Fashioned from Nature, the first UK exhibition exploring the complex relationship between the fashion industry and the natural world, has opened its doors at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Spanning 400 years, the show brings us closer than ever before to the garments and accessories that have been inspired by the beauty of nature, from botanical embroideries to earrings made from birds of paradise. But the event also addresses the detrimental impacts of manufacturing on the environment, encouraging us to change the way we think about fashion forever.
A Brief History
The exhibition starts its story in the 16th and 17th centuries, where clothes were handmade from natural fibres such as flax, cotton, silk and wool, as well as feathers, fur and even bones. However, after the dawn of the industrial revolution, and the major technological advancements of the 1800s, the textile industry started to move at a much faster pace. Materials began to be imported from across the world, and mills started to belch out smoke into the skies, speeding up air and water pollution, and damaging the environment. It was, some might stay, the birth of fast fashion…
A Modern Nature
Upstairs, the exhibition showcases more contemporary designs that have drawn their inspiration from the natural world. From left to right, featured pieces include Philip Treacy’s The Floral Helmet (2016), Rosemary Moore and Gerald’s Day’s internationally-acclaimed ‘Maxxam’ dress (1986) made from machine-knitted nylon and Lycra, and a 1997 Jean Paul Gaultier gown which, at first glance, looks like it’s been made from fur. On closer inspection, however, the ‘skin’ has actually been crafted from beads, hand-embellished for over 1000 hours. Another must-see is the the gown (not pictured) worn by actress Emma Watson to the Met Gala 2016, made almost entirely of recycled plastic bottles. The five-piece look was created by Calvin Klein and Livia Firth’s on-going project, the Green Carpet Challenge, proving the power of creativity, technology and fashion.
Fashion in Protest
Fashioned from Nature also shines a light on the modern environmental movement. From the global recognition of Earth Day, held every year since the 1970s, to designers Katherine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood’s targeting of the damaging practices of the fashion industry through the 80s and far beyond, the exhibition also aims to raise awareness of the environmental impact of how our clothes are sourced and made, and calls for urgent change. Other highlights come in the shape of posters from sustainability activists Fashion Revolution (including their Who Made My Clothes? campaign) and seminal designs from Stella McCartney.