Decapitated Birds And Recycled Paper Clothing: Fashion Cross Breeds With Nature At V&A
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If you think that fashion on catwalks today can look a bit outlandish, it's nothing compared to how bizarre fashion once was. We can't really imagine this type of conversation happening today:
"Fancy this overcoat? I had to slaughter 32 Russian wolves to source the fur."
"Yep, with 31 you'd still feel a little chilly but 32, that's the magic number."
"Can you kill a whale to make me a riding crop out of baleen, I like one animal to die so I can abuse another?"
"Of course, do you want me to kill some dolphins along the way?"
"Sure why not"
We might have made those conversations up, but it's based on the clothing on show in the V&A's new Fashioned from Nature exhibition.
Other bizarre creations are a pair of earrings made out the heads of some beautiful red legged honeycreepers, because nothing says glamour like a pair of decapitated birds, and a dress that's iridescent because it's covered in 5,000 beetle wing parts. The beetles, won't somebody please think of the beetles?
It's refreshing that not all the clothes are made from animals — a waistcoat decorated with macaques wasn't actually made from monkeys, how novel.
It's easy to forget that until recently animal cruelty wasn't much of a consideration and if many animals had to die for people to look good then so be it. Worse still, most people were probably ok with the fact that animals had to die, often horribly, for the advancement of fashion.
Upstairs is the second, more modern, part of the exhibition it all turns about face as we see fashion brands become more environmentally responsible — probably because it became more... fashionable.
There's vegan leather made from grape stems, seeds and skin — yes we don't have a clue about how that works either, but it looks just like regular leather. There's a t-shirt made from recycled paper, a dress worn by Emma Watson made from plastic bottles and a suit made from flax — a crop that requires less irrigation and therefore reduces water usage.
This isn't to say fashion today gets a free pass — there's a poster about how fur is murder and a gas mask that was worn in a Greenpeace protest on the pollutants created by the fashion and textile industries.
It's good to see some of the harsh realities behind the glamour, as often fashion exhibitions just become a showcase for designer brands to show off their wares.
Not all of the top floor creations are particularly relevant, for example claiming a camouflage patterned suit is inspired directly from nature doesn't fly as we're pretty sure the military got there first. Plus the use of animal motifs in modern fashion is a bit of a stretch — aren't all fashion labels inspired by nature in that way? Luckily most of the clothing sticks to the central theme of the direct interaction between fashion and nature.
By looking at the wider issue of environmentalism, this show will appeal to more than just the fashionistas and we get a stronger and more nuanced exhibition because of it.
Fashioned from Nature is on at V&A from 21 April until January 27. Tickets are £12.
Last Updated 19 April 2018