Fashioned From Nature

V&A 21 April 2018 – 27 Jan 2019

The V&A’s next eagerly awaited fashion exhibition opened today. Claiming to be the first UK show to explore the complex relationship between fashion and nature. Examining the period from 1600 to the present day, Fashioned From Nature will focus on sustainability and a growing ethical awareness both among consumers and makers.

The natural world has always provided rich inspiration for beautiful fashion. This will be shown in displays of exquisite garments from the historic to the contemporary. Around 300 objects will be on display, including sustainably-produced outfits by Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood, and the much-reported Calvin Klein red carpet dress made from recycled plastic bottles worn by actress Emma Watson at the 2016 Met Gala.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's COSTUME INSTITUTE Benefit Celebrating the Opening of Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, Arrivals, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, New York, America - 02 May 2016
Calvin Klein Green Carpet Challenge dress worn by Emma Watson to the MET Gala 2016. © Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock


Also included is a 1780s man’s waistcoat, expertly embroidered with a pattern of playful Macaque monkeys, through to Gucci’s contemporary bag decorated with stag beetle motifs. One of the earliest pieces in the exhibition, a women’s jacket from the early 1600s, is intricately embroidered with designs of pea-shoots and flowers. A 2016 Giles Deacon haute-couture dress features a pattern of delicate bird’s eggs, whilst gowns from Jean Paul Gaultier (1997) and Busvine (1933-4) both feature leopard print. It celebrates fashion’s innovation and creativity, and the inspiration it finds in nature, but also draws attention to its heavy footprint on the planet.

Fashion’s processes and insatiable demand for raw materials come at a considerable environmental cost, contributing to air and water pollution and the loss of flora and fauna across the globe.

Earrings made from the heads of Red Legged Honeycreeper birds, circa 1875. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Fashioned from Nature shows how and why this has happened and the ways in which today’s fashion designers are rising to the challenge to create a better industry that respects and protects the earth and all its inhabitants.

The exhibition will also focus closely on the raw materials used in the production of fashion. Arranged chronologically, it will introduce the main fibres used in the 17th and 18th centuries – silk, flax, wool and cotton – as well as now controversial materials like whalebone, demonstrated by an x-ray by Nick Veasey of a pair of 1780’s stays, and turtle shell, used in a fan from 1700. It goes on to chart the expansion in international trade, import of precious materials, and later introduction of man-made materials, which brought fashionable dress to the masses but also contributed to the air and water pollution to which the textile industry is such a significant contributor.

Greenpeace printed cotton tshirt, Britain, 1990s. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


A bold display of posters, slogan clothes and artworks will show how protest movements have helped draw attention to the harmful side of fashion. Figures like Vivienne Westwood have popularised these issues and a mannequin will pay homage to an outfit worn by her whilst protesting against climate change. A man’s outfit from Katharine Hamnett’s 1989 ‘Clean Up or Die’ collection will be on show alongside posters from Fashion Revolution, a collective aiming to change the way clothes are sourced, produced and consumed. Customising and re-wearing clothes will be highlighted through a vintage outfit and a jacket customised by London designer Katie Jones for fashion writer and editor Susie Lau to wear during Fashion Revolution Week 2015.

A section of the exhibit, the V&A says, will be dedicated to showcasing innovation, with regenerated materials made from everything from household waste to pineapple fibres. A leather-substitute produced by Vegea using grape waste from the wine industry will be on display, alongside an outfit designed by Italian luxury house Ferragamo, made from an orange fibre derived from waste from the Italian citrus industry.

‘Grape’ dress made from Vegea, a leather alternative made from grape waste. © Vegea


At a time when environmental protection and the use and disposal of precious resources are hotly debated topics, the exhibition provides a forum for discussion. Fashioned From Nature asks what we can learn from the past in order to design a better fashion industry for the future. It not only challenges designers to create clothes that are both beautiful and responsible, but also encourages us all to consider more carefully our own clothes.

The exhibition will present a range of solutions to reducing fashion’s impact on the environment from low water denim and using wild rubber to more conceptual and collaborative projects. These include a dress grown from plant roots by the artist Diana Scherer, who 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.

Speckled Crimson Ruff by Michelle Lowe-Holder, ‘Flock and Fold’ Collection AW11. Photography by Polly Penrose.


Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at London College of Fashion, UAL, will present two interactive installations which explore ‘Fashion Now’ and ‘Fashion Future.’ ‘Fashion Now’ will take five iconic contemporary fashion pieces and using sensors, visitors will be able to explore the unseen impact on nature of the construction, making, wearing and discarding of each item.

Fashion Future’ will immerse viewers into the fashion world of the future, inviting us to question what fashion means and show us a future we are yet to imagine. | #FashionedFromNature

This article first appeared in the April 2018 edition of Natural Mumma Magazine and was written by Gerard Hughes. 

ethical fashion events

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