Sunday, 9 December 2018

Fashioned from Nature at the V&A

I'm very late to the party here, as this exhibition has been running since April, but I finally went to see Fashioned from Nature, the current costume exhibition at the V&A.

The exhibition sets out to look at fashion's relationship with nature, as a source of both inspiration and raw materials. One of the oldest exhibits is this woman's waistcoat from 1610-20. Made from linen and embroidered with silk and metal threads, at least some of the flower species are recognizable, even if the colours are not.

Woman's embroidered linen waistcoat

Similarly some of the butterflies and moths on this painted silk are actual species.

Painted silk taffeta dress, 1770s, altered 1780-85

Some of the exhibits show how natural materials were used to create structure, such as the cane supports in this calash (a type of bonnet designed to protect the towering hairstyles of the period).

Silk, canvas and cane calash, 1775-80, with x-ray showing the cane supports

There are sections on both cotton and wool. The wool section includes this amazing sample book of the different colours, types and qualities of cloth avalable. There are 39 pages, some with over 100 samples - oh to have so much choice today!

Sample book, 1795, probably from Somerset

The next section looks at nature used as decoration. The gleaming green accents on this dress are not sequins, but the wing cases of Indian jewel beetles: over 5,000 of them in all.

Cotton dress, 1868-9

Birds, especially those with iridescent feathers, were also sought-after for trimmings on hats and fans, and even made into earrings. This tray of specimens shows some of the birds still in their paper wrappers for sale.

Stuffed birds ready for use as trimmings

As legislation was passed limiting the use of exotic birds and feathers, or for customers who could not afford them, there were alternatives. The bird on this hat is actually a starling; bleached, dyed, and supplemented with larger feathers. Even the beak has been dyed.

Wool hat, around 1885, trimmed with a starling and other feathers

Other examples of alternatives made to replace natural materials include this amazing floral display modelled from wax.

Wax flowers modelled by John Haynes Wintorn, around 1875

The exhibition continues upstairs, where it looks more modern clothing. Recent examples on display show how nature continues to act as an inspiration to designers, such as this dress in a print derived from a 1904 book on birds eggs.

Printed silk georgette dress, Giles Deacon, 2016

Hat of cotton, velvet, silk and waxed flowers, Philip Treacey, 2016

Much of the upstairs section however looks at the impact of fashion on nature, such as the pollution caused by the manufacture of synthetic fabrics. It also looks at cruelty-free alternatives. Not exactly one for everyday use, is the use of beading to make this 'leopardskin' dress. The tiny beads give it a texture which makes it look amazingly realistic.

Beaded taffeta evening gown, Jean Paul Gaultier, 1997

This dress and coat is made from kibiso silk, a fabric made from the protective outer surface of silk cocoons, which is usually discarded as waste.

Dress and coat, Reiko Sudo, 2017

The exhibition also looks at the way that even in the relatively recent past materials were used with as little waste as possible. This stunning blouse was painstaking made by a London dressmaker from the remnants of a burnt-out German parachute.

Silk blouse made by Esther Ferguson, 1942

In considering the environmental impact of fast fashion, the exhibition includes a message dear to my heart.

'Mend More' jumper, Bridget Harvey, 2015

Fashioned from Nature runs until 27 January 2019.

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