People For Pelicans: A Fashion Collection For The Elegant Activist

On the third anniversary of the BP spill, the fashion label nakedheel rallies for a cause–without the slogans on T-shirts or tote bags.

The pelican, long a subject of Christian iconography, is also an illustrator’s dream creature. Its prehistoric look and voluptuous throat pouch seem inventions of Dr. Seuss. With People for Pelicans, the first project from New York-based fashion label nakedheel, designer Katrin Wiens spins the bird’s image into both a style and a political statement.


Until September 19–the third anniversary of the day the well was finally sealed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began back in April 2010–10% of proceeds from this stunning collection of scarves and pouches will go to International Bird Rescue. The organization rehabilitates avian oil spill victims through a delicate process involving “spa nozzles,” tube-feeding, and therapy pools.

While news of the BP disaster has virtually disappeared, thousands of injured birds haven’t forgotten those four million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.

Designed for the “elegant activist,” the debut nakedheel collection offers a reminder of the once-endangered brown pelican’s continued need for aid.

The intersection of fashion and cause is often designed and produced in large quantities, with little effort or artfulness: T-shirts or tote bags with a message. Rare is the truly eco-conscious runway getup or high-end boutique selling charity items. People for Pelicans is an exception–in 100% silk, with intricate illustrations and patterns drawn by the designer herself and digitally printed to a quality of line you could frame. German-born Wiens, whose clients include Calvin Klein, Just Cavalli, Nike and Kiehl’s, co-founded the late fashion label Pepper+Pistol, her mischievously dark-but-playful graphics (also often featuring birds and other animals) a downtown favorite.

“There is still this cliché that someone with an activist attitude is a rebel, a punk, a hippie, wearing torn clothes and T-shirts with radical slogans, but that image is no longer true,” Wiens tells Co.Design. “Punk as style has become nothing more than a commercial fashion trend. At the same time, you can dress elegantly and still care very much about our ecosystem. That’s where nakedheel comes in.”

Wiens’ pieces are chic first, with a call to action in the details. To create her prints, she used a psychedelic marbling technique that mimics the slick of oil on seawater, created by tracing a marbled piece of paper. Color schemes have names like “petroleum,” “seafoam,” and “black oil,” making fashion a place to face reality rather than escape it. And to title the prints—the Pelican Bless, the Pelican Blazon, and the Pelican Believer—Wiens says, “The idea was to invert the initials P and B: P.B. in favor of the pelicans versus B.P. the oil company, to create something hopeful against the negative.”


Next up for nakedheel is Beings for Bees, a collection of hand-embroidered, golden-beaded pouches–for collecting coins like bees collect pollen. Proceeds will go to charities aiding Colony Collapse Disorder.

[Photos by Deborah Mittelstaedt]


About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.