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Fish Skin as Fashion – from Indigenous Knowledge to the Runway

Accomplished designer and Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Research Associate, Elisa Palomino-Perez has worked with the likes of Christian Dior, John Galliano, and Moschino over a 30 year career. And she has long been fascinated by fish leather. From the Ainu of Hokkaido Island in Japan to the Inuit of Alaska, Hezhen of Northeast China, Sami of Sweden, Nanai of Siberia, and more—tanned fish skin has been a staple in Indigenous communities’ traditional craftwork across the world. In order to use it for leatherworking, a fish skin must be scraped, softened, and treated with tanning agents to transform it into a durable leather. All the skins this designer uses would otherwise be simply food waste. Through her ongoing exploration of the material, Palomino-Perez has studied with a variety of artists and practitioners to realize a collection of pieces aimed at promoting sustainability in the fashion industry.

Her work is on display at Smithsonian’s “FUTURES,” the National Mall’s festival-exhibit hybrid. Open through July 6, 2022, FUTURES and its 32,000 square feet of interdisciplinary works imagines glimpses into the possible futures of humanity.

Tags: Art
A clutch bag made from fish skin and decorated with blue floral patterns.