Fashioned From Nature
The world renowned Victoria and Albert Museum invites visitors to look at the world of fashion - fashion from the animal kingdom, fashion inspired by the natural world and the future of fashion in the exhibition 'Fashioned From Nature'.
The exhibition immerses the visitors in the methods behind all the different fabric processes from dyeing, presenting and then the end product.
Looking at where the most used fabrics come from can sometimes be surprising, Linen for example is made from Flax- a noise reducing material that feels like horse hair in texture, a wall of which provides a transition from the outer gallery into the exhibition.
Wool- a material that is used widely known for its warmth, durability and elasticity. It can be used in knitting or woven to make beautiful pieces of fabric. Wool originates from the fleece of a sheep- the Ryeland sheep producing the finest wool in England. The sheep gets sheared and the wool is spun, woven, cleaned, fulled (shrinking it to consolidate fibres), dyed and then finished. The aromas caused throughout the processes are directly linked to the oil, grease, soap and dirt that are used/created with a subtle hint of Animalic notes reminiscent of the origin.
Cotton- a soft, comfortable and lightweight material that can absorb an incredibly high amount of water. It is the fabric of choice that keeps us cool in the hot weather and warmer in the colder months, it is a versatile fabric that is easy to maintain. Cotton comes from the seed pods of the cotton plant. When ripe they burst open revealing the cotton lint that covers the seeds, which then is prepared, spun and weaved. Smells of aldehydes and freshness with a soft tactile note gives the impression of clean, pleasant and caring qualities.
Fur for Felting- fur lined garments such as coats and muffs were popular in the 16th century. They became a fashionable accessory that had a purpose, to create warmth. The scaly keratinous fibres of the Beavers woolly underfur meshed tightly during the felt making process, which meant that it was ideal and strong enough to support unstable structures. Fur-lined garments help lead the imagination to Animalic notes of Castoreum, a very pungent and intense smell reminiscent of leather and musk with its warming quality.
Nature has also been an immense source of inspiration for many designers throughout the centuries. Flora and fauna have long been stimulation for patterns be it in books or for beautifully decorated dresses, it has also aided in the mixing of cultures in costumes. A beautiful patterned delicate white dress in the exhibition was identifiably Indian with the intricate flora pattern-however being on a white background with undulating floral sprays it showed adaptations for the British market.
Some traditional dyes, which continue to be used today derive from plants and insects, however many are also a mix of natural and synthetic chemicals to create the perfect colour. Far from the process which involved using a blend of olive oil, dung and fresh animal blood to create a turkey red dye- there has since been a synthetic alizarin patented. The beautiful colours that came from the dyeing processes are still around today and helped lift the fashion world to a new state.
Along with all of this beauty comes the darker side of fashion and the effects it has on the natural world. Some processes can produce harmful substances that get washed back into rivers by the manufacturers, causing unsanitary water and ill health.
The amount of water that is used to produce a garment especially one made of cotton has been increasingly under watch and has been having an adverse effect on water sources, most noticeably the Aral Sea which has decreased in size and dried up dramatically over the past decade- Stacey Dooley also investigates this in one of her documentaries for TV- 'Stacey Dooley Investigates: Are your clothes wrecking the planet'.
The phase of mass modernity has accelerated at a staggering rate since the mid 20th century and now readymade clothes have become the norm and fast fashion is nonstop. With technology making fashion more accessible than ever, it is unknown as to whether it will ever slow down again. Nature is still highly used in the production of fashion, however man-made textiles created through innovation with synthetic fibres have been engineered in the laboratory to keep up with the demand for fast fashion.
Enter the world of eco warriors. Green chic for the red carpet- by Erdem. A stunning dress from Erdem's 2015 collection of Eco-Age sustainable fashion was highlighted at the exhibition for its use of re-used, surplus and certified sustainable materials to create a collection of environmentally responsible designs that were worthy of the red carpet. The breath-taking dress showed no signs of being anything but beautiful with its dream like floral pattern pouring down a pale green fabric adorned with subtle ruffles, bringing to the mind a delicate sweet floral fragrance.
With that in mind- there is a future in fashion- how could there not be? But research is well on its way to a more sustainable industry and ways of making fashion not only fun but safe for the environment and the people in it. And as consumers of fashion our careful choices can also help drive this change.