11 June 2018
Illuminated by extraordinary garments from 1600 to the present day, the V&A’s new Fashioned From Nature exhibition explores fashion’s complex relationship with the natural world. The industry has always drawn inspiration from the power, beauty and fragility of nature, yet paradoxically its processes and constant demand for raw materials often damage the environment it seeks to celebrate.
A remarkable muslin dress from the 1860s is a case in point. It is beautiful at a distance, shimmering with iridescent green embroidery, but on closer inspection proves, to the contemporary eye, macabre, covered in the wing cases of hundreds of jewelled beetles. In 1867, 25,000 beetle wing cases were imported to London in a single consignment to satiate this popular trend. The Victorians’ use of insects, birds and animals to embellish their apparel drove many species to the edge of extinction. It is fascinating to see literature from early animal rights campaigners such as The Humanitarian League, who operated between 1891 and 1919, exhibited alongside these once fashionable garments.
Today sustainability remains a challenge; consumerism and fast fashion have a growing impact on the world around us and many industry leaders are looking to develop a more responsible fashion cycle. Current designers stepping up to the plate are displayed here, from Calvin Klein, whose look made entirely of recycled plastic bottles was worn by Emma Watson to the Met gala, to H&M with their Conscious collection.
A series of workshops and talks are running alongside the show. Book tickets now to hear fashion designer Giles Deacon (whose work features in the exhibition), photographer and film-maker Sølve Sundsbø and stylist and Love magazine editor Katie Grand in conversation with BOF’s Tim Banks. The trio will share inspiration, insights and insider knowledge, in conjunction with their new publication ‘GilesSølveKatie’.
By Chiara Allsup