The V&A Examines Natural Fashion Over Time

We love museums, sure. But when some, like the Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the V&A, showcase natural fashion…well, that’s next level!

By Chiara Spagnoli Garbardi

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.

Main image: Woven silk train for an evening dress, France or Britain, c. 1897-1905. Image Vee Speers © V&A Image below: Natural embroidery, c. 1600. Both part of the Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the V&A.

Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the V&A

Ancient Displays

Items on display show how innovative, but also how ignorant, we humans are when it comes to nature and fashion. For example, some items include:

  • A women’s jacket from the early 1600s that’s intricately embroidered with designs of pea-shoots and flowers. (See image above)
  • One 1780s man’s waistcoat, expertly embroidered with a pattern of playful Macacque monkeys
  • A pair of Victorian earrings, which were sadly created from the heads of two real Honeycreeper birds
  • 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)
  • An H&M Conscious dress made from recycled shoreline plastic.

Image below: Linen, embroidered with silk and metal thread, and spangles. From around 1900

Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the V&A

Reducing Fashion’s Impact

Fashioned from Nature’ also showcases solutions to reduce fashion’s impact on the environment. Solutions range from low water denim and wild rubber to more conceptual and collaborative projects. Some are great ideas, some not-so-great.

For example?

You’ll find a dress grown from plant roots by the artist Diana Scherer. This uses seed, soil and water to train root systems into textile-like material.

There’s also a bio-luminescent genetically-engineered silk dress created by Sputniko. Which we aren’t so keen on, since we’re anti-GMO, of course.

Finally, the MIT Lab and the National Institute of Agricultural Science (NIAS), South Korea, made a tunic and trousers from synthetic spider silk from Bolt Threads x Stella McCartney. 

The exhibition takes you on a journey through the campaigners and protest groups that have effectively shaped the Fashion Revolution. You’ll find 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.

Image below: Indonesian models wear eco fashion during the “Detox Catwalk.” It was organised by Greenpeace in the polluted paddy field to highlight the toxic pollution brought by clothing industry. The bottom line? ‘Beautiful fashion shouldn’t cost the earth’.

detox fashion show

From fashions from the 1600s up to today’s new styles, the Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the V&A leads you on an eye-opening journey. It may even make you rethink your wardrobe!

For more info on the Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the V&A, click here.
Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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