This time last weekend, I got to have a first look at the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibit.Running from 21st April 2018 to 27th January 2019, the launch was timed perfectly to coincide with this year’s Fashion Revolution Week. The two-floor collection explores the complex relationship between fashion and the natural world since the 1600’s – and surprisingly, the awareness of fashion as a driver for trade, and its ecological impact.
Inspiration or Exploitation?
Edwina Ehrman, Senior Exhibition Curator, summarised the importance of the collection quite succinctly. “Everything we wear, everything we own, comes from the nature around us.”
It’s the same realisation that kickstarted my journey into living more ethically: the meat I was eating came from suffering animals, the clothes I wore were more often than not, made by suffering people. And those that used animal by-products quite literally combined the two.
The exhibition shows how we have both used nature for our own pleasure, and taken inspiration from it to create more sustainable alternatives. See that dainty white dress with leaf patterning? It uses 5,000 iridescent beetle wings as decoration, a shocking revelation from such an innocent-looking garment.
Or how about a lesson in silk? Sat next to one another is an explanation on how silk worms are killed to produce silk, and embroidery made from spun glass to emulate silk. It’s crazy to think that there were cruelty-free alternatives available from 1830s!
And on (quite literally) the other end of the exhibition, you’ve got the stunning Jean Paul Gaultier dress with faux leopard skin, made from taffeta and unimaginable hours spent beading the pattern to create a real illusion of exotic cruelty. It’s this creativity that I love: appreciating nature’s design without the need to muzzle and harness it for fashion purposes.
Cause, Effect, Solution
I was really taken by the commitment of the V&A’s curators with this exhibit, who dug up unheard ethical fashion journalism from almost over 100 years ago. With new fur trends came critiques of “dangling paws” being “unpleasing” and “suggestive of death”. The fashion elite would even come together to discuss how certain habits, such as beaver hats or crocodile-skin bags, could cause real problems for the wildlife from which they were sourced.
Personally, I think we’ve moved on from that side of things now. We’ve identified the problem, its negative effect on the planet and people, and now is time for the solution. Fur is out, and fast fashion could soon follow…
Towards the end of the exhibit, modern day is captured with a stand dedicated to fashion activism, and another to fashion innovation. It shows the real vibrancy of the ethical fashion movement of today: designers such as Stella McCartney are exploring plant-based leather alternatives, while students rally on the streets with sweatshirts saying “Mend More, Bin Less“.
Materials such as orange fibre, and plastic bottles are becoming beautiful pieces we all want to wear – especially that Calvin Klein dress that Emma Watson wore for the Green Carpet Challenge. I want it, I want it!
And alongside innovative materials comes sustainable solutions for the essentials we all need. I loved seeing G-Star RAW’s Cradle to Cradle Certified denim, which poses zero risk to the environment and workers, and wastes no water in production. The accessibility of denim made it one of the most striking ensembles on show, as I live in my jeans and am cleaning up my wardrobe as we speak. It shows that no matter your style, budget, or buying behaviour, there’s something ethical out there to suit you.