Jess Eaton

RoadKill Couture

Brighton resident Jess Eaton has been creating waves and causing a storm in the fashion industry with her incredible garments, all created with items of beauty or strange origin ranging from skulls to animal pelts and feathers from animals that have died of natural causes, been consumed as food or donated by pest control. Following a knockout catwalk show at Brighton Fashion Week and being both intrigued and fascinated by this controversial creative, Absolute Magazine caught up with Jess and asked the questions on everyone’s lips….

If someone asked you what you do for a living, how would you answer?

I would initially say that I’m a conceptual artist and designer, but that is just what I’m best known for here in the UK. The truth is I am also a makeup artist/body painter with a 25-year career in the music business under my belt and also a cosmetic tattooist. I also sculpt, draw and do pretty much anything creative that takes my interest.

Was it always your plan to become a conceptual artist or did the road take other twists and turns?

No I had not intended it…it actually took me years to accept that I WAS a conceptual artist whether I liked it or not! In my case it was ‘not’ as I thought (and still think to some degree) the majority of conceptual art is pretentious self-indulgent rubbish that creates an art ‘elite’ and just goes to make regular folk feel inadequate for not understanding. I soon realised that my art isn’t just ‘decorative’ and has ‘more substance’, usually in an idea, or concept behind it.

I could not spend my life painting flowers or landscapes, I need more…and I love dry humour…a lot of my work is humourous (to me anyway!)

You are obviously an incredibly creative soul. As a make-up artist to the stars in the 90s, were there times when you wanted to take over all the styling for a project?

Funny you should ask ….Yes I am a creative soul (too creative by far). It’s my gift and my curse. Yes, I wanted to take over all the time but I ‘m very professional and my role was defined. Plus I was really, really good at it.

My involvement grew over the years quite naturally though, but it came from the demands of the artists who got me designing and creating their entire look from makeup to the complete outfit for a particular TV show or music video. The record companies welcomed it and I was called in on new projects right from the start and often sent on promotional tours as stylist, makeup and general confident with various artists too. My involvement always remained around the artist though and I didn’t get involved in set design or anything.

What inspired you to create your first ever collection ‘Re-Design’?

jess eatonIn 1997 I was living and working in Frankfurt and some costumes that I had made for an event appeared in the German Vogue. This spurred an events company to contact me with an idea for me to do a show to premiere a new party concept they had developed which would take place in a huge church in Frankfurt (the vicar was in agreement).

However, they cut my budget so dramatically I thought I would have to say no until I was on my way home and saw a broken umbrella on the street. It looked so pathetic, lying there, its limbs all broken that my heart went out to it and ‘ping!’ the idea was there…to take broken, unloved or just plain ‘thrown away things’ and make my show out of that!

I collected rubbish, wrappers and all the other materials I needed… some were donated but everything was re-cycled. Budget crisis over!

The next thing I knew, there was a standing ovation in the church, with me in the German national press and on talk shows with the models. It was amazing!

Have you ever had any formal training in fashion design?

No, none. I’m completely self-taught. I even make my own patterns.

If I need to learn a new technique, I get a tutorial off YouTube.

In 2008, you returned to the UK. Why did you choose to settle in Brighton?

My soul finds peace in Brighton. I LOVE living by the sea and the tolerance in Brighton means everyone can be their true self which is the most important thing in life for me.

I’m quite spiritual and often go down to the beach to get grounded and feel one with the world.

How and why did you decide to re-work ‘Re-Design’ for Brighton Fashion Week? Were you approached?

It’s quite sweet how it all came about actually. I’m a firm believer that to make things move on in your life you have to go out with an open heart and start giving from yourself. It starts a snowball effect and you find things happening and doors opening everywhere..

Anyway, I got back in 2008 and offered to assist (for free) doing makeup for the next Brighton Fashion Week, which I did. As chance would have it, I suddenly had Lizzie Bishop (founder and Director of BFW) in my makeup chair for a quick makeup so she could give an interview.

When she looked in the mirror after, she said “OMG..HOW DID YOU DO THAT?! WHO ARE YOU?!” and booked me for the next year right there and then.

I did the next years event as one of the team but Liz asked me to be the Head of Makeup and co-ordinate everything for the following year, choosing my team and designing the makeup looks etc. to which I agreed. At a meeting I mentioned I also make costumes and would she be interested in seeing them? I showed her a DVD I had from the church show and she totally flipped out! She asked if I could do it again and although it wasn’t a challenge for me as I had already done it once, the idea was still surprisingly fresh and I realized it would be the perfect way to introduce myself to the UK after being away for 20 years, so I called it The TRASHION SHOW and did it for her..and it was great fun!

How did the concept of ‘Roadkill Couture’ come about?

The Roadkill idea came to me while I was being interviewed for 125 Magazine after ‘Trashion’ and the journalist asked what my next project would be and again ‘ping!’ I had the name ROADKILL COUTURE in my head. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to look, but I knew that it was going to be very high-end, the opposite of its name and that it would take Trashion a step further with the ultimate re-cycling.

Did you have a fascination with wildlife as a child?

Yes I did – very much so actually. I had an idyllic childhood in the country living in a converted watermill and felt a spiritual connection to nature, even as a child. I’m not squeamish so would collect and dissect dead things I found, usually in utter awe. I still have treasured bones and skeletons I collected all those years ago.

You then opened the incredibly successful and intriguing EatonNott boutique in Brighton’s Preston Road together with tattoo artist Jon Nott. What brought you two together?

Jon is a tattooist and I was searching for someone specializing in a westernized style of Japanese tattooing to continue the work I already have in that style. After looking at the work of dozens of artists, I decided he was my man and as luck had it, had just moved to Brighton.

You have decided to close EatonNott, was there any particular reason?

No not really. We had the shop for 5 years in which we did some really exciting things but that era is over and I need to spread my wings.

The Roadkill couture was a project for me, an idea, a concept and I need to move on now.

Jo has become very specialized in bone work and is doing important restorations for The Booth Museum and serious collectors and doesn’t need the overheads of a shop, so its just time for us both to move on.

Your show-stopping designs have attracted many a celebrity client. Who has been the most exciting celeb client to dress?

I don’t usually talk about my clients as I treasure their trust but the most exciting women to date have been Kate Moss and Lady Gaga who I didn’t personally dress but who were dressed in my stuff by their stylists.

It just made me feel that I was right to ignore all the haters who have given me stress along the way. People at the top of their game, photographers, stylists, and models were acknowledging me in the industry…a wonderful affirmation that I capture the Zeitgeist of today, which is reassuring as I always follow my heart.

You have certainly courted with controversy with your Roadkill Couture Collection. How do you respond to critics who take offence to the usage of animal remains in fashion?

It makes me chuckle inside as I know these are people who have never reflected about it, which I have…ALOT.

When I was a kid I would kill and gut a chicken for my mother, or skin her a rabbit and we would eat it. At 17 I made the conscious decision to become a jess eatonvegetarian… which I was for another 17 years. During my life, from a small child onwards I have reflected over life and death and feel comfortable with my place in the world.

It’s really quite impossible to have issues with my Roadkill Couture as I am only using materials already dead and normally discarded. All animals are donated road kill, naturally deceased animals, animals killed for food or culled.

People object to fur, but if it’s a by-product of their food, what’s the problem? Fur is nothing but leather with the hair still on it. All leather had hair originally, but a chemical is added to the water and it all falls out. Anyone who owns a leather belt or pair of shoes is guilty of wearing fur, just hairless.

I’ve had people cry out in disgust about a pair of bird’s wings on a hat…the same people who then go to KFC and eat wings of birds who were subjected to agonisingly cramped battery farm existence…and they don’t see the hypocrisy.

Our relationship with animals is also very subjective. Who are we to say which animals deserve love and which will land at the slaughterhouse?

In the UK we love to eat beef but in India, cows are holy! We consider dogs to be our best friend but in china dogs are considered a delicacy. It’s all subjective and most people go through life not questioning or thinking about anything.

I went back to nature and started eating meat again, but I am a firm believer that we should honour animals whose lives we take for nourishment. We should make sure that every last bit is used, as life is far too valuable to take for granted. Indigenous peoples and even our ancestors lived in this way. Modern society has become detached from reality and everything is guilt-free, consumable and disposable. People are uncomfortable with the reality of meat and you don’t see carcasses hanging in the butchers anymore as they did when I was a child. Even in the supermarkets, the meat is faceless, featherless, furless – just a square of pink meat, wrapped in cellophane.

Even the most passionately stubborn critics of the Roadkill collections can be easily turned around. It’s just about waking them up and getting them to THINK for themselves. It usually takes me about 10 minutes and you can see the moment they actually get it as their eyes light up. I’ve had actual saboteurs become enthusiastic fans…its great!

What has been your favourite piece you have created to date?

It’s usually the piece I’m working on but I do have some faves. Some are sculptural as I can play with humour in those pieces and I love that. From the garments, it has to be the black crow collar from Roadkill Couture II. I love its simplicity and symmetry. The other garment is probably the cape I made out of cats from the conceptual point of view (what I was saying before about us giving values to animals and if you can wear fox, why not cat?)

You have worked with the skin, feathers, fur and bones of animals. Is there anything you would rule out using?

Not really, I’ve even used my own skin. But with the animals I don’t like to use their faces. I feel they are made to look ridiculous when the faces stay on. I know other artists do that but I find it disrespectful and I want to show the beauty of the material, not make it into a joke.

Once again pushing the boundaries, you are also well renowned for your ‘Sexy Art’ collections available to view and buy on your website. Certainly not for the prudish, the pieces appear centered around a theme of S&M and penises. How you describe the collection and what was your inspiration?

All my erotic art is a nice way to do something outside EatonNott as I felt I had nothing more to say with the Roadkill and was getting more and more copiers ripping off my designs. That’s when it’s time to move on.

I love sex, always have…I have a dirty mind and the luck to have found my muse in my partner. So being a sexual person and a self-confessed penis worshipper with a tick for masks, military outfits and stiletto heels, it was pretty predictable that I’d end up doing something like this. Most of my erotic work has humorous undertones though and I make things that amuse me.

The collection is called COITUS and I’m utterly excited about it as it encompasses different areas including art, fashion, jewelry and lots more.

What advice would you give an aspiring young fashion designer?




With so many irons in the fire, what is next on the cards for you?

jess-eaton-2I’m quite excited actually. Obviously with EatonNott closing I have a lot more time and freedom to concentrate on my other art and couture that I will be selling exclusively through my website.

I’ll be looking for financial support for the production of the COITUS couture but will continue making anything that inspires me. I am experimenting with some new materials at the moment too and am very inspired… the sky has no limits!

In another vein, although I never stopped working as a makeup artist, it has taken a different role since I came home and alongside photo sessions, instead of only working with popstars and celebrities, I have been working with ‘real’ women on a personal level, helping them discover ‘a new them’. Maybe it is after reaching later life, returning to work after having children, after a marriage break down or depression. Basically, anyone who wants to redefine/rediscover themselves can come to me for advice on makeup, a lesson, a makeup with photo session or evening makeup.

Clients always say they want to take me home so I can paint them every day, but now I can cosmetically tattoo them so it’s almost the same thing!

I’m a firm believer in taking time for one self. It’s extremely therapeutic and fantastic for the self esteem. I love being a woman and want all women to be and feel beautiful. I don’t want to jet around the world anymore just working with the rich and famous, I’m far more inspired by helping real women and making a real difference to how they feel about themselves.