This spring, London’s V&A museum will present a major exhibition examining the sometimes toxic relationship that the fashion industry has with the natural world.
Celebrating creativity in the fashion world and examining its environmental footprint, exhibition Fashioned From Nature at the V&A includes show- stopping objects which do the same, like pieces from Alexander McQueen’s SS10 Plato’s Atlantis show, which was a forewarning of ecological apocalypse.
Placing environmental issues into an historical context, a startlingly beautiful pair of earrings made from the heads of brightly coloured Honeycreeper birds from 1875 are a stark spotlight on what fashion is made from and the impact it has on the natural world. But rather than leading with a point of view, the show’s curator Edwina Ehrman asks – how can we learn from the past and design a better fashion industry? Highlighting the importance of innovation and showing sustainable fashion as desirable, there are some truly futuristic fibres on display. These include a Ferragamo out t made from an orange bre derived from the waste product of the Italian citrus industry, and a dress made from recycled shoreline plastic by H&M.
‘Bio-fabrics indicate the way things are going and that’s what the historical side of the exhibition shows too: how waste was used to make clothes and how a lot of recycling went on in the past,’ says Ehrman.
Organised chronologically, there is one fabric that’s at once historical and innovative: linen. The flax plant (which is used to make linen) does not require irrigation. Traditionally grown, it uses rainwater, sunlight and very little fertiliser. And because its growth is dependant on stable weather conditions, flax farmers have a vested interest in maintaining the environmental equilibrium.
Both everyday and luxury, linen’s use can be traced back to the 17th century with a metre-long piece of lace bordered bobbin, which would have taken one year to make. Cut to the 1930s and it became a desirable tweed for suiting. Having fallen out of favour, it was later revived in the 80s; its construction working well with silhouettes favoured by Japanese designers. Now, it’s being used by leading London designers like JW Anderson – who favours Irish linen – and John Alexander Skelton – for whom sustainability is a given, not an extra – linen is finally looking fresh again. A timely show, it comes at a point where interest in sustainability is rising fast. As Ehrman says, ‘It’s a good time for the exhibition because it enables us to talk about the challenges and how these come about along with the really exciting solutions that we’re finding.’