Sunday 27 January 2019


Fashioned from Nature, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, explores the relationship between fashion and nature from the 1600 to present day. It is one of those shows that really demands several visits to truly appreciate the inspiring, innovative and also disturbing and potentially devastating effects of fashion on the environment; all interlaced with a message of hope and a concerted effort to create a brighter future for the clothing industry and the consumer. 

Speaking at the opening of the show, curator Edwina Ehrman, explained that, 'I've been a curator for over 30 years and I've always wanted to do an exhibition that interacts with nature. Everything we wear, and have always worn, comes from the earth. 

'I had a sense that we are at a tipping point,' continued Ehrman, 'And I felt that the exhibition needed to reflect that and to link the past, present and future.' 

The mix of over 300 pieces, includes early 1700's embroideries, intricate couture from Paul Poiret, Alix (Madame Grèsand Christian Dior, revolutionary designs by Katharine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood, plus pioneering modern-day items by Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein and G-Star RAW

With the focus on how each exhibit has been produced, the exhibition sets out to explore what we can learn from the fashion practises of the past and how innovative new fabrics, such as mycelium leather, derived from mushrooms, and grape leather can be utilised in the future.

'This is the first exhibition to put fashion sustainability in this context,' said Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, at the show opening, 'It brings together both exquisite and unsettling pieces from the V&A collection, including Vita Sackville-West's beautiful embroidered cape, which is my favourite exhibit.'

Drawn from Nature: The monkeys decorating this fashionable waistcoat were copied from 
illustrations in the Comte de Buffon's multi-volume encyclopedia Natural History, 1749-88. 
Man’s embroidered waistcoat with a pattern of 
macaque monkeys, silk and linen, France, 1780–89 
Image: Vee Speers © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Woven silk train for an evening dress, France or Britain, c.1897-1905
Image: Vee Speers © V&A

Admirable Detail: The silk weaver's skill is apparent in this realistic portrayal of flowers, where each leaf vein, thorn and curling petal is carefully accentuated. Silk train (detail of above image), woven with a pattern of roses, France or Britain, c.1895-1905
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Inspired by Nature: Woman's waistcoat (with altered neckline), Britain, 1610 - 20. 
Linen, embroidered with silk and metal thread, and sequins, V&A

Remodelled & Re-used: British glazed cotton dress with block-printed trails of flowers, lined with linen 
and baleen (whalebone), 1780-85. Altered in 1985-96 for a more fashionable appearance. 
Garments from this period often show signs of updating and repair, V&A

Early machine printing: a pattern of summer-flowering plants roller-printed on a continuous 
length of cotton muslin and assembled by a dressmaker, Britain, 
about 1858-60 (with later alterations), V&A

Cape of curled cockerel feathers, Auguste Champot, France, ca. 1895
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Branching Out: Japanese hairstylist and make-up artist, Katsuya Kamo's dramatic headpiece for 
Undercover, Japan, 2016. Rose branches, acrylic paint, steel wire, 
paper and cotton yarn crown

Sea View: 'Underwater Gown' by Zac Posen, New York, 2007. Silk, cellulose 
acetate and polyester, V&A

A World of Water: Alexander McQueen's last fully realised collection 'Plato's Atlantic" imagined 
a world of climate change - melting ice caps, submerged land and humans evolving to live 
underwater. McQueen's collections often expressed his ecological awareness. Digital print silk dress, Alexander McQueen, London, 2010, V&A

Materials that look Modern: For conceptual artist Stephen Willats, PVC encapsulated the progress and optimism of the 1960's. The toxic materials used to manufacture PVC make its disposal problematic. Variable Sheets outfit, Stephen Willats, Britain, 1965, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and metal, V&A

Field & Hedgerow: At first sight, the grid pattern on this unisex suit seems the antithesis of fluid natural form. Yet John Galliano chose this Linton Tweeds fabric because it resembled a bird's eye view of ploughed fields and described the tufts of mohair as sheep's fleece caught in the hedges. Suit, Ludic Game collection, John Galliano, London 1985. Wool, lined with acetate and cork toggles. Shirt and shoes, Fallen Angels collection, John Galliano, London 1986. Shoes designed by Patrick Cox, V&A

Flower Power: Cotton, velvet, silk and waxed flower floral helmet, Philip Treacy
London, 2016

Floral Artifice: For the Dior AW10 Haute Couture collection, John Galliano paid tribute to Christian Dior's vision of women as seductive hot-house flowers. Mohair wool and silk chiffon coat, leather gloves, Perspex hat simulating florist's cellophane wrap and silk satin belt reminiscent of florist's twine, John Galliano for Dior Couture, Paris, 2010. 
Dior Heritage Collections, Paris

Flower Women: From childhood Christian Dior loved gardens. Through designs like this rose-stern silk dress, 
he turned his models into and clients into living embodiments of flowers. 'Montecarlo' evening dress, 
Christian Dior, Paris, 1956, silk taffeta, V&A

Artificial Silk: 'Samovar' evening dress, Paul Poiret, Paris, 1921-22. Cuprammonium with metal strip, lace, lame and tulle. The production of cuprammonium (Bemberg silk) is now banned in the USA, as it causes water pollution and irritating aerosols of sulphuric acid and ammonia

Green Chic for the Red Carpet: Detail of Erdem's 2015 Green Carpet Challenge collection, launched by 
Livia Firth of Eco-Age in 2010. 'Marianne' dress, Erdem, London, 2015. Silk gazar

All your Eggs: Giles Deacon derived the print for his Faberge Imperial Gown from Arthur G. Butler's 
Birds' Eggs of the British Isles (1904). The print includes pointed guillemot eggs and the name of the dress 
suggests that the birds' eggs are as precious as iconic jewelled Faberge eggs.  
Printed silk georgette gown, Giles Deacon Couture, London 2016

Artificial Flowers: In the1800's faux flowers were popular replacements for fragile dried flowers.  
Arrangements were purchased to decorate the home and Natural History museums employed wax 
artists to make accurate botanical models of plants for study and display.
Group of flowers, John Haynes Mintorn, wax, wire and cloth, London, c. 1875

Seaside Pleasures: Seaweeds, shells and other marine flora and fauna were popular print 
motifs in the 1800's, 
Scrapbook with specimens of seaweeds, Britain, c.1878, V&A 

Imitating Nature: This circular cape, which belonged to Vita Sackville-West, is made from colour shifting 
velvet, that simulates the natural effect of iridescence, found in mother-of-pearl, jewel beetles and some birds' feathers.
Cape, silk, velvet and cotton, Britain, c. 1898, V&A

Cellulose Couture: Cellulose acetate evening coat, designed by Alix (Madame Grès), Paris, 1936

Cellulose acetate evening coat (detail of above image) scattered with artificial pearls, 
designed by Alix (Madame Grès), Paris, 1936
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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

Grown from Mycelium: Bolt Threads has developed a 'leather' created by combining mycelium cells (the underground root structure of a mushroom) with a substrate of corn stalks and nutrients. This prototype handbag, made in Stella McCartney's signature Falabella style, is the first object made of this material.
Mylo Falabella Prototype 1, Stella McCartney & Bolt Threads, mycelium leather, London, 2018

George Stubbs 'Horse Frightened by a Lion' print, woman's shirt, trousers and 
shoesStella McCartney, Winter 2017
© Stella McCartney

Marrying Ethics to Aesthetics: Calvin Klein Green Carpet Challenge outfit worn by Emma Watson to the 
MET Gala 2016. Bustier, trousers and train, Calvin Klein Collection with Eco-Age, recycled PET plastic, organic cotton and silk, lace worked with yarns free from hazardous chemicals and zips made 
from recycled materials, USA, 2016
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Creative Handicraft: Outfit made from leather off-cuts and surplus yarn, Katie Jones, 2017
Photograph by Rachel Mann

Animal-free leather: ‘Grape’ dress (detail) made with Vegea, a leather 
alternative made from grape waste 
© Vegea

Sustainable Washing Techniques: Jacket and jeans of Cradle to Cradle Certified™ denim 
fabric at the Gold Level, shirt and boots, G-Star RAW, 2018, Netherlands 
© G-Star RAW

Blowin' in the Wind: The dynamic form of Philip Treacy's windswept feathered confection forms
an organic green curtain that protects the wearer.
 Windswept Veil, Philip Treacy, feathers, London, 1999

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