FASHION FOR MINKS
words Weronika Pérez Borjas / photos Per Lundström
Cafe City Konditoriet on the top of the City Church is a hidden pearl in the middle of the daily buzz of Stockholm’s centre. This classy spot charms with its old-fashioned atmosphere encapsulated by the fin de siècle armchairs and chandeliers under the golden-corniced ceilings.
The visitors differ from the usual Stockholm hipster crowd, and impeccable ladies in their 80s chat next to young couples or devoted chess players. In the middle of this little universe I spot a blond girl sharing her cup of tea with a little stuffed animal. I recognize Emili Nilsson, the author of the most whimsical and fun fashion project I have stumbled upon – Fashion for Minks. Together with one of her furry friends we share a chat interrupted only by repeated waves of uncontrolled laughter and some curious looks from the other visitors.
Could you please start by introducing me to the Mink herself and explaining what this project is all about?
I took the Mink with me so that you can see how they really look, and understand more about how the whole Fashion for Minks idea was born.
It all started one day in Paris, where I was working as a costume designer for an independent theatre. We were on a tight budget and I needed to chase all the necessary clothes at flea markets. And there they were, abandoned in a bargain basket – a dozen furry minks, the kind the ladies would wrap around their necks. I just needed to take them home.
Did you feel pity for the little animals?
I wanted to give them a chance for revenge! It felt morally wrong that they used to be living animals, that they had been killed just to be converted into status symbols for humans and then they were disposed of like rubbish. I have always been interested in this double morality we have towards animals. We judge them differently, depending on what they look like, what genre or pedigree they belong to. That is why I wanted to give them a new place by creating fashion collections for minks and using them as models in their own look book. They got a new, glamorous fashion life.
That seems like a very twisted comment on fashion and clothes as such. The animal, that becomes a clothing piece, just to be used and thrown away, now is becoming a person and wearing clothes herself…
Yes, it is like a circle of life. But it is still a very human circuit. We people have influenced nature and everything that we have around us. It is impossible to escape this influence and the double morality we have towards nature. That is why even if I gave my minks a new life, I have still done it from my human perspective.
A living mink is quite aggressive and I don’t think she would like to wear clothes at all. But Fashion for Minks is also made with a lot of humour. Of course I cannot read the thoughts of a living mink, so I become a bit of a puppet-master. Still, I do it to give them some personality and bring attention to what they represent.
How is the process of preparing a collection for such a special customer?
First of all I need to take care of the minks themselves. Most of them come from the 50s, some even the 30s and 40s, so they are in quite bad condition. Like the one here, they might have lost a paw or two, so I stitched a new one for them. Some of them cannot be used as models anymore.
When it comes to clothes, I started with knitting but soon moved to other materials. Preparing a new season, my process is very similar to working on a real collection. I browse through magazines and find inspiring images and colour combinations. Then I prepare textile samples, which I dye myself. When I have decided the palette, I start sketching and making a mood board. The last step is drawing a pattern, and it is also a quite tricky one. In the beginning it was a lot of learning by doing, since it is very different to sew in such a small scale. The proportions are unlike normal clothing and the whole process of turning the pattern around while sewing is quite challenging.
I try to choose natural and sustainable materials. They are easily dyed and give a nice touch to the design. I think of Fashion for Minks as I would think of a real collection, I want it to be sustainable so that it can be used in a long time.
I was quite stricken by how aesthetically clean and neat your pictures are, without any additional background or styling attributes. It looks like a real look book for a ready-to-wear collection and I think that’s its secret – otherwise the minks could be perceived as quite creepy.
It was very important both for me and for the photographer Per Lundström to create something aesthetically pleasing and appealing. We have both worked with fashion photography before and we wanted to take our experience further, as if we were working with real people and not just with minks.
I don’t really know if it would work equally well to make a more styled editorial or a fashion story. I had exposed the minks themselves like sculptures in Galeri Detroit before, but they are in quite bad condition so such an event is quite exhausting for them. They are also quite plain and two dimensional, they have no skeleton inside and when we are shooting them we use a lot of fishing lines to position them. I even had a crazy idea to put a mechanism inside of them and make the first mink run away, but it became quite absurd. You can’t forget they are still a bit ugly!
Is your mink fashion a sort of showcase for what you would like to do as a fashion designer in a bigger format?
No, I am not dreaming about becoming a ‘’real’’ fashion designer. I worked with clothes for theatre and I do set designing for fashion editorials, but I am not interested in the bigger, commercial fashion. I think the fun is easily lost in the pressure of seasons and market demands. It is Fashion for Minks which is my real fashion collection. I have total freedom with it. I will continue with the project and make it as professional as possible. For now I am looking for a graphic designer who would make the logo for the brand. I would also like to collect all the pictures in a photo book. Up to now, I was mainly presenting two collections a year, a spring and a fall season. But recently I have been quite inspired by summer fashion. It’s time for my minks to parade cute summer dresses!