The Sustainability Series: Learning from the V&A’s “Fashioned from Nature”

Fashioned from Nature, the V&A’s latest fashion offering, opened its doors to the press yesterday and is anticipated to become the most popular of the museum’s exhibitions this year.

It’s unapologetic in recognising the failings of the fashion industry, and sets itself up to host an open conversation around sustainability and change.

However, the exhibition doesn’t feel like protest politics. Instead, it’s a well-rounded, candid insight into the complex relationship between fashion and nature. It explores historical influences and inspiration, through to environmental impacts and recent, exciting innovations that are set to shake up the industry.

As the conversation around sustainability heightens, and consumer demand for transparency and ethically-sourced, considered fashion grows, Fashioned from Nature feels particularly resonant. Here at WGSN, we’ve reported on sustainability’s transition from a nice-to-have marketing story for high-end brands to a stamp of luxury, and Fashioned from Nature reinforces it as an essential component of the future of high fashion.


The relationship between fashion and nature is intrinsic

Fashionable dress has recurringly drawn on the beauty and power of nature for inspiration. With objects dating back to the early 1600s, influence is both historic and contemporary.

We discover that Christian Dior loved gardens from childhood, and it’s evident in his rose-strewn, silk dresses – a 1956 version of which can be seen. Similarly, Christopher Kane drew parallels between floral and female anatomy for his distinctive S/S 14 collection.

However, this natural influence has historically extended beyond inspiration into the physical use of animal materials in design and production.

Controversial materials, from fur and feathers through to whalebone and mother-of-pearl populate the exhibition. A pair of earrings from 1875, formed from the heads of two real honeycreeper birds, and a muslin dress decorated with thousands of jewel beetle wings highlight the popularity of using animal parts in fashion.


fashioned from nature


The environmental impact of ‘fast-fashion culture’ will revolutionise our wardrobes 

The exhibition addresses fast-fashion culture and how the 20th Century gave rise to an intense consumerism and high-street fashion chains.

The rapid acceleration of the industry may have helped to bring fashion to the masses, but it happened at considerable environmental cost.

From the 1970s, manufacturing in countries with low labour costs and little environmental legislation helped to manage demand, and man-made textiles (created from chemically treated organic fibres) proved environmentally toxic.

One offender is rayon, created with carbon disulphide – a highly polluting chemical that can trigger nerve damage and heart disease.

It’s difficult to grasp the severity and impact of fast-fashion culture, particularly as it sits so recently within history.


Awareness within the industry will trigger innovation and change

“Protest!” says one sign on display, documenting the rise of an environmental agenda within the industry, which features campaigners, activists and protest groups like Fashion Revolution and Vivienne Westwood.

Fashioned from nature

Turning to solutions, the show offers innovative, sustainable fabrics from surprising sources – a Vegea dress made from the stalks, seeds and skins of grapes left over from wine production, which hints to a future of viable, vegan alternatives to leather, and, from the more conceptual side of the exhibition, a dress grown from plant roots by artist Diana Scherer.

The exhibition ends on Fashion Futures 2030, which invites us to join the conversation on fashion’s future and its many possibilities.

As V&A director Tristam Hunt said, “Fashioned from Nature is not just a tribute to the versatility and enduring influence of the natural world, but also a crucial and timely reminder for us all to reconsider the contents of our wardrobes.”


Subscribers can read up on our contribution to the sustainability conversation here on WGSN Insight. 

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