- Danielle Wightman-Stone |
London’s Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) latest fashion exhibition, Styleed From Nature explores what it calls the “complex relationship” between fashion and the natural world, highlighting not only how fashion has been inspired by nature, but the industry’s demand for raw materials, the environmental impact and the advancements in technology.
The exhibition curated by Edwina Ehrman features more than 300 items such as a pineapple fibre clutch bag, Emma Watson’s red carpet Calvin Klein gown made from plastic bottles, a vegan grape leather dress, and a Jean Paul Gaultier gown that looks like fur but is in fact an illusion and the leopard skin is made entirely from beads that touch the couturier more than 1,000 hours to create.
There is a big focus on the raw materials used in the production of fashion, starting with the main fibres used in the 17th and 18th centuries - silk, flax, wool and cotton, including now controversial materials such as whalebone that’s illustrated as a fan in the exhibit.
You are then are taken on a chronologically journey of raw materials and how the expansion of international trade led to the import of precious materials and unusual fabrications, such as the pineapple fibre, and then later to the introduction of man-made materials, which have had a huge impact not only on bringing fashion to the masses but also its impact on the environment and how the fashion industry is a significant contributor to air and water pollution.
Victoria and Albert’s latest fashion exhibition designed to incite change
At the heart of this exhibition it feels that the V&A is not only showcasing the beautiful fashion items designed by the likes of Stella McCartney, Christian Dior, Dries van Norten, Erdem, Burberry, Gucci, and Vivienne Westwood, but also trying to incite change by asking visitors to think about where their clothes came from and how they could shop differently.
This is highlighted with a protest section that draws attention to the harmful side of fashion, headed up by a mannequin dressed in the outfit Vivienne Westwood wore whilst protesting against climate change alongside posters from Style Revolution making visitors think about how their clothes are source, produced and consumed.
This is then supplemented with displays presenting a range of innovative solutions to reducing fashion’s impact on the environment from low water denim, to a dress grown from plant roots, a bio-luminescent genetically-engineered silk dress, a new revolutionary dyeing process using a synthetic biology based approach, as well as a tunic and trousers made from synthetic spider silk, red carpet gowns made from recycled plastic bottles and an upcycled dress from Christopher Raeburn.
In addition, the Centre for Sustainable Style at London College of Style, UAL have also created two installations that focus on ‘Style Now’ and ‘Style Future’ where visitors are able to explore the impact on nature of the construction, making, wearing and discarding of each garment.
Away from the pretty fashion inspired by nature there is a lot of information and conversation starters in this exhibition, however, curator Ehrman stresses that it isn’t meant to make visitors feel guilty for their love of fashion, instead to make them more aware of their fashion choices and options such as trying a sustainable alternative to leather, grape leather made from the waste of wine production, which is showcased with a striking gown designed by Tiziani Guardiani, as part of the first fashion collection from the biomaterial developer brand Vegea.
The Styleed From Nature exhibit is supported by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp – CELC and G-Star Raw and will run from April 21 until January 27, 2019.
Images: by Danielle Wightman-Stone