Fashioned from Nature review

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Recommended
5 out of 5 stars
Fashioned from Nature review
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

This is the V&A doing what the V&A does best: staging world-class exhibitions of immaculately preserved and presented fashion. 

There are two strands to their new spring blockbuster’s bow. The first covers the way clothing has been inspired by the beauty of nature for hundreds of years (think jaw-dropping seventeenth-century botanical embroidery through to Alexander McQueen’s final complete collection, which coated runway models in an amphibian-like skin). 

The second explains how fashion has, more often than not, devastatingly exploited the natural world, from skinning beavers and shooting albatrosses to mass-scale cotton and silk production.

The ground floor of the exhibition is given over to the pomp of the past. It’s a sartorial nature-based feast of whalebone corsets, collapsible bonnets, bird-topped hats and feathered muffs. The ever-present tension is between the visual beauty of the creations and the ethically questionable materials used to make them. 

Upstairs the focus shifts to the modern era and the brands working with ingenious new technologies to make fashion sustainable. There’s nothing dodgy-looking made from sackcloth hemp here – much of this is high (or high street) fashion, proving that the days of ‘eco-fashion’ equalling New Age are long gone. 

Dotted throughout are pretty additions to the space including Instagrammable ferns in glass bottles and some Attenborough-style videos of climate change screwing over the Earth. 

There are many clever echoes between the upstairs and downstairs sections. Some are visual, like an eighteenth-century fan and a 2014 Christopher Kane outfit, both adorned with images of the sexual anatomy of flowers. Others are thematic, as with the early attempts at sourcing alternative materials like ‘vegetable ivory’ taken from the seeds of a dwarf palm tree.

As the success of companies from Erdem to Oasis shows, we love a good floral frock. But this exhibition is about more than looking fabulous. It’s about the future of fashion – and the planet.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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