Written by Edwina Ehrman, Senior Curator of Fashioned from Nature
Fashioned from Nature explores the fabric of fashion – from flowers and insects embroidered on fine linen and sumptuous silks glinting with metal threads to textured rayon animal prints and fascinating new materials made from waste. It celebrates fashion’s innovation and creativity, and the inspiration it finds in nature, but draws attention to its heavy footprint on the planet. Fashion’s processes and insatiable demand for raw materials come at considerable environmental cost, contributing to air and water pollution and the loss of flora and fauna across the globe. Spanning 400 years 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 tells this story through dress and accessories drawn from the V&A’s collection and loans from leading designers such as Stella McCartney, Giles Deacon and Ermenegildo Zegna. Natural history specimens, taxidermy, film and images add context. A specially commissioned soundscape brings nature into the exhibition space in another way gradually merging birdsong with the sounds of machinery to suggest the increasing impact of human activity as technology advanced and the population grew.
Throughout, Fashioned from Nature highlights the role of campaigners in raising awareness of the negative impact of fashion, from the founding members of the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds to Katharine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood. Importantly, it focuses on solutions and draws attention to the exciting interdisciplinary research taking place today which is driving the development of cleaner, less wasteful processes and materials.
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.
Fashioned from Nature opens 21 April 2018.