Megan Graham

Fashion designer and design researcher with three years’ experience working as a freelance designer. Personal designs rely on academic and archival research, constructing a hybrid of historical and contemporary tailoring. My designs and research focus on telling a narrative and story through an inquisitive and detail-orientated approach. Producing and promoting garments of quality, integrity and craftsmanship. To encourage a sustainable approach to fabric selection, stressing the importance of the supply chain and archival research, whilst pioneering new design and textile technologies to find solutions for the future.

Research Project

The Nineteenth Century Fur Trade in England: Fashion, the Exotic and Wild Cats 

This research traces the history of exotic cats as living creature to designed object, to question the human allurement of embodying a second skin. 

Material Culture, Early-Modern, Europe, Textiles, Applied Arts, Decolonisation, Lived Experience, Prints

Lynx Cape, Credit- Dr Cheryl Roberts Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, 2011/181

The nineteenth century saw Britain develop rapidly due to technological, scientific and industrial innovations. This onset of expeditious transformation led to the expanding wealth of the middle classes who along with the upper classes invested in lucrative industries and trades helping to expand British power and domination within the British colonies. These revelations resulted in heightened opportunities for travel and increased interest in imperial cultures and commodities particularly within India. This dissertation focuses on the fashion for wearing leopard and tiger skins in Victorian England. The aim of this research is to find out how these skins were obtained, by tracing the hunting and trading networks that operated within the British empire in the nineteenth century. Reflecting on the importation of exotic skins from India to the docklands of London. Questioning who wore these skins and why.

Fashion- The Models for Dinner Costumes, 1896. Credit- Vogue, New York, Vol.7, Iss.7
The fashion for wearing exotic animal skins during the nineteenth century has received less attention by fashion and design historians, than perhaps other more popularised furs such as beaver and artic fox. This may have been due to the shortage of securable primary sources and the network of knowledge surrounding leopard and tiger skins focusing on big game and trophy hunting as opposed to their use within fashion.

The methodologies used throughout this research are vast and far yielding as the trade of exotic skins is not transparent as these colonial commodities are intertwined with imperialistic trade, politics and race and class agendas, along with embodied characteristics of the grotesque and monstrous.

The novelty for wearing exotic animal skins is analysed in four sections in this dissertation. Firstly, it proceeds by observing the tiger as a case study, to assimilate knowledge of the characteristics of the living creature, to understand why theses skins became desirable to the imperialist hunter and female consumer. Questioning the relationships between the native and imperialist hunters to distinguish hierarchies and the transfer of accumulated knowledge. It then moves on to trace the operations that took place through the transportation of skins, utilising reports from female colonial travellers. The final stage of this dissertation accounts for the desire for wearing exotic animal skins and how this may have helped arouse a feeling of female liberation and empowerment. Thus, it challenges the perceptions of the female colonial consumer with Britain in the nineteenth century.

The notion of otherness and the exotic are emphasised throughout this dissertation, since it was theses embedded traits that rendered these skins unique, and desirable compared to other popular skins in fashion during the nineteenth century.

Reynold’s Series of Physical School Room Maps. Zoological Map, Shewing the Geographical Distribution of the Most Important Animals. Compiled by E.G. Ravenstein. 1859. Credit- Maps, British Library

How Mr. Peter Piper Accepted An Invitation. 1853. Credit- Punch Magazine, Vol. XXIV, p.200, Royal College of Art

©2022 by V&A/RCA History of Design MA