The next major fashion exhibition at the V&A will focus on fashion’s complex relationship with the natural world since 1600. Some key items on display in the show, which launches next spring, include a pineapple fibre clutch-bag, Emma Watson’s 2016 Met Gala Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles and a cape of cockerel feathers.
Fashioned from Nature will demonstrate how fashionable dress recurringly draws on the beauty and power of nature for inspiration, and will include garments and accessories from Christian Dior, Dries van Noten, Christopher Raeburn, Stella McCartney and Philip Treacy among others.
It will explore how fashion’s processes and constant demand for raw materials damage the environment, featuring campaigners and protest groups that have highlighted this issue such as Fashion Revolution and Vivienne Westwood. It will also look at the role of design in creating a better, more sustainable fashion industry.
Watson’s Calvin Klein look made from recycled plastic bottles is one of the most important exhibits. Designed in separate parts, it was intended to be re-worn in different ways and it was created as part of the “Green Carpet Challenge” with Eco-Age, an initiative which pairs sustainability with glamour. The look will be shown with a floral dress from British based designer Erdem’s Green Carpet Challenge collection.
The exhibition will also draw attention to the use of innovative, sustainable fabrics. For instance Vegea uses grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute and their Grape gown will be on show, as will 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.
It will also look to the past 400 years of fashion to explore what we can learn from fashion practice in the past, with objects dating to the early 1600s. Items include an 1875 pair of earrings formed from the heads of two real Honeycreeper birds – a hugely popular item sold in enormous volume at the time – and a 1860s muslin dress decorated with the iridescent green wing cases of hundreds of jewel beetles. They will be shown alongside natural history specimens to indicate the ways fashion has used animal materials in its designs and production.
A bold display of posters, slogan clothes and artworks will show how protest movements have helped draw attention to the harmful side of fashion. Figures like Vivienne Westwood have popularised these issues and a mannequin will pay homage to an outfit worn by her whilst protesting against climate change. A man’s outfit from Katharine Hamnett’s 1989 ‘Clean Up or Die’ collection will be on show alongside posters from Fashion Revolution, a collective aiming to change the way clothes are sourced, produced and consumed.
The exhibition will present a range of solutions to reducing fashion’s impact on the environment from low water denim and using wild rubber to more conceptual and collaborative projects. These include a tunic and trousers made from synthetic spider silk from Bolt Threads x Stella McCartney.
Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at London College of Fashion, UAL, will present two interactive installations which explore “Fashion Now” and “Fashion Future”. “Fashion Now” will take five iconic contemporary fashion pieces and using sensors, visitors will be able to explore the unseen impact on nature of the construction, making, wearing and discarding of each item. “Fashion Future” will immerse viewers into the fashion world of the future, inviting us to question what fashion means and show us a future we are yet to imagine.
The exhibition is the latest in the V&A’s series of revelatory fashion exhibitions and follows Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion (2016 – 17), Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear (2016 – 2017), Shoes: Pleasure and Pain (2015 – 2016) and Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s (2013 – 2014). Sponsored by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp – CELC – Fashioned from Nature runs from 21 April 2018 to 27 January 2019.