Exhibition Review: Fashioned from Nature at the V&A

The fashion industry is the world's second most polluting industry, after oil. The industry uses 25% of the world's chemicals and produces around 10% of the world's global carbon emissions. So bravo to the V&A for its thought-provoking and timely exhibition, Fashioned from Nature which explores the relationship between fashion and nature.

The 300-piece show is divided into various segments and opens by examining how fashion designers draw on the beauty and power of nature for inspiration through exhibits including a 1780s man’s waistcoat, expertly embroidered with a pattern of playful Macaque monkeys, a women’s jacket from the early 1600s embroidered with designs of pea-shoots and flowers and a 2016 Giles Deacon haute-couture dress featuring a pattern of delicate bird eggs.
Fashioned from Nature at V&A
The show also shows how fashion's processes and constant demand for raw materials have and continue to damage the environment. Exhibits include macabre garments including a pair of earrings from 1875 formed from the heads of two real Honeycreeper birds, a 1860s muslin dress adorned with more than 5000 green beetle wings and a top hat wrapped in plastic still toxic after a century from the mercury used in its manufacture.

Fashioned from Nature also focuses on the raw materials required in the production of our clothing. The chronologically arranged display introduces viewers to the primary fibres used in the 17th and 18th centuries – silk, flax, wool and cotton. It also features now controversial materials such as whalebone, demonstrated using an X-ray of a pair of stays from the 1780s, and turtle shell, used in a fan from 1700.

Fashioned from Nature goes on to explore how incessant demand for raw materials – natural and man-made – has damaged the environment, and led to the exploitation of both humans and animals. This, in turn, gave rise to campaigners and protest groups who led the way for a more sustainable fashion industry, examples of which are strewn across Fashioned from Nature in the form of artworks, most notably from the Fashion Revolution. 

The exhibition sets out to be optimistic, with solutions as well as problems and looks at the role of design in creating a better, more sustainable fashion industry.  Menswear and womenswear from Stella McCartney, known for a commitment to and success in developing new alternative sustainable materials, is displayed alongside an upcycled dress by Christopher Raeburn and a Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles. Fashioned from Nature draws attention to the use of innovative fabrics. Vegea use grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute and their Grape gown is on show, as is a Ferragamo ensemble made from ‘Orange Fiber’ derived from waste from the Italian citrus industry and an H&M Conscious dress made from recycled shoreline plastic. Less we think that fashion's desire to improve its environmental performance is only a recent phenomenon, the exhibition includes earlier examples of activism with garments made from spun glass, vegetable ivory and pineapple fibres from earlier centuries. 

Fashioned from Nature


This is a captivating show to get lost in for a few hours and also a call to action to readdress the way that we think about fashion. The show runs until 27th January 2019 and entry is £12.00.

If you can't get to London, do take a look at the excellent catalogue

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