Victoria Ledig is petit, attractive and immaculately presented, from her precarious heels to her perfect black bob. She is the last person you would expect to find in a slaughterhouse. And yet this is where her dedication to her graduate project at Design Academy Eindhoven took her. “It started with a fascination with leather as a material. I did an internship at Ecco, in the design department of a tannery in Dongen in the Netherlands. I started to get a feel for what a fantastic material leather is. You can do so much with it – you can turn it into something that seems almost artificial,” says Victoria. “I realised that the connection with what leather is and where it comes from has been lost, which is a pity in my eyes.”
Victoria decided she wanted to use leather for her final project. “I always want to have a reason for using a specific material, so I develop strong relationships with the materials I use. Questioning and rethinking a material and its usual application is often the starting point for a new project,” she says. “In this case, I wanted to include the origin in the story – to show that leather was once the skin of a living animal. It is not a flat sterile material. It was once walking around. It had wrinkles. There is a lot of beauty in the real skin of a cow. Of course, there is the gory part, the slaughter, in this story as well, but that is as important as our love for leather”…
During her internship at the Ecco tannery, Victoria noticed that only the skin from the torso of the cow is used in the leather industry. She wanted to see what happens to the rest of the animal’s skin. So she decided to go to an industrial slaughterhouse to find out for herself. “I prepared myself for the worst, but it was logical and necessary for me to go there,” she says. “I wanted to know where the material I use comes from. I think I also wanted to test myself to see if I would still want to use leather after I’d seen how it’s done. In the end I was quite surprised by how fast and efficient everything was. That’s not to say it wasn’t violent, but maybe the speed makes the procedure easier for everybody to take, including the animals.”
Satisfied with the process, Victoria procured skin from cows’ ears, faces, tails, hooves… all the parts that are usually discarded from leather production and used for less valued things like dog food. She says, “Thanks to the technicians and the facilities at ECCO, the biggest challenge of actually obtaining the leather went quite smoothly. The funny thing was that some of my colleagues in the tannery were slightly shocked about my plans to tan the skin of every body part of a cow. I was even told that it was not possible to tan these pieces properly and that they would eventually rot. The day I arrived at the tannery with my fresh skins from the slaughterhouse felt a bit like a curiosity show. I created quite a stir putting ears and tails into the tanning drums! In the end it worked perfectly – I ended up with very beautifully vegetable-tanned leather pieces.”
Victoria’s next challenge was to create desirable and functional items from these pieces of leather. “Once the leather was tanned and dry it was fun to experiment with the pieces and textures and just see what I could do with this material,” she says. “I learned so much about leather during the whole process.
“Once I had finished all the work and actually had a collection of bags, that was a very rewarding moment. Especially when I saw people’s positive and surprised reactions. The collection aims to reconnect people with the material’s origin and natural beauty. I wanted to place the animal’s presence and past into the products that are made from its skin. My intention was not political. Of course it makes you think if you see a clutch bag made from the face of a cow, but this project started as a material challenge and an experiment, so for me it’s simply about the beauty of all the imperfections and textures in the skin of different parts of the cow’s body and what I can do with them.”