died of natural causes. I get a lot of donations from friends and strangers that have heard about my work. I am very dependant on my donors as I cannot find enough specimens on my own.
Julia deVille's pieces are available in Coco de Mer in London. See her website for more details.

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