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Fashion, feathers, and their ability to empower women with fashion designer Angelique Terrelonge

Motivated by her want to empower women through fashion, Angelique Terrelonge’s eye-catching pieces embody the luxury of fur without the bad conscience. How? With feathers. Sitting down to chat with Angelique I was intrigued to hear more about feathers as a replacement to fur and came away inspired by a woman determined to use her talents to improve the lives of others.

 
Angelique went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, eager to learn how to make great pieces from what she considered to be the most glamorous and feminine fabric. Visiting a trade show in Florida, Angelique spotted what she thought was a fur stand, only to find out that what she was admiring were in fact feathers. With a similar feel to fur but at a fraction of the price, feathers became a new obsession for Angelique, who saw the potential in this fabric as an alternative to the controversial animal coats. 
 
“It’s too hot for fur in New York, so I call this ‘south beach fur’”, said Angelique, explaining how feathers work across all seasons as they’re both lightweight but can also make for great insulation. Angelique’s first feather jacket was showered with praise and from that moment the designer had found her niche. “I’m kind of getting to be known as ‘the feather lady,’” beamed Angelique, with her love for what she does palpable in every reference to what has become her trademark fabric.
 
But it is not only about the feel and practicality of the feathers; they also fill a gap in the market for those people who feel uncomfortable with the idea of fur, both real and faux.
 
“A lot of people have a stigma with fur, although at the end of the day it is sustainable. I just couldn’t get into faux fur it’s just…,” she breaks off, making a disgusted noise and scrunching her face up jokingly. “It’s just glorified plastic bottles. And it’s not nice to wear. When I did some research, it said that it could take up to 500 years for [faux fur] to break down in landfill.”
 
After highlighting the biodegradability of the feathers, as well as the sustainable fabrics that she is increasingly incorporating in her garments and purses, Angelique dispels the idea that any of her feathers would be taken from live animals. “Feathers are a bi-product of things we would eat,” she says. “If you don’t have anything against having a turkey on Thanksgiving or having a piece of BBQ chicken, then you shouldn’t have an issue with this. It’s like eating the egg and doing something wonderful with eggshell. So that’s how I see it.”
 
That said, Angelique’s products are far from eggshells. Ranging from earrings and purses to gowns and capes, the Angelique Terrelonge store boasts accessories and garments that exude elegance; an elegance which professional furriers have been unable to distinguish from the finest furs in the industry. Impressed by the diversity of products Angelique had fashioned out of feathers, I asked what her favourite piece was. 
 
“I guess my favourites are the animal print [products]. Especially the lynx, because I’ve taken it to high-end fur stores with furriers who have been in the business for 40 years, and they’re like ‘Oh that’s Russian lynx how beautiful!’ and I’m like ‘No, it’s feathers!’”
 
Not only was this a huge compliment to Angelique’s ability to manipulate the feathers, but it also showed her how they could enable luxury fashion to become accessible to a wider demographic of consumers. 
 
“We put them side by side and I had a vest that I created... And they put it next to a real Russian lynx vest that was $35,000 and they really couldn’t tell the difference. They wanted to see how I’d done that because that’s a fur that’s so inaccessible to the majority of people. A coat in that could run you $150,000-200,000 in the US. People could buy a house for that… But now I’m like, everybody could wear this and experience that luxurious feeling without having to decide between shelter and a coat.”
 
And why is it that people spend so much money on singular items of clothing? Angelique is a firm believer in the idea that what we wear has the power to transform how we feel about ourselves.
 
“Women would come in and try on these coats and you could just see the transformation in their face and their body. They just stood up a little taller, and they felt glamorous. And that was amazing, just from a piece of clothing.”
 
In making products from feathers, this sensation is something that Angelique continually wants to replicate, but for a fraction of the price and with far fewer ethical implications. Having spent four years teaching fashion design at a women’s prison and continuing to work with many of the women that she met, Angelique has first-hand experience of the power that fashion has to revolutionise how women view themselves. This spans from enabling women to experience luxury without having to pay the earth for it, to actively promoting skills in female prisoners in a way that allows them to contribute to society and create beautiful things. Whilst a love of feathers was what I initially saw to be the driving force behind Angelique’s business, what really shone through was her incredible dedication to using her talent to improve both the world around her and empower the women who live in it.
 

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