Review: Fashioned From Nature at The V&A

 Come and look at the beauty…And I will show you the truth, the horror and some hope which includes pineapples, oranges, grapes, and growing shoes. And of course, a revolution.

You know when you were a kid and went to a museum, say the British Museum, and, imagining that you were as geeky as I was, you looked around ancient artefacts and went: oh wow, a needle made out of bones! and, look a necklace made of shells, that’s amazing! Well, the first floor of Fashioned From Nature is a bit like that, but sort of reversed.

As you’d expect, animal cruelty featured heavily, but so did poisonous chemicals which I thought was a cool detail. My ‘favourite’ poisonous chemical, if you can say so, was alizarin, mostly because the composition reminded me of black magic more than science: made from rancid olive oil, dung and fresh animal blood, this delicious recipe was accounted for being, in fact, the first colourfast dye, also called Turkey red.  Maybe I wouldn’t have paid much attention to it, was it not for the fact that it was also used  to dye threads for embroidery, and from which ‘redwork’ embroidery got its name. What did it do to people? Especially those in proximity of the factory making it or the people involved in the process? It had dung in it, and rancid olive oil, I think you can guess.

The British Empire

I wouldn’t say the first floor was shocking though, it was certainly pleasant, at first, with its luxurious examples of craftsmanship, the message delivered gently through facts: do you like this beautiful feathery shawl? Well, it killed thousands of ospreys or contributed to the almost extermination of egrets. Do you like this bright nineteenth century red dress? Well, it’s poisonous, and so was this purple dye called aniline. Look at it! Pretty right? And these cotton shirts? Made by slaves. What could nature provide that could be turned into profit? Hello British Empire! Let’s see…if we conquer this land, and that land, and take everything they have and sell it somewhere else…mmmmhhhh…Lots of profit! Let’s do it then. The horror was well masked behind the beautiful objects and fashions, but horror there was: delicate horror, pretty horror, or sort of, subtle horror, that kind of horror that is meant to be provoked without aggression. Yes, that’s how I saw it.

Emma Watson’s Red Carpet Dress by Calvin Klein welcomes you as you walk up the stairs.

I was ready for the second floor at this point. That’s where I spent most of my time, in the end. I’m a history lover, but, currently, I’m in the mood for hope, action and seeing where we can go and what we can do to bring change. It’s gotta be done. So, for this reason, my highlight was learning about Piñatex.

100% natural, piñatex is a  fibre made from pineapple, in the Amazon rainforest. The process of making it folllows a circular economy model, with no leftovers to dump somewhere else. Yes, I want it.  The video, though, was short. I could have watched a whole documentary on it, I mean it, I swear, come on!!  The project is by designer Flavia Amadeu and Dr. Carmen HIjosa, I’ll drop some links at the end of this post. I’m now researching what I can buy made from piñatex. Is it really as good as it sounds? Let’s hope. Here’s hope. There were also trainers made from recycled bottles,  and fabrics made from grape and orange peels.



‘Who made my clothes?’ Fashion Revolution project was part of the exhibition too, of course. But should there have been more?

And then what? Emma Watson’s recycled plastic bottles red carpet dress by Calvin Klein is on show,

Jean Paul Gaultier, 1997 beaded dress to emulate distinctive rosette patterned fur of leopard skin, and which took more than 1000 hours.

featured and set for instagram friendly photos (I took 3 to be on the safe side); a series of big names like Galliano, Dior, Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney are also there to attract and encourage awe and debate, but my heart wanted to see more, way way more about Fashion Revolution and their mission and project, and despite the fact that there was a little island to represent the current movements and debates I was like: mmmh, is that it?

Sure, I loved the punk black leather jacket from 1989 ‘Clean Up or Die’ by Katharine Hamnett (IDOL) and saw a lot of my ethos in  the 2015 piece ‘Mend More bin less’ by Bridget Harvey, and liked having the opportunity to watch a short video where Vivienne Westwood shared her wisdom: ‘buy less, choose well, and make it last.’ Yes, yes, yes, great! You can also throw in the Green Carpet Challenge by Erdem, and that John Malkovich is now a fashion designer, but I wanted more.

Michelle Lowe-Holder statement pieces are made from collection scraps, end of line vintage haberdashery and all kind of recycled things.

I wanted more Katie Jones, more Michelle Lowe-Holder, more Rosie Martin and more space given to Dylis Williams and Renée Cuoco and their current work.  I LOVED the video art piece: ‘what if you could grow a shoe?’ And I do do hope that when you go (because you’ll go right?), you don’t get distracted by Dior and Gucci, and go straight to the Centre for Sustainable Fashion bit of the show, on the right handside. It doesn’t look like much, I think. But it’s in stark contrast with the peacocking of the other bits of the exhibit. I almost missed it at first. It has a bit of the appeal of 90s children’s interactive museum shows where you press buttons and things light up on screens. In this case, it’s a little more technological (or magic?), as you initiate the videos via touching the garments on wooden mannequins. I hope I don’t sound too harsh.  I liked it. Lots of important thoughts to go home with, including on the possibility of growing a shoe. I definitely want to grow a shoe, so I highly recommend you go to the show and decide you want to grow a shoe too, and we can grow a shoe together, and embroider it too. Because I love. embroidering.
Note: Ideally, though, let’s grow two shoes. It would be a pity to only wear one. Also: was the Katharine Hamnett leather jacket real leather? Just wondering.





“Clean Up or Die” –  1989, by Fashion Designer Katharine Hamnett

This recent article on the Guardian on Katharine Hamnett

Michelle Lowe-Holder – Amazing designer who works with upcycled fabrics, vintage and scraps from previous collections

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion – A few video pieces, activated by touch: ‘What if you could grow a Shoe’ was my favourite, I wrote two names down: Dilys Williams and Renée Cuoco.

The Silent Spring  (1962)  – A cult  and classic by Rachel Carson. This book has popularised modern ecology. I liked this article on the New York Times, so I thought I’d share it.

Jean Paul Gaultier 1997  Cat Woman –  mock leopard skin, beaded gown, over 1000 hours to make. I still wouldn’t wear it. But, hey, impressive it is.

Sarah Ratty – Conscious Earthwear,  and the Oeko-Tex licensing system (the link is super businessy, but you might be interested in knowing more about it).

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