Welcome to the Savage Kingdom
Explore the inspiration behind each collection, discover the intricate, hand drawn illustrations and shop your favourites.
Select a collection to begin the journey…
A colourful festival celebrating fortune and prophecy; a sign of better times to come.
It is late February, and the small town of Dédougou in Burkina Faso is coming to the end of a harsh dry season; the grim conditions have depleted all water sources, leaving the surrounding wildlife facing starvation if the drought continues. The local animals know their fortunes must change, and fast.
At this time of year, many people travel to the town for the annual celebration of masks and costumes, ancient spiritual rituals and divination ceremonies. The festival is over, and the site now lies cracked and deserted, debris and paraphernalia strewn in the dust. As the molten sun rises, the wildlife pick their way through the remnants of the celebration, hungry and exhausted. They find intricately carved gold weights (mbrammoo), itombwa, cowrie shells and even discarded costumes amongst the sticks and dirt. Crafty and playful even when hungry, the painted wolves slip into the ornate outfits and begin to prance and leap, mimicking the human dancers from the previous night.
A young cheetah wanders into the clearing and clumsily trips, sending him tumbling head over tail. Bewildered, he exclaims and flips himself around to reveal the offending object discarded by a tourist: a small pack of playing cards lying in the dust. The word ‘Tarot’ is elegantly scrawled across the pack. Gathering to investigate the commotion, the creatures are curious, momentarily distracted from their hunger. The hoopoe birds gently loosen the binding and turn each card over, revealing delicately painted images of celestial beings, The Star, The Hierophant, The Lovers. Each card they turn is more beautiful than the last, their meanings clouded but intriguing.
As the group assembles, they assess the scene before them; the painted wolves in their splendour, the collection of foraged, divinatory objects, and finally the illustrated cards spread out at their feet. An invisible power rises around them, full of hope and optimism, light and celebration, fortune and prophecy, and they know this is the joyful sign they have been waiting for. By combining the two divination techniques, the animals can heal their land and rally the sacred rains to fall. The creatures rejoice and leap into action, their cries and cheers heard across the valley. They sing and dance the rituals of the festival-goers while enacting the scenes of the Tarot, twirling and spinning in their ornate costumes, summoning the spirits to hear their song. After several songs have passed, large, heavy droplets begin to fall from the sky, pooling in vast areas around them. At long last, their fortunes have changed.
This collection is an act of imaginative fusion and is indebted to the centuries of European and African artistry which precede it.
This collection references the playful, colourful and exquisitely hand-crafted masks and costumes celebrated at FESTIMA, the Festival International des Masques et des Arts, held each year in Dédougou, Burkina Faso. FESTIMA unites villages and tribes from countries all over West Africa and was founded to help preserve traditional cultural practices in the modern age. Although originating from varied tribes, the masks' origins are historically associated with Animism (the belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence). The primary events of the festival are the performances, where mask wearers dance, accompanied by musicians playing hand drums, whistles, and balafons. The exquisite portrait book ‘MASKE’ by Phyllis Galembo was a huge help in researching the origins, details and variety within the costumes. Intricately designed Akan (or Ashanti) gold weights (mbrammoo) feature heavily throughout this collection, alongside small Kuba divination carvings (itombwa), both often created in animal forms. Tales of the Madebele (nature spirits) summoned by the Sandobele (female diviners) of the Senufo peoples in Burkina Faso also play a part in this story. In the vein of divination, this collection was also based on antique European tarot cards, their symbolisms and their meanings; Each detail on the face of a tarot card holds a key to its significance, and each combination of cards holds a message for the reader. It is said that through divination, whichever method is performed, one can find a wider and deeper understanding of life’s events; It presents an opportunity to help us heal and re-grow.
THE TREASURES OF POMPEII
As catastrophe looms over the ancient city, which possessions will be valuable enough to save?
The year is AD 79, and as Mount Vesuvius begins to erupt, it sends a plume of ashes, pumice and rock into the sky causing the Pompeiians to flee in their droves. There is time to gather only a small handful of belongings and supplies; the residents must board the waiting ships and evacuate the city at once or become shrouded in the thick ash which rains from the skies. This pyroclastic cloud will soon swallow everything in its path; houses, market stalls, streets and amphitheaters are to be blanketed in molten rock. In their haste to escape the threat of certain doom, many citizens leave their animals behind to face the desperate situation alone, and the most careless among them leave their companions caged or chained with no hope of release. Thankfully, the animals in this story are wise enough to help themselves.
As the last overcrowded ship departs the shore, a small, ornate box of valuables slips from deck unnoticed, spilling its precious contents into the water. Coins, rings and amulets sink into the briny depths, entangling the sea creatures below and preventing their release from the increasingly warm shallows. The ducks spot this misfortune and swiftly dive in to assist their aquatic peers, untangling chains and releasing clasps until the captives are freed. The fish are grateful and offer up the coins as payment.
In the town centre, the first scorching ash begins to settle on an old greyhound’s back. He is chained to the doorway of his master’s villa, a large ornate padlock fixing him to the wall. He bites at the chain and tugs with all his might, but the metal is too strong, and he is becoming weak in the heat. As the dog begins to despair, a great heron flies from the waterside and comes to land gently beside him. In her beak she holds a glistening metal key, rescued from the fallen box by the flock of kindly ducks. The heron deftly fits the key to the lock and the greyhound is released. To show gratitude to his avian friends, he bounds into the house at once and fetches the master’s helpless caged birds, before setting off to the shoreline to find their escape.
Back at the water’s edge, several smaller wild animals are also seeking freedom from the imposing ash cloud overhead. As they pace the shallows fretfully, the ornate mosaic box fallen from the ship washes up at their feet. Now empty of its riches, save for a few gold coins, it is the perfect raft to safety. The animals fill the box with fruits and nuts for their long journey ahead, before climbing inside and closing the lid; this box now holds a far more precious cargo. With one gentle push from the greyhound, they glide out into the ocean and pray for salvation.
This collection references the beautiful artworks and artefacts uncovered during the excavation of the Italian city of Pompeii, and most especially, the preserved remains of a helpless chained guard dog. Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, covering the city in volcanic ash and preserving a unique snapshot of Roman life. From the intricate stone mosaics and hand-painted frescoes to the ancient moulded coins and figurative jewellery, the beauty and symbolism of the Roman arts are astounding. While ruthless and barbaric in a number of ways, their creativity holds a delicacy and complexity which is rarely found in the modern world. The exquisite Roman Lod Mosaic uncovered in Israel is also referenced in this collection, alongside the architecture and artworks of ancient Rome and the written accounts of Pliny the Younger.
THE TOWER MENAGERIE
The Royal Beasts are unexpectedly freed to experience the joys of life beyond The Tower walls.
As the true tale goes, widely reported in 1830, the animal warden at the Tower of London is in the process of cleaning the pens when he unwittingly raises the partition between two stalls, rather than the door of an empty stall as intended, thus allowing a Barbary lion and a Bengal tigress to meet. They set upon each other at once and a vicious battle ensues, leading to a rather tragic and unpleasant end. Today I will be telling a rewritten narrative of events; a story of what could have been.
As he absent-mindedly operates the pulley system, the young warden is distracted and tired. The iron-barred doors begin to creak and raise, and before he can fathom his mistake, all the beasts of The Tower are released. A cacophony of excited cries and shrieks rings out, reverberating around the stone courtyard. The warden swiftly flees, fearing the animal’s wrath for their years of misery at the hands of The Crown. The King’s lion lets out an almighty roar, before setting off over the cobbles at quite a pace, lashing out at any object in his path. He is closely pursued by the tigress, bewildered and confused, but ecstatic and elated to be free. The zebra is a little more cautious in her approach; She gently steps out of her enclosure, sniffing and pawing at the ground. The reason for her apprehension becomes apparent when, from behind her flank, a set of unsteady, spindly legs appear. She has a foal in tow, and she knows this release may be his only chance of safety. With a toss of the head and a flick of the tail, she bravely leads her young into the unknown. Above their heads, bursting forth from the aviary, the parrots sing and squabble. Confined to their enclosure for many years since their capture, they have been too cramped to fly or even fully stretch out. Now, they swoop and twirl about in sheer joy at their situation, calling to those too afraid to leave their stalls. Their jewel colours glimmer and shine, and they fly low through the passages of The Tower, seeking their escape. The beasts of the menagerie follow the parrots’ song and are lead dancing through the halls to The Jewel House. They crash their way through the precious artefacts, gathering adornments as they twist and twirl, out through Traitor’s Gate and on into the parks of London town.
This collection is focused around the true story of The Royal Menagerie housed at The Tower of London (1200-1835). The illustrations reference many of the astounding and unusual zoological tales recorded from The Tower and encompass much of the history and legend of the building itself. The Crown Jewels are still housed within The Tower today. The fantastical paintings of artist Walton Ford were also a major influence, alongside the botanical illustrations of British artist Jane Loudon (1807-1858) and original posters advertising the wild and exotic beasts of The Royal Menagerie.
Chaos and commotion collide at an exotic souk in Persepolis.
As the sun begins to set over the ancient city of Persepolis, it casts a golden glow across the patchworked rooftops of the souk. Cockatiels and wild birds squabble and sing overhead, their cries drowned out by the vibrant hum from the streets below them. The air is heavy and hazy with powdered spices and dyes, and the potent sounds of the market fill every cavity. From carpets and baskets to lanterns and silverware, shoes and hats to herbs and dried fruits, everything is available from the bustling bazaar. Yet, in the midst of the market, a small, unassuming tent contains the most vaulable commodity of all: exotic and untamed animals. Once captured for their power and prowess, they now lay tethered to the ground, weak and listless in the heat, their spirits broken by the hardship they have suffered at the hands of mankind.
Seeing the plight of their fellow creatures while they themselves still roam free, two courageous street dogs can take the sorry sight no longer, and they daringly sneak into the tent with a plan. While one distracts the market seller, the other dashes the keys from his belt with one swift nip. Masters of evading capture, the street dogs toss the keys between them while leading the angry seller on a merry dance around the souk. They skilfully lose him in the commotion, and rush back to the tent to unlock their comrades. The magnificent leopard slowly realises his freedom, and like a balloon filling with air, the life and vibrancy surge back into his body. With a wink to his emancipators, he launches himself into the streets, tearing through market stalls and slashing at tents as he goes. Explosions of colour punctuate the sky as he tosses pots of powdered spices and pigment dyes into the air. As the mischievous street dogs continue their quest, they release the great ostrich from his ties, making sure to stand well back once he is free. The ostrich bends down to earnestly thank his new friends with a swift nod of the head, scuffs his foot in preparation and bursts from the tent in an eruption of feathers. He hurtles down the path, weaving and lacing his way between stalls, smashing glass and crashing silverware as he goes. By this time, the wily street dogs are nowhere to be found. Delighted with their success, but not free of danger, they may also have found several powerful allies when they need them most.
This collection references the art and artefacts of ancient Persia, drawing on the rich, jewel-like colour palettes, the intricate details and the beautiful craftsmanship of the region. Hand-knotted Persian rugs, carved and painted tile work, embroidered and tasseled fabrics and complex metalwork were all influences when creating this work. Items from the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum also played a large part, alongside the painted works of Horace Vernet and delicate Persian miniatures.
THE NOH PLAYBOOK
A spectacular performance of artful mischief and theatrical trickery.
A mountainside overlooking Kyoto glistens in the early morning dew. A gentle golden light drips itself over the outcrops of rock, pooling in the flat spaces, cutting through the gentle grey haze of dawn. Beside the crooked path, a wooden Noh theatre barely stands in the amber light. Built on the stone overlooking the city below, the residents would snake their way up the path for each full moon, eager to watch their favourite plays and dances. However, since the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the theatre has fallen into disrepair, the actors now forbidden to perform. To shade themselves from the mid-summer sun and to screen themselves from the cold mountain winds at night, many animals on the mountainside have been using the abandoned stage as a shelter. It has become their home and refuge; a place to raise their young and protect their nests.
One day, the villagers decide that the crumbling theatre is an eyesore and that they will demolish it. Owing to his large ears, the hare overhears their plans and hastily runs back up the mountain to relay the news to his friends. The animals are panicked and immediately begin quarrelling over the unwelcome announcement. The wily fox, as wily foxes are prone to do, slopes away unnoticed behind a bamboo screen. A few minutes later he reappears, dressed in a fine embroidered kimono, its golden threads shimmering in the morning sun; Having discovered the ancient playbook, he has used his sly wit to unlock the dusty costume chest and has dressed himself in his luxuriant findings. His cunning plan is to fool the villagers into believing that the theatre is possessed by benevolent spirits (Yōkai), and therefore convince them that it would be a bad omen to demolish it. The other animals leap with glee at this masterful ploy and jump into the chest, rummaging to find costumes for their new characters. Inros and netsukes, armour and tassels, fans and ribbons, the box is a treasure trove of spectacular adornments.
As the villagers’ footsteps crunch towards the theatre, the animals are prepared for and awaiting their arrival. With the hollow rhythm of the Tsuzumi drum beaten by the spoonbill, the grand performance begins.
This collection references the costumes, masks and plays of ancient Japanese Noh theatre, alongside antique woodblock prints, kimono patterns and tales from folklore. The beautifully intricate hand-carved animal artwork found on inros (small wooden or ivory boxes used as an external ‘pocket’ tucked under an obi) and netsukes (the tiny wooden or ivory bead to stop the inro slipping through) also played a large part.
THE NATURALIST'S HANDBOOK
The botanical and zoological adventures of Alfred Swift.
As a botanical and zoological artist, Alfred Swift is fascinated by the natural world. Growing up in rural, 19th century Holland, he was a quiet child, often alone with his sketchbook or dissecting plant and fruit specimens through a magnifying glass. Now a young scholar, Alfred works as a researcher for the university. His quiet daily life consists of cataloguing and catergorising small insect species and illustrating taxidermied creatures for the university’s historical zoological records. However, on June 26th 1839, Alfred’s life is thrown in a very different direction.
Magnus Finch, the university’s most esteemed explorer and researcher has, unfortunately, been eaten by a bear during his travels through North America. The problem remains that the southern states have not yet been catalogued, and as the only other researcher in the department, Alfred is swept onto a ship and sent on his way.
Two months later, and following a long and arduous journey over sea and land, Alfred finds himself in rural Alabama where he is to begin his studies. Accustomed to his usual organised workspace and stationary subjects, he is understandably alarmed when his first drawing of a fruit tree is rudely interrupted by a sounder of wild boar stampeding through the copse. Likewise, as he attempts to fill his flask from a nearby stream, he is confronted by an angry deer, or when leaping in the fields with his butterfly net, a hawk takes a fancy to his precious catch. These were just the first of many precarious encounters; his primary lessons in the beauty, power and danger found in the wilderness.
Over the next 4 years, Alfred travels alone on foot through several states, and catalogues the species he encounters as best he can. He discovers rare and exotic fruits, brushes with death on several occasions, and comes face to face with magnificent and ferocious beasts. Here, we are lucky enough to read excerpts and view sketches from his handbook, compiled throughout his adventure.
This collection references Victorian zoological and botanical illustrators such as John James Audubon, Maria Sibylla Merian and Albertus Seba, along with the courageous explorers who ventured into unknown lands in the hope of discovering new and exotic species. The collection also focuses on the Fraktur folk art movement in 19th century America; a movement started by Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania in the late 1700’s.
O, DIVINA NATURA
As exotic Brazilian species are introduced, a heavenly glow settles over the painted tiles of Portugal.
It is mid-Summer in Europe, and a small Portuguese town lies abandoned to the dust. The streets are deserted of people, the homes and churches derelict and hollow. Tile-clad houses reflect the sunlight against one-another,
creating a hazy passage of translucent light between them, their patterns seared into the shadows. This summer has been hot and dry; no rain for three months and the earth is thirsty. A stifling breeze carries dust throughout the streets and large cracks are appearing in the stonework.
From the parapets, a single monkey’s howl rings out, echoing through the empty spaces. The long, high note hangs in the heavy air, suspended in the silence. The sound fades out, and stillness resumes. Suddenly, it is answered by a second call; a frantic chatter reverberates from the rooftops, and in a flash, a wave of monkeys are sweeping and swinging from every outcrop. Dry branches snap beneath their fingers, and ancient tiles fall shattering to the floor. Ravaging the architecture as they go, the monkeys scatter papaya seeds beneath them as they eat, dripping the rich juices onto the arid earth below. Introduced from Brazil in 1501, these exotic species and tropical fruits were once a marvel and a delicacy. A hundred years on, they have exchanged places with the townsfolk, emigrated to grow sugar cane in the hope of a new life.
There is little escape from the beating sun, but the animals are wily. The thick stone walls of the churches are cool in the shadows, the alcoves creating pockets of crisp air for those seeking respite from the heat. Plants appear to thrive here too, clipped back for many years, now bursting through the cracks in the walls and climbing the intricate
tilework. Birds perch in the sculpted pockets, cats lounge in the shadowy cavities and the wild hares leave their burrows for the feeling of fresh stonework beneath their paws.
Once used as a shire to the Madonna, these alcoves are now a different type of sanctuary. Their dilapidated glory worships and celebrates the beauty and resilience of nature’s divine bounty.
This collection references the beautiful Azulejo (painted tile) art of Portugal and Brazil, often containing trompe l’oeil scenes within alcoves in the walls. Religious roadside shrines and tributes around the streets of Europe also play a large part, alongside the beautiful Renaissance paintings, altarpieces and triptychs which inspired them. Finally, this work cites the intricate hand painted illusions of mural artist Graham Rust.
THE SULTAN’S SOLDIERS
“One day of life as a Tiger is far better than thousand years of living as a Sheep” – Tipu Sultan, 1799
Known as The Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan rules his Indian kingdom with a passion and ferocity only otherwise found in the Tiger’s lair. His throne sits upon two wooden tigers, his weaponry and artillary are artfully sculpted to represent the tiger’s fearsome face, and his soldier’s armour is emblazoned with the bold ‘bubris’ shape of the tiger’s vivid stripes. His love of the Tiger, and his hatred of the British come together in one atonishing piece of ornamentation; a mechanical tiger for his palace, simulating the gruesome death of a British soldier.
It is the late eighteenth century and the Colonial British are invading Tipu’s princely state, storming his palaces and looting his riches. As The British East India Company advances, Tipu Sultan rallies his troops from the furthest corners of his jewelled kingdom. He summons the majestic cats from the jungles, he calls the birds from the skies, and he releases the hounds from the kennels. To prepare them for battle, Tipu adorns his soldiers in the finest armour, beaten from ancient Indian gold, and jewelled with rubies and emeralds. Each helmet is carefully embroidered with ornate stitching, and each back is emblazoned with the tiger’s fearful stripes.
As the British finally break through the city walls, they are met by an army of ‘tigers’, leaping from the parapets and swooping overhead. His soldiers advise Tipu Sultan to escape from secret passages and live to fight another day, but to their astonishment he replies “One day of life as a Tiger is far better than thousand years of living as a Sheep”. Tipu Sultan died defending his capital on 4 May, 1799.
Citing the works of Rudyard Kipling, the ancient animal fables of the Indian Panchatantra and elements of the true tales of Tipu Sultan, this collection references sections of ancient indian culture. The mechanical ornament, ‘Tipu’s Tiger’, is part of the permanent collection at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The remainder of his riches have been returned to Mysore.
Great powers stir within three ancient Chinese specimen chests, long forgotten in an alchemist’s study.
In an alchemist’s repository in Peking, three wooden specimen chests lie untouched by time. Old kimonos lie discarded around them; ribbons of silk tattered and forgotten. Once a store for rare ingredients, the room has been still for over a century; Until now.
As the lid of each chest slowly prises open, a flurry of moths disperse and rain soft dust around the room. An elegant wing steadily releases itself, and as the lid of the first chest drops back, two golden crowned heads delicately appear, glad to stretch their long graceful necks after all these years locked away. Slowly and cautiously, a pair of glowing green eyes flickers in the shadows, and then another. Two ornate clouded leopards thrust open the lid of their ancient chest and begin a swirling struggle amongst the bones and trinkets of their isolation. The third chest begins to rattle and shake, and a flock of shimmering blue kingfishers struggle against their tethers as they try to burst free. The Tibetan Antelope calmly looks on, rousing herself from a long sleep.
This collection references the beautiful costumes of the Chinese Opera and the incredible work of artist Ron Pippin.
A travelling animal circus train crashes in rural Peru.
As the doors of their cages spring open, each of the captive animals discovers their new found freedom. They escape into the surrounding villages using the only means they know; the skill from their captivity becomes their vehicle to freedom. To disguise them from the pursuing ringleader, the local villagers adorn the animals with native textiles, tassles and bells. The tigers gather speed, rolling on a striped hoop whilst the rabbit tumbles inside to keep up. The bears make their getaway with the help of the circus cat, pedalling into the jungle and through the snake’s nest. The ponies gallop to safety, lead through the wilderness by Peruvian parrots.
This collection is a fusion of inspirations. From antique circus posters featuring ferocious and exotic beasts from distant lands, to wild and untameable South American jungles, to the beautiful images in Alta Moda; Mario Testino’s homage to the traditional dress of his native Peru.
ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
Issuing a magesterial call to arms, creatures from all over the globe are reclaiming their sovereignty.
The coat of arms has long been an emblem of heraldry and pride. Since the threading of the Bayeux Tapestry in the 11th century, wealth and fortune were displayed through symbolic reference. Ferocious beasts were harnessed and chained as trophies of power and wisdom, but centuries later, those chains have been broken. The exotic mystery of the lion and the unicorn, the regal splendour of the stag and the hawk and the humble majesty of the hound and the whippet; these magnificent creatures are fighting back.
Inspired by ancient coats of arms from Europe and the British empire, this collection also references the work of the great painter Peter Paul Rubens.
As each tribe diminishes by the hand of modern civilisation, nature reclaims her spoils.
From the Goroka in Papua New Guinea, to the Karo and Mursi along Ethiopia’s Omo river, each of these indigenous tribes shares a religion; the worship of nature. Each tribe has a deep respect and reverence for the environment they have grown to depend upon, and this devotion is manifested through the creation of elaborate bodily adornment. The flora and fauna of each habitat represents their tribe’s aesthetic: the bright beak of the Hornbill, the bold stripes of the Zebra and the muted pride of the Eland.
Primary inspiration for this collection was gathered from photographer Jimmy Nelson’s captivating images of endangered tribes during his world-wide exhibition.
Many Japanese myths represent certain creatures as deities, spirits or shape-shifters with magical qualities. These tales often hold moral lessons for the listener; a powerful message of good and evil, not to be tampered with.
Often told through ancient woodcut prints, the stories are passed down through generations. Dreamlike images of cautionary fables; an ancient lesson for those losing their way. The Dancing Fox scarf is inspired by the story of Genkuro, a shape-shifting fox character who rescues Shizuka Gozen, the lover of warrior Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, and brings her safely home. He is rewarded with beautiful, gilded armour, and dances a Kitsune Roppo (fox six step) to show his gratitude. The Silver Hare scarf is inspired by the companion to the moon goddess, Chang’e. The hare offers himself as food to a hungry warrior, wandering alone, by jumping into his fire. This selfless act impresses the great warrior, and he casts a spell to leave a smoky impression of the hare on the moon for the rest of eternity. There is still a belief that a full moon reveals the hare in all his glory. Last but not least, The Takeru Heron scarf honours the legendary warrior prince Yamato Takeru. According to Japanese legend, his soul transformed into a great white bird in death. Legend has it that he still flies the rice fields looking for home.
This collection was heavily influenced by Japanese folklore, ancient woodcut prints, samurai armour and kimono embroidery.