We know what our clothes are made from, you only have to look at the label, but do we know which materials are the least and most damaging to the environment? Probably not.
The new fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Fashioned From Nature, gets serious about the impact fashion is having on the world. It starts off fairly simply, looking at the raw and natural materials used in clothing and decoration from the 17th century onwards, and quickly charts the growing appetite for the rare and exotic to decorate the wealthy’s clothes.
Left - Historical dress inspired by nature and new discoveries
Right - Fashion protesting against itself
It’s interesting how our love of nature and the beauty we see in it has made people want to wear it and at the same time destroy it. It's very difficult to strike a balance.
This isn’t your standard fluffy fashion exhibition or one dominated by big names, it’s a thought provoking look about what things are, where they come from and their impact on the environment. But, it’s done in a way that isn’t preaching or has a strong agenda.
It’s sponsored by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, but I feel they could have done more to highlight the benefits of wearing flax. (I didn't see hemp mentioned at all). Most commonly made into linen, flax is one of the easiest and least damaging forms of materials to grow and is definitely something we should be wearing more of. It would have been nice to see more with regards to how you can use it, different finishes and something more than being the material of a few seasonal summer shirts and suits. There’s a wall you can touch at the very beginning made of flax. It feels like really dry horse hair.
Left - Lace Bark grown from a tree
Right - Toxic Evening Coat, Madame Grès, 1936
Things I learnt from this exhibition: I’d never heard of ‘Vegetable Ivory’ or ‘Lace-Bark’ before. I didn’t know the bones used in corsetry are called ‘Baleen’, after the type of whale.
Upstairs there is a lot going on. Some pieces are simply inspired by nature while others show new materials made from by-products or waste. ‘Vegea’ uses grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute and their ‘Grape’ gown is on show, as well as a Ferragamo piece made from ‘Orange Fiber’ derived from waste from the Italian citrus industry and an H&M Conscious dress made from recycled shoreline plastic.
I think educating people - cotton uses ridiculous amounts of pesticides and water - about what they are wearing is important and it would have been good to have seen different materials: wool, flax, cotton compared with one another. These are the main choices people have when shopping.
Fashion in its nature is wasteful and destructive. There’s no logic to moving on from perfectly wearable clothes and buying new ones other than to stay ‘fashionable’. But, that’s how it works and it’s also a huge business employing many people.
We need to be realistic, the odd dress made from recycled plastic bottles isn’t even scratching the surface. We need to look at clothing like other recyclables. Take the components and raw materials apart and reuse into new garments. This would require less fresh materials and would also close the loop on the fashion industry.
Left - Vegetable Ivory
Right - The flax wall
I think it’s naive to ask people to buy less. We need to improve environmental practises, push less destructive options and reuse and recycle more.
Fashion is dictated to by money. The minute it becomes more cost effective to do something, then it will happen. Let’s just hope that's sooner rather than later.
Fashioned from Nature - Victoria & Albert Museum - Fashion, Gallery - 21 April 2018 – 27 Jan 2019 #FashionedFromNature - £12
Below - The 'GuppyFriend' which stops micro particles being released from your washing machine into the environment