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Fashioned From Nature

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May 3, 2021 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm

Design Society, the V&A and China National Silk Museum Present Fashioned from Nature in Shenzhen

A show that “will change the way you think about fashion forever” Refinery 29 on ‘Fashioned from Nature’ at the V&A

“An exhibition that shocks, inspires, and leaves you with the unshakeable urge to reconsider your wardrobe” Culture Whisper on ‘Fashioned from Nature’ at the V&A

A journey through Eastern and Western fashion, tracing the complex relationship between fashion and nature over 2,300 years

Featuring nearly 400 garments and accessories from across five continents, including precious objects from the V&A collection presented in China for the first time

Focusing on sustainable practices and encouraging ethical consumption, with a gown worn by Emma Watson and an outfit created by Bolt Threads x Stella McCartney

Greenpeace Detox Catwalk in Bandung. ©Greenpeace/ Hati Kecil Visuals

Design Society, the V&A and China National Silk Museum are pleased to announce that the V&A exhibition Fashioned from Nature – with a special new section, Fashioned from Nature in China: Then and Now – will open at Sea World Culture and Arts Center, Shenzhen, on 19 December 2020. Presenting nearly 400 garments and accessories from the third century BC to the present day, including precious objects from the V&A shown in China for the first time, it offers an unprecedented journey through Eastern and Western fashion history. The exhibition traces the complex relationship between fashion and the natural world and highlights the critical role of design in creating a more sustainable fashion industry. It aims to inspire fashion makers and share approaches to sustainable lifestyles with a wider public.

Fashioned from Nature is the first exhibition hosted by Design Society dedicated to textiles and fashion, and expands on the original V&A exhibition narrative with a complementary new section on Chinese fashion and textiles. Exhibits are drawn from the V&A and China National Silk Museum’s extensive collections alongside international loans. The V&A holds the UK’s national collection of textiles and

fashion and has one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of dress in the world. When Fashioned from Nature premiered in London, it received over 170,000 visitors. Similarly, China National Silk Museum is internationally renowned for its research around historic textiles. In recent years, it has become a new landmark for the fashion crowd with its unique galleries for Chinese and Western fashion and textile arts. Design Society invited Edith Cheung Sai May, consultant at China National Silk Museum, to guest-curate the new section Fashioned from Nature in China: Then and Now, spotlighting the extensive history and contemporary innovation of Chinese fashion and textiles.

Fashioned from Nature features precious garments and accessories from across five continents, including a replica of the Yongzheng Emperor’s (1678-1735) dragon robe woven with real gold threads, a pair of gloves from the early 1600s that are intricately embroidered with wheat sheaves, birds and flowers, and a 1780s man’s waistcoat embroidered with a pattern of playful macaque monkeys. Nature’s wide-ranging influence is also seen in materials, highlighted by a pair of boots made by the Hezhe people from fish skin in 2018, a 19th-century dress decorated with over 5,000 beetle wings, and an evening gown with a ‘leopard skin’ draped over the front, crafted entirely from beads. Multiple global fashion brands including Dior, Gucci, Burberry and Stella McCartney are featured in the show. Exquisite garments and accessories by Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Roberto Cavalli, Dries van Noten, Vivienne Tam, and William Tang also feature, showing how fashionable dress continually draws on the beauty and power of nature for inspiration.

The natural world has always provided rich inspiration for fashion, and this has been manifested and interpreted in different ways across time, geography and cultures. The new section Fashioned from Nature in China: Then and Now retraces nature in historic Chinese textiles and costumes. Through materials, dyes and patterns, it looks at the ancient natural world through to the 21st century to reflect on the relationship between fashion and nature today. An early historical reference is an embroidered replica coverlet from the Warring States period in the third century BC with dragons and phoenixes, whilst a pair of FMSH canvas shoes from 2020, dyed with leaves and mud, is the latest example.

The fashion industry contributes a huge amount to the global economy, yet it was recently considered the second most polluting industry in the world (*UN Conference on Trade and Development in 2019). Many in the global fashion industry

are reconsidering their approach, with the Chinese textile and garment industry playing a vital role internationally. Sustainable fashion is a movement and process towards designing, sourcing, and manufacturing clothes that reduce impact on the environment and society at large.

Fashioned from Nature traces the history of mass manufacturing, examining the raw materials of fashion including silk, flax, wool and cotton, and the introduction of man-made and synthetic fibres in the 20th century, considering their value to fashion and the impact of their use on the environment.

The exhibition also explores solutions that have the potential to create a cleaner, less wasteful industry, including how today’s designers are using new materials and technologies, from low water denim, recycled cashmere and synthetics, to novel materials made from agricultural waste. These include a 2017 dress grown from plant roots by the artist Diana Scherer, who uses seed, soil and water to train root systems into textile-like material, and a tunic and a pair of trousers made from synthetic spider silk from Bolt Threads x Stella McCartney. Another highlight is a Calvin Klein x Eco Age gown worn by British actress Emma Watson to the 2016 Met Gala, made from recycled plastic bottles with recycled metal zips. The gown’s design reflects the increasing awareness and importance of sustainability in the fashion industry.

Calvin Klein Green Carpet Challenge dress worn by Emma Watson to the MET Gala 2016. © Dimitrios
Kambouris/Getty Images

Fashion from Nature – Exhibit Highlights

MULBERRY SILK, Animation(Clip), Handscroll of Sericulture and Weaving by Lou Shou(1090-1162), Southern Song ©China National Silk Museum


Animation, Handscroll of Sericulture and Weaving by Lou Shou(1090-1162), Southern Song

Original painting in Museum of Heilongjiang Province. Length 1100cm Width 27.5cm

Lent by China National Silk Museum

This animated version with modern elements was created for the ‘In Praise of Silk’ exhibition at HKDI Gallery, Hong Kong Design Institute in 2017.

The original 12th century scroll is the earliest Chinese painting known to show the entire process of sericulture. Empress Wu, the wife of Emperor Gaozong of the Song Dynasty, wrote the captions for each scene. Depictions of tilling (farming) and weaving were an important means for dynastic rulers to demonstrate their interest in the welfare of the people, and of promoting an ideal of rural life and social cohesion.

Embroidery with dragons and phoenixes, Replica of embroidery coverlet from Mashan Tomb, Hubei Province, Silk ©China National Silk Museum

Embroidery with dragons and phoenixes

China, 1992

Replica of embroidery coverlet from Mashan Tomb, Hubei Province, Warring States, about 3rd century BC


Lent by China National Silk Museum

Here, chain stitch is used to create a lively pattern of intertwined dragons and phoenixes. The mythical fusang tree, a symbol of the sun during this period, separates the facing dragons. The original piece is one of the earliest examples of Chinese embroidery. It was excavated in the early 1980s from a tomb in Mashan in Hubei province, with other important textiles.

Glove in leather, Britain, 1600-1625 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Britain, 1600–25

Leather and silk embroidered with silk and metal thread, and metal strip; edged with lace and sequins

V&A: T.42-1954

Bequeathed by Sir Frederick Richmond B

Emperor’s Dragon Robe(Replica), Replica of Yongzheng Emperor’s (1678-1735) dragon robe, 2016, Silk, 98% pure gold threads ©China National Silk Museum

Emperor’s Dragon Robe

China, 2016

Replica of Yongzheng Emperor’s (1678-1735) dragon robe

Silk, 98% pure gold threads

Lent by China National Silk Museum

This replica of Yongzheng Emperor’s robe was woven with 98% real gold threads and thirty-eight colours of silk. The pattern was copied and drafted on graph paper, then translated into eight sets of pattern strings for the loom. Two senior Yunjin (Cloud Brocade) craftsmen spent fourteen months setting up the loom and weaving the material. There are nine big dragons and seven small dragons with five claws. The stylized waves and mountains at the bottom symbolise the ‘unification of the land’.

Dress, Britain, 1868-9 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Over 5000 beetle wings and parts of wings were used to decorate this dress. Europeans first encountered the use of jewel beetles to embellish clothing in Asia and South America. By the late 1820s European fashions were decorated with the shiny metallic wing cases.

Dress (with later alterations and replica belt)

Britain, 1868–9

Cotton, gilded metal thread and Indian jewel beetles (Sternocera aeqisignata)

V&A: T.1698:1 to 5 2017

Given by Kathy Brown

‘Grape’ dress made with Vegea, a leather alternative made from grape waste. © Vegea


Vegea is a leather alternative made from the stalks, seeds and skins of grapes left over from wine production. Italy produces around seven million tonnes of this waste each year. In October 2017, Vegea launched their debut fashion collection designed by Tiziano Guardini. The animal-free leather alternative also avoids the use of harmful chemicals in its production.

Dress, bag and belt

Tiziano Guardini (b.1980) for Vegea

Italy, 2017


Grape leather

Lent by Vegea

Rootbound # 2’ dress by Diana Scherer, 2017 © Diana Scherer


Diana Scherer trains the roots of plants to grow in intricate structures, creating a 3D textile. When the roots are fully grown, she removes them from the soil and cuts off the plant stems.

The pieces produced are not yet suitable to be worn, but hint at a potential, more sustainable future in which we grow our own fashion in the ground.

‘Rootbound # 2’ dress

Samples of plant roots

Diana Scherer (b.1973)

Netherlands, 2017

Oat roots

Lent by the artist

The V&A exhibition Fashioned from Nature, with new section Fashioned from Nature in China: Then and Now

• The V&A’s fashion collection is designated as the UK’s National Collection and is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of dress in the world.
• China National Silk Museum is the largest museum featuring silk in the world.
Fashioned from Nature was originally shown at the V&A in London from 21 April 2018 to 27 January 2019. It was curated by Edwina Ehrman with support from Connie Karol Burks.

Opening Hours:

Venue: Monday – Sunday 10:00-22:00
Monday – Friday 10:00-19:00
Saturday – Sunday 10:00-21:00
Last admission: 30 minutes prior to closing.

Ticket information:

Ticket in person: 98RMB for digital ticket
(concessions: half price for senior citizens over 60 years old, full time students and teachers; free admission for 0-6 years old with mandatory parental accompany; Design Society members)
Early-bird in person: 48RMB

Scan to buy the tickets


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1187 Wanghai Road, Shekou, Nanshan Shenzhen 深圳 南山区蛇口望海路1187号
Shenzhen, China

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