Harper's Bazaar June 2018 - Page 118

HOT LIST Bazaar interest in nature too—dresses were encrusted with the iridescent wings of beetles, seal-skin was a popular choice for winter muffs and jackets, while whalebone was used to construct corsets, valued for its strength and flexibility. There was even a brief American fad in the 1880s of wearing living makech beetles—they were attached by a chain to a lapel or corsage, their hard shells decorated with precious stones as if they were jewellery. While few species survived the Victorian era wholly unscathed, birds had a particularly bad time of it. A long-held vogue for feather- trimmed hats meant that there was a perennial demand for exotic, showy plumage. Smaller types, such as the hummingbird with its jewel-toned colours, were used whole, stuffed and sewn onto millinery, as were birds of paradise and tiny, emerald-hued cuckoos. Some breeds, such as the osprey, were hunted almost to the point of extinction, and it was only the efforts of a group of suffragettes who finally helped to end this widespread killing of the avian population, banding together to form the RSPB in 1889. The advent of World War I and the decline of regional industry saw the English countryside represented in a new light, reimagined as an Arcadian idyll, with a host of writers from Thomas Hardy to DH Lawrence romanticising the great outdoors. “The rural landscape was mythologised as the antithesis of the modern urban environment,” says Edwards. “The regularity of the seasons and traditions of the land were interpreted as symbols of stability, offering a refuge from the political upheavals and economic uncertainties of the period.” Country fabrics such as tweed and wool were seen to embody a quintessentially British style. A September 1937 photograph by Norman Parkinson for Harper’s Bazaar shows a tweed-clad model walking down a deserted country lane in high summer. Although she is smartly dressed, she appears completely at one with her surroundings, her clothing perfectly in keeping with her environment. 118 Not long afterwards, with the onset of World War II, thousands of city dwellers around Europe headed to the countryside in search of refuge, among them a young Christian Dior, who left occupied Paris for rural France in 1940. “I found myself living for the first time in the depths of the country,” he recalled in his autobiography. “I became passionately fond of it and developed a feeling for hard labour on the land, the cycle of the seasons, and the perpetual mystery of germination.” He spoke of designing clothes for flowerlike women, and so many of his designs evoked that look— the narrow, stem-like torso contrasting with the very full skirts, like the corolla of a plant. While Dior’s women resembled cultivated, hothouse specimens, the V&A exhibition considers his work alongside that of Alexander McQueen, who was also influenced by nature, albeit in a very different way. McQueen explored the wild and animalistic in his work, often highlighting its darker side. His 2001 collection Voss featured clothes embellished with ostrich feathers, oyster shells, and razor clams, while the Spring 2007 show Sarabande included a dress that mixed real blooms with artificial ones. He told this magazine: “I used flowers because they die. My mood was darkly romantic at the time.” His final complete collection before his death was Plato’s Atlantis for Spring 2010, which imagined a future where global warming had caused sea levels to rise and humans to evolve in order to survive. Models sported gills, their hair twisted into horns, their feet encased in claw-like ‘armadillo’ boots. The entire show—streamed online, filmed by two robotic cameras—seemed to illustrate the mental disconnect between humans and the Earth we inhabit, while highlighting the fact that physically we are inextricably linked to it—the amphibious models a reminder that we change in response to our environment, even as it is changed by us. Past fashions chronicle our historic preoccupation with the beauty of nature; but perhaps the way forward is to celebrate it in a more sustainable way, that protects rather than exploits our precious materials. Mesmerising as Alexander McQueen’s underwater dystopia was, few of us would choose to live in an Atlantis. n Fashioned from Nature, sponsored by CELC, is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London until January 27, 2019.