Fashioned from Nature At The V&A Examines Natural Fashion Over Time

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Since its founding in 1852, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum has been a cultural guardian for art and design, capturing the creative zeitgeist of every era. And now that we are living in a time of increasing awareness about the importance of sustainability, the museum is offering an ethical fashion exhibition to the public.

Entitled ‘Fashioned from Nature’, the display aims to demonstrate the relationship between fashion and the environment from the 17th century right up to the present day. From April 21st, 2018 to January 27th 2019, this show will illustrate how fashion has evolved towards more eco-friendly practices over the past 400 years, in terms of accessories, women’s style, and fashion clothes for men.

Items on display include a women’s jacket from the early 1600s that’s intricately embroidered with designs of pea-shoots and flowers; a 1780s man’s waistcoat, expertly embroidered with a pattern of playful Macacque monkeys; a pair of Victorian earrings that were sadly created from the heads of two real Honeycreeper birds and a 1860s muslin dress ignorantly decorated with the iridescent green wing cases of hundreds of jewel beetles.

Such displays demonstrate how our perceptions of nature radically change over time (can you imagine wearing a dress made of actual butterflies today!?) More contemporary examples of what we now consider clothing to be ‘fashioned by nature’ include a pineapple fibre clutch-bag, Emma Watson’s Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles, and Stella McCartney’s faux furs.

The aim of this exhibit is to educate visitors, on the beauty and power of nature for inspiration, as well as the use of innovative fabrics to help conserve our planet. Examples can be seen with Vegea’s use of grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute, Ferragamo’s ensemble made from ‘Orange Fiber’ (derived from waste from the Italian citrus industry) and an H&M Conscious dress made from recycled shoreline plastic.

Fashioned from Nature’ also showcases solutions to reduce fashion’s impact on the environment, from low water denim and wild rubber to more conceptual and collaborative projects. You’ll find a dress grown from plant roots by the artist Diana Scherer that uses seed, soil and water to train root systems into textile-like material; a bio-luminescent genetically-engineered silk dress created by Sputniko!, the MIT Lab and the National Institute of Agricultural Science (NIAS), South Korea, and a tunic and trousers made from synthetic spider silk from Bolt Threads x Stella McCartney, for example.

The exhibition takes you on a journey through the campaigners and protest groups that have effectively shaped the Fashion Revolution, with posters, slogan clothes and artworks that portray these instances in history. We weren’t too thrilled to see Greenwashing Queen Vivienne Westwood’s outfits represented here (see here to see why we’re not a fan) but Katharine Hamnett’s 1989 ‘Clean Up or Die’ collection rightfully deserved space at the museum.

From ancient practices of the 1600s up to today’s new technological mediums, ‘Fashioned from Nature,’ will lead you on an eye-opening journey that will make you rethink your wardrobe, “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as the museum eloquently states.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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