Fashioned From Nature is a new exhibition opening April 21, 2018 at London’s historic Victoria & Albert museum. Sponsored by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, the organizational body for European linen, Fashioned From Nature is the first major exhibition to explore the complex relationship between the fashion industry and the natural world. Exhibits date from 1600 to the present day, and range from good to bad, from ugly to inspiring. As a natural fabric, linen emerges as one of the few really eco-friendly fabrics. A huge photograph of flowering flax fields, the source of linen, is the first image to greet visitors on entry to the museum’s fashion show space. Linen is on display in designer works by world-famous names including Stella McCartney, John Malkovich and JW Anderson. Other featured designers inspired by nature are Dries van Noten, Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Giles Deacon, while a Calvin Klein gown, made from recycled plastic bottles and worn by Harry Potter actress Emma Watson at 2016’s Met Gala, demonstrates potentials for innovative, eco-friendly fabrics.
Curator Edwina Ehrman hopes that the exhibition will fuel a conversation about clothes and where they come from, so we had a conversation with her.
How did Fashioned From Nature come about?
For years I wanted to do an exhibition on the way fashion is inspired by nature – the materials, patterns and construction. I first proposed the idea in 2014, but now there is more awareness of the impact of fashion and other industrial processes on the environment.
Why do you say the awareness is heightened now?
[BBC nature documentary] Blue Planet drew attention to our hideous problems with plastic waste. China has said it won’t accept low-grade waste any more. Fashion houses and designers, colleges and students, are implementing sustainability from the start. The timing is serendipitous.
Is this a tough topic for a fashion exhibition?
I want people to leave feeling positive, not bash them on the head but raise debate. Fashion has been polluting for centuries. Anything that involves dyeing is polluting. But fashion was more sustainable in the past because fewer people could afford large wardrobes. The real problems began as it scaled up.
Has the exhibition changed how you feel about fashion?
Personally I try to stop going out to buy when I feel fed up or when there are new clothes in the shop; I limit what I buy, buy more assiduously, don’t just buy cotton. Enjoy it. Mend it. Alter it if you get bored. Dispose sensibly. I agree with Vivienne Westwood’s mantra: buy less, wear longer, discard wisely.