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Danni Harris Human Animal fashion collection Saint Martins
Photography Josh Wilks

The subversive designer morphing humans into wolves, dolphins, and swans

CSM graduate Danni Harris draws inspiration from the natural world to explore what human evolution might look like

What does the future look like for the human race? From the devastating wildfires currently raging in Australia, to the rising sea levels that see entire coastal communities submerged in water, thanks to the environmental crisis we’re currently facing, our destructive nature means the diagnosis doesn’t look great for us – though that’s not to say all hope is lost. 

For designer Danni Harris, who grew up in Leicester and graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2019, our survival depends on us stripping things back and re-engaging with a more primal way of life – an idea which she explored as part of her final collection ‘The Human Animal’. 

“I was looking at the evolution of humans and at what point we became a superior species to animals and the way we treat animals now,” Harris explains. “The collection was about the hierarchy we have over them, how we exploit them, and the effects that has on society and the environment. It’s about the ways in which we’ve lost our instinctual, primal way of living, and bringing the wearer back to that.” 

The idea manifests in a wildly imaginative offering which dramatically distorts and warps the body and its silhouette. Drawing inspiration from a host of creatures – including wolves, mallards, dolphins, and walruses – models are transformed into superhero-like human animal hybrids, as fins sprout from shoulders, bums expand and become tails, and enormous tusks which ‘pierce’ through cheeks, designed in collaboration with artist Juanita Grillz. “They’re actually built using real animal bones, too,” confirms Harris, who salvaged cow shoulder and leg bones from her local butcher and used them to create the moulds that shaped lightweight foam versions of their original counterparts.

Also important to her is the performance element of putting on a fashion show. “It’s a big thing for me, because fashion’s quite boring now, isn’t it?” she says. “If you think about shows from the 90s and 00s, like Alexander McQueen’s, there was such a buzz and a mood created by the models – there was a lot more character and emotion to them.” Her own section of the CSM show saw her cast take on the traits of the animals their look was based on, as they stormed down the runway to a pounding, frenetic soundtrack. “For example, the duck was bobbing her head really fast and was followed by two kids, like a little trail of ducks would follow their mother, whereas the way the wolf-inspired look was constructed really restricted the model’s movement and changed the way she moved.”   

Though Harris seems to have the theatrics all figured out, the idea of commercialising her aesthetic is something she’s working on – not least because she feels very protective of every piece she creates. “I made one dress for a girl who asked for it, but took the bones out so it was more like a leotard kind of thing. It’s hard because it’s like… you’re not going to wear my stuff to pop to the Co-Op for a pint of milk are you?” she laughs. She does however recognise the collection’s streetwear sensibilities, and hopes to translate her vision into something a little more understated for day-to-day. 

For now, though, she’s working on securing funding, which, like many young designers, she admits she’s finding difficult. “I’m hoping I’ll be able to show another collection, at least at some point in my life. It was the best feeling the first day we presented our work internally at CSM, and I want that feeling again. It’s addictive.”