The Mood

Fashioned From Nature

London's Victoria and Albert Museum delves deep into the history of fashion once more with an exhibition that explores just how nature has influenced fashion design.

by Siska Lyssens

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It makes a lot of sense to think that the earliest garments and jewellery made by human beings were influenced by those people's surroundings - nature in its rawest form. Jewellery made of ivory, garments from wool or pearls are examples of decorative arts taken directly from animals - elephant's tusks, lambs' fleece and oysters, in this case. But fashion's fascination with the fauna and flora of the world is deeply-rooted and seemingly perennial. 

The Victoria and Albert museum's newest fashion exhibition, called 'Fashioned from Nature' is the first UK exhibition to explore the complex relationship between fashion and nature, starting from 1600 and continuing to the present day. 

Presenting fashionable dress from across the centuries alongside natural history specimens, innovative new fabrics and dyeing processes, the exhibition invites visitors to think about the materials of fashion and the sources of their clothes.
Left: Stella McCartney AW17 - Right: Pine Marten fur hat, Caroline Reboux, 1985

The earliest pieces in the show are those aforementioned found objects used for self-embellishment. Further on, there are beautiful vests embroidered with floral patterns, lavish furs, and, closer to modern times, a dreamy Stella McCartney's silhouette that brings the outdoors in. 

But the interesting connection this exhibition makes regards the effects of human's continuous taking from nature is that of investigating the damage we've done to our environment along our journey of making beautiful things and satisfying our sartorial needs. 

A glamorous long gown, made of a leather alternative made of grape waste, is a step in the right direction for the fashion world, as is Katie Jones' look made from leather cut-offs and surplus yarn. Greenpeace's T-shirt tries to shake fashion's conscience, too - but does the solution lie in creating more garments, even if it's for the sake of protest? 

'Fashioned from Nature' surely provides food for thought. Regardless of how we feel about our predecessors' use of their natural surroundings. Or our contemporaries' ways of finding inspiration and actual resources for their fashion expressions, one thing is for sure: let's preserve what we have and honour our past that way, and let's find ways for fashion to contribute to our planet's future solutions. 

 

Fashioned from Nature, sponsored by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp - CELC, at the V&A from 21 April - 27 January 2019

Left: Greenpeace printed cotton T-shirt, Britain, 1990's - Right: Earrings made from heads of Red Legged Honeycreeper birds, circa 1875

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