The great Oscar Wilde once said that ¨life imitates art¨ and that being the case; can we then look anywhere else in the natural world for inspiration? Well, it would appear so. Just when you thought you’d gotten a handle on the on the Victoria & Albert Museum´s quirky couture charms, it then goes and surprises yet again – this time with a stunning study of the symbiosis between Mother Nature and fashion.
Entitled ´Fashioned From Nature´, the V&A´s latest exhibition helps to analyse and unfold the intricate relationship between fashion and the natural world, over the last 400 years or so. Although inspiration in fashion can take many forms, some of the items displayed do make for uncomfortable viewing as you can expect to find exhibits such as earrings designed from the actual heads from a pair of Honey Creeper birds. These linger in a Macabresque notion to sit alongside a dress fully embellished with the green shells of several hundred Jewel beetles. Back in the day, these two examples were apparently the ´must-have´ pieces for any late 1800’s fashionista – a notion which speaks volumes about the lack of environmental awareness at that time.
Fast-forwarding onto present day and the Buffalo can take little comfort from the fact that it was almost driven to the edge of extinction for its highly decorative and covetable hides. This, alongside the abundance of other raw animal skins serves to show us how the well voiced concerns for the ´process of fashion´ can have a negative effect on the environment and everyone who lives in it. Within Fashioned By Nature, there are con-current acknowledgements to an array of awareness and ethics groups such as the Fashion Revolution and the work of controversial designer and environmental campaigner Dame Vivienne Westwood, as they and other industry voices highlight the need for a much more environmentally friendly and above all less damaging philosophy to fashion design and manufacturing.
¨ Fashioned From Nature traces the complex relationship between fashion and the natural world since 1600. It shows how fashionable dress recurringly draws on the beauty and power of nature for inspiration, at whatever the cost.¨ – Charles Daniel McDonald
However, it’s not all bad news for the other 300 plus items on display within the V&A and there is room for the naturally beautiful and desirably creative to stand out also. The contemporary works of Stella McCartney’s womens and menswear creations are featured and well referenced as she champions the more progressive methods of newly engineered, experimental and sustainable materials. Adjacent to this, the Calvin Klein dress which was fashioned from recycled plastic bottles gives food for thought through its modular and utilitarian aesthetic. This notion caused quite the red carpet reaction when worn back in 2016 for Emma Watson´s Met Gala entrance and raised some very interesting discussions about the changing face of fashion and recyclability.
Part of the exhibition is dedicated to an initiative called Eco-Age, a vision which was created as a response to the challenges faced by the ´environmentally friendly followers of fashion´ and their drive to ¨reflect and forward with the use of sustainable and recyclable materials in their everyday fashion and styling.¨ Around each and every corner, the inspiration from nature here is truly amazing and there appears to be a never ending search for new materials – garnishing headlines such as ¨Vegea develop techniques to recycle and use waste from grapes to form a leather like material¨ and other similar initiatives from fast fashion Kings such as H&M to ¨pioneeringly manufacture clothing and dresses from beach combed and coastal sourced plastics.¨
There are nods to nature in its purest forms also. A dress genetically grown from plant roots by artist Diana Scherer gives a nod to South Korea’s Agricultural Science collaboration with Sputniko. Then, you have the MIT´s offerings on how to manufacture a tunic and trousers which are all made from synthetic spider silk, offering an abundance in fashion forward potential. Traditionalists and futurologists can take heed that although fashion may be somewhat justifiably ashamed of its past, there is more than a glimmering of hope for a bright and sustainable future with innovative and sustainable materials. And ones that won’t quite literally cost the earth.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Victoria & Albert Museum