Last week, my trendy, Fashion Marketing graduate sister came to visit me: her geeky, unfashionable, heritage loving sister. With fashion being her obsession and natural history being mine, we excitedly decided to take a trip to South Kensington to visit Fashioned from Nature, supported by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp – CELC, at the fabulous Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).
The exhibition, displayed in the Gallery 40, in the Material and Techniques section of the museum, explores “the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to the present day” and looks at different aspects of the two through themes such as dyeing processes, the use of nature in fashion and where clothing materials are sourced from.
One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was looking at how nature inspired fashion during the Victorian era particularly with patterns and colours. Elaborate dresses and fancy clothing items were often inspired by books such as “Theatre of Insects, or Lesser Living Creatures” by Thomas Moffet, 1638; with realistic drawings of animals and plants being used to decorate the clothes. The use of natural specimens to inspire every day life is fascinating.
The way that fashion has been inspired by nature was interesting but then came the objects that showcased fashion that used nature to create elaborate, exotic styles; appealing to the higher classes of the day. The three cases below display examples of clothing and accessories made from feathers, fur and even beetle carcasses! Fashioned from Nature not only exhibited the objects but also gave context of how animals were captured, killed and used for the sake of fashion, which highlighted a moral side to the interpretation written.
The exhibition also looked at how industrial and technological advances have changed the face of fashion, including the use of cotton, wool and new dyeing processes. The use of steam power to make clothes meant more production at reduced prices which was a win-win situation for workers, traders and consumers.
My exhibition highlights:
Although I knew silk worms made silk… I never really understood how! But thankfully, Fashioned from Nature solved the mystery and explained it so well, in such a simple but extensive way that I finally get it! I loved the way that this display could physically bring together fashion with natural history specimens in a contextual way rather than just through tedious links.
What can I say about this stunning dress? Well, first off, it might look like it’s covered in beautiful gleaming jewels but in actual fact, they’re BEETLES! The iridescent colour of them was so eye-catching and like nothing I’d seen before. Such an interesting addition to showcase how nature and fashion are interlinked.
Dress (with later alterations and replica belt), 1868-9 (V&A: T.1698:1 – 5-2017)
The exhibition continues upstairs but in a different vain, instead, focusing on sustainability, environmentalism and global issues within the fashion world. Below shows part of the display which definitely stayed with me – numerous t-shirts with poignant slogans, placards and advertisements used in activism against particular aspects of the fashion industry including animal rights, plates and global warming. This section was very thought-provoking, opening my mind to my own shopping habits, where my own clothes are coming from, the materials being used and the choices that I can make better choices to help the environment, animals and ourselves.
I would 10/10 recommend this exhibition as a way to open your mind to not only the marvellous connections between fashion and nature but also the ways that the contemporary fashion industry has made changes for the better. But how it, and we as consumers can still, do better.
Until next time,