A good sign that a trend has ‘arrived’ is if we are already seeking eco-friendly options. The New York Times recently called Sydney-based artist Anna-Wili Highfield’s paper-and-wire sculptures “the perfect vegan alternative” to decorating with trendy (but creepy) taxidermy. Her work was recently commissioned by Hermès.
Taxidermy-inspired interior design and fine art is enjoying a renaissance. During a recent visit to an upscale West Village children’s store, we were surprised to find an antlered skull adorning the wall of the nursery display. Imagine the newborn babe, lying in his crib (back to sleep!), staring up at the remains of a dead animal. An interesting alternative to a mobile.
We ask the question: Is this design trend more than just a whimsical reflection of our stressed-out morbid musings? And then the bigger questions: What role does design really play in our lives? And what does this mean for the role of design in branding?
Taxidermy, as defined by Wikipedia, is the act of mounting or reproducing dead animals for display. Popularized during the Victorian era as an element of interior design, taxidermy then seen was an expression of the Western view of human superiority over animals.
Why did we then – and why do we now – feel the need to exert our superiority? Why, fear, of course. Is it not typically insecurity that causes us to pound our chests in displays of braggadocio? Victorian America was defined by the Civil War – a time of death, destruction and turmoil in American culture. The culture of the era was very much a reflection of the aftermath of the war, a time of great economic uncertainty. This was Dickens’ heyday, the days of intense urban poverty and pervasive child labor. Political unrest and financial ruin. Sound familiar?
Funny enough, decorating with dead stuffed birds or moose is much the same as adorning our clothing with skulls. We are neither big-game hunters nor pirates. (At least most of us.) We are human beings keenly aware of our mortality and vulnerability, afloat in an uncertain world, with upside-down mortgages and loved ones in Afganistan. We are readers of self-help books and practitioners of downward-facing dog. We are in search of the comfort of the now, the acknowledgement of our own aliveness and strength that reminders of death – like taxidermy – keenly provide.
There is wisdom to be found by in living in the face of mortality – the wisdom that we should always live fully and mindfully, because all things will pass. Death comes for us all indeed, and yet hope prevails. Symbols of death help us celebrate life.
We believe that design provides comfort, security. We surround ourselves with what pleases us to look at, what makes us feel safe. Design as it is used in branding, then, must support the brand’s role as friend, soothing us through the rough patch, dropping an anchor in the sea of uncertainty.
Brands speak to consumers where they live, in the context of their frame of mind and their emotional state. Intelligent, relevant visual language creates an immediate personal connection between brand and consumer. The friend who really “gets” you is a true and lasting friend.