Accessorize This: Accessories from the Sea - Fish Leather

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Accessories from the Sea: Fish Leather
by Denise Grayson

Animal skins and fashion go hand in hand – calfskin, lambskin (nappa), exotic and pricey skins like python, ostrich and crocodile are used to make some of our most beautiful and coveted bags, shoes and belts. And other than an increasingly superfluous use of fur in the past few years, we’re not really surprised by what the outfits in the collections are made of these days (Christian Dior shamelessly used real leopard in the 1960s!). But would it take you aback just a bit to hear that fish skins are wading into our clothes and accessories as a new and unusual material of choice? Salmon is one, perch is another.

Put that image of slimey silvery scales that flake on your fork away for good and think of a textile that can be both smooth and lustrous or velvety textured – almost suede-like – and durable. At fashion week in London I felt both salmon and perch as they were used by Rachel Freire for a garter belt and a good many pair of Gwendolyn Carrié shoes, respectively.

Gwendolyn Carrié uses an open scale perch leather which gives the shoes their exquisite texture. A closed scaling offers a fine finish. The scales may look delicate, but they withstood a vigorous hand rubbing and even the scales that appear to be hanging by a thread remained intact and perfect. (Photo: Gwendolyn Carrié)

Rachel Freire used smooth salmon leather to create the textured panels for her multi-fabric garter belt (Photo: Denise Grayson)

I’m told that Rachel, who is known for incorporating unconventional materials into her handcrafted pieces, will be using more salmonskins going forward and that she’s working with stingray as well. Her salmon leather is very smooth and glossy and the fine scales render the skin with a texture that could be mistaken for snakeskin. Gwendolyn Carrié’s ‘fluffy’ fish skin or perch, is also akin to something we know well – it looks something like crocodile but is very soft, like suede. However, these styles are just two of the ways the skins can be rendered; like any other leather they can be dyed and treated to a variety of finishes.

While salmon and perch appear to be the most popular of the fish leathers, there are other varieties available including cod and wolffish. And if you’re wondering how they’re acquired, rest assured that they typically come from commercial fish skins that would otherwise be thrown away or used as chicken feed.

The use of fish leather isn’t a brand new innovation but it’s been a fringe material thus far. Considering that it has numerous attractive qualities (including being waterproof, of course!) and it’s far cheaper than the exotic skins it mimics – yet is entirely unique – we’re likely to see a lot more of it in clothing and accessories from our more adventurous designers.

I’m hooked. How about you?

This Aquanaut Cloche Helmet by Jasmine Zorlu is made of Nile perchskin leather over a wool base. It’s available for purchase at Not Just a Label. (Photo: Spencer Hansen)

A bikini from Skini London who are known as the pioneers of salmonskin leather couture garments (Photo: Skini London)

A hairband and cuff crafted with salmon leather from Gastu, an accessories label from Reykjavík, Iceland that works primarily in fishskins. These pieces are available to buy through their Etsy shop. (Photos: Gastu)

Denise Grayson is our fearless Accessories Editor who also writes about fashion at The Swelle Life.


Livie said...

crazy about this look. so soft yet kinda rock n rollish.

another "fish" skin I'm on the lookout for is eel. amazingly soft and pretty!

WendyB said...

I was ahead of my time with my old fish feet obsession!

apparellel said...

this is amazing. i love the texture. i'm really digging on this idea!


vitaMinn style said...

Unbelievable! I'm totally amazed and so loving this concept.

nini's Style said...

I like the garter belt. Do you know where can I get it?

The Style Revolution said...

I love the texture! Totally bad to the bone!

Alice said...

I am very intrigued... the texture seems fantastic and if it is durable, I am 100% on for it!

daisychain said...

Wow, incredible.

Jaime @ La vie...J'aime said...

Very cool- I love the cuff.

janettaylor said...

Ooooh, I have a fish leather sandals from Devi Kroell. I think - AMAZING!

Denise @ Swelle said...

Thanks for your comments - the fish leather seems to be a hit!

Nini - The garter belt is from Rachel Freire's A/W collection so it won't be available until August at the earliest, if it's produced (which I think is likely as it's so her!). At that time I would look for stockists on her website and enquire with them to see who's got it.

Denise ♥
Accessories Editor, Dream Sequins

lisa said...

Fish leather--interesting! I'm curious about how the skin is treated to become so durable. What's the process behind curing it?

liz said...

I first heard about using fish leather a while back, but nothing was as beautiful as these pieces. Those shoes are crazy nice.

Susan said...

incredible! thanks for sharing.

Shop N' Chomp said...

I find the shoes really interesting!

Denise @ Swelle said...

Lisa - good question! I found out that fish leather is the "second strongest leather known to man. Three strips of certain fish, 1/2 inches wide, braided together, can pull an automobile." How about that?

Here's the process:

The fish skins are purchased from commercial fisheries and shipped frozen. The secret is in the combination of chemicals that are used to remove all the fish oils so that there is no odor. Through an intricate 30-day chemical and mechanical process, the skins are churned, soaked, fleshed and vacuum dried. Timing is critical in the chemical soaking stage. If soaked too long, it will lose its strength and eventually fall apart. The flesher removes any "yuck" left on the back of the skin. The special tanning process prevents the fish leather from becoming stiff, once all the oils are taken out.

Hope that helps!

Denise ♥
Accessories Editor, Dream Sequins

darlingdee said...

Those shoes are amazing!

I love the blush look.


Vyque said...

ooo, love that cloche helmet, have been wanting something aviator/helmet like for awhile now!

Kristin Hjellegjerde said...


brown said...

wow, look at that, I'm already drooling, great color, looks superb. how i wish i could get one of these!!

Glendy said...

O.O OMG those scales look hot, I never thought I thought of scales that way lmao, awesome accessories :)

Much love,
Glendy <3

ambika said...

That helmet is amazing but I think I could actually see myself wearing the cuff.

MIG said...


This collection is amazing. Lucky you for attending lol. But anyway I love your blog. Super cute.


Check out my blog:

Reanna said...

Yesssssss! Totally reminds me of Marion Cotillard's silver mermaid gown by Gaultier. Remember that? From 2009's Oscars? Oh drool...

Shrimp Salad Circus said...

I definitely never would've guessed that fish skin could be durable enough for clothing!

Paulina said...

Loving that cuff. It looks so cool.

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