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Exhaling Nature

by Maria Foka, 17 December 2018

  There is a lot we can learn from nature because there is uniformity in the core of it – as well as within the human existence. All lions look the same, but different from the other cats; all sunbirds look the same but different from the other birds; all roses look the same but different from the other flowers. Then again, no lion is the exact same with the other lion, no sunbird, and no rose are identical to other sunbirds and roses – same as people. Unfortunately, nature hasn’t given the human species any special fashionable natural identification marks to distinguish one from the other, apart from sex, and even that is questionable. Humans have had this craze for hair and body decoration, especially the face, since Palaeolithic age. Even before man started wearing clothes, he started wearing products of nature such as shells, bones and flowers as ornaments; used stone, shell and bones as nose-rings and earrings; and painted fashionable marks on his face and body, in order to distinguish one from the other. Nature has always been used by people as a tool, an inspiration, a protection, really as the center of existence.

  People have longed to create since the beginning of their existence, and have always drawn inspiration from nature in some way, shape, or form. Art mimics nature and opens our eyes to the intricacy and beauty of the natural world. Through art, we can tell many stories: the birth, death, and everything in between. It is in the hands of the artists to choose which part to narrate. Symbols of both beauty and youth, the ephemerality of flowers as well as all living things is a reminder of the brevity of life and the inevitability of death.

Irving Penn, Flowers, 1980


  A simple yet deep truth is that the garment comes from nature and has an unbreakable bond with it. It is created by nature and depends on it. It is a fact that man, at his birth, is powerless and defenseless in nature. This is mainly due to the lack of a simple yet crucial outer layer, which is provided by nature in the form of a panoply – protecting the wearer while highlighting his deficiencies and needs. So nature acts like the source of every garment – panoply, a layer that we choose to be our second skin, a construction between a poster and a mask. Thus, it is impossible to be separated from it, and thankfully, because, as the english writer Samuel Johnson said, the deviance from nature is a deviance from happiness.

  These garments come from the fur and feather corner of the V&A museum’s exhibition ‘Fashioned from Nature’. Strikingly beautiful pieces are put together to examine the evolution of the raw materials used in the production of clothing. An ingenious but simple way of manipulating birds feathers has been employed in the construction of the mantle by Vinogradova. Hiding the mannequin’s hands – one of man’s strongest features – in the soft, innocent white fur cape seems to mislead and deceive on what may exist underneath.  It is almost weightless and its silky, sumptuous material is incredibly soft to the touch. The aggression of the black corseted jacket with wide feathered shoulders by Auguste Champot made around 1895 suggest a warning. Long, white feathers by an unknown maker of the 19th century decorate a fan, imitating the softness of a bird’s movement.  Masaya Kushino’s bird shoes were inspired by the bird paintings of the japanese artist Ito Jakuchu, and the dyed feathers were arranged to simulate his depiction of plumage – in combination with the crafted claw heels by sculptor Atsushi Nakamura it gives a rather grotesque impression.  Women’s underwear served two purposes in the 18th century. The first function carried out by the shift was to protect the clothing from the body, in an age when daily bathing was not customary. Made of very fine linen, the shift was the first garment put on when dressing. Over the shift went the linen, heavily reinforced with strips of whalebone. Their purpose was to mold the torso to the fashionable shape and provide a rigid form on which the gown could be arranged and fastened. The hoops were also made of linen and stiffened with whalebone or cane. They shaped the petticoat of the gown to the appropriate silhouette.

Vinogradova, Russia, 1880s

Auguste Champot, France, 1895

Unknown, 19th century

Masaya Kushino, 2014

  Fashion has always sought to celebrate nature – from sumptuous silks and floral patterns to the spectacular creations of designers such as Stella McCartney and Alexander Mcqueen, it is a centuries-old seam running through the clothes we all wear. The Dior fashion house has created some extraordinary pieces of jewelry exhibited at the ‘Bijoux’ collection of the Kunstgewerbemuseum. They realistically depict animals and flowers, or they interpret the movement of nature’s products in the design. Alexander Mcqueen has used the beetles many times in his designs, and Iris van Herpen, inspired by the relationship between nature and body studies, in her 2018 collection ‘Syntopia’ the bond between organic and inorganic, and the dynamics created when the bodies of the models are matched to the movement of birds’ bodies in flight. The movement of their wings coincides with the walk of the models on the catwalk, as the designer captures in transparent silk organza the flight timings of chronophotographic wave patterns that are created.

  Nature is our key to creation. However, we now have to put some limits and restrict the exploit of it. In spite of our reverence for the natural world created by people’s dependence on it, fashion seems destined to harm it. The impact of this industry has been felt for centuries, with sometimes devastating effects. The current era of intense consumerism and capitalism has taken things to a new level and the need to develop a more responsible fashion cycle in which both producers and consumers have a stake is obvious. We have to place environmental, social, and ethical improvements on fashion’s agenda, and work towards a more sustainable future.