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Force of Nature

Fashion & Textile History Gallery
May 30 – November 18, 2017
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Force of Nature is a unique exhibition that explores how the beauty and complexity of nature have inspired fashion designers for centuries. More than a survey of decorative flora and fauna, this exhibition reveals the natural world as a source of ideas and symbolism in fashion design. Approximately 95 objects are presented in a manner that demonstrates the deep interconnectedness between fashion and the natural sciences. Spanning the 18th century to the present, Force of Nature features garments, accessories, and textiles from the permanent collection of The Museum at FIT.
Alexander McQueen, dress, Plato’s Atlantis collection, Spring 2010, England, museum purchase. 2010.77.1
Alexander McQueen, dress, Plato’s Atlantis collection, Spring 2010, England, museum purchase. 2010.77.1
Alexander McQueen, Irere collection, Spring 2003, England, Museum Purchase. 2016.15.1
Alexander McQueen, Irere collection, Spring 2003, England, Museum Purchase. 2016.15.1
Rick Owens, ensemble, Mastodon collection, Fall 2016, USA, Gift of Rick Owens Studio. 2016.92.1
Rick Owens, ensemble, Mastodon collection, Fall 2016, USA, Gift of Rick Owens Studio. 2016.92.1

The exhibition opens with two dresses by Alexander McQueen, a fashion designer for whom nature was a recurring theme. The dresses, including one from his acclaimed final collection in 2010, present meditations on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and McQueen’s concerns about climate change. Next, a striking selection of garments, including a one-of-a-kind Crystallization “water” dress by Iris van Herpen, introduces visitors to some of the basic elements of the natural world that are included in the exhibition. Another dress by McQueen meticulously reproduces the magnificent plumage of the scarlet macaw, while a look from Rick Owens’ fall 2016 collection contemplates the extinction of the mastodon and provides commentary on environmental change.

Charles James, Tree evening dress and Petal stole, 1955, USA, Museum purchase. P87.31.11
Charles James, Tree evening dress and Petal stole, 1955, USA, Museum purchase. P87.31.11
Pierre Hardy, shoes, Summer 2015, France, Gift of Pierre Hardy. 2016.18.1
Pierre Hardy, shoes, Summer 2015, France, Gift of Pierre Hardy. 2016.18.1
Alexander McQueen, evening dress, Pantheon as Lecum collection, Fall 2004, England, Museum purchase. 2016.104.1
Alexander McQueen, evening dress, Pantheon as Lecum collection, Fall 2004, England, Museum purchase. 2016.104.1
A section titled “The Language of Flowers” addresses the importance of flowers in plant reproduction and how this informs the meaning of flower images in dress, particularly roses, lilies, and orchids. Featured is a Charles James evening gown, with a petal-like stole that sensuously transforms its wearer into a flower.
Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, suit, circa 1972, France, Gift of John Karl. 88.170.1
Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, suit, circa 1972, France, Gift of John Karl. 88.170.1
Mme. Pauline, hat, circa 1955, USA, Gift of Mrs. Otto Grun. 77.146.2
Mme. Pauline, hat, circa 1955, USA, Gift of Mrs. Otto Grun. 77.146.2

“The Science of Attraction” section delves further into the theory of evolution and its lasting impact on modern society with a look at how ideas about sexual selection relate to aspects of male and female dress. A bright green suit by Yves Saint Laurent highlights the 1960s Peacock Revolution, which brought a colorful, flamboyant look back to men’s fashion. This aligns with patterns in the natural world, where it is often the male of the species—for example, the peacock—that is more visually arresting. On the other hand, a 1950s woman’s hat adorned with a bird of paradise serves as an example of how feathers used by male birds for sexual display have been appropriated to emphasize female allure.
Dolce & Gabbana, evening dress, Spring 1998, Italy, Gift of Dolce & Gabbana. 98.45.1
Dolce & Gabbana, evening dress, Spring 1998, Italy, Gift of Dolce & Gabbana. 98.45.1
Alexander McQueen, dress, Horn of Plenty collection, Fall 2009, England, museum purchase. 2016.63.1
Alexander McQueen, dress, Horn of Plenty collection, Fall 2009, England, museum purchase. 2016.63.1
(R) Saks Fifth Avenue, cocktail dress, Fall 1953, USA, Gift of Sophie Gimbel. 75.69.3. (L) Evening coat, circa 1920, France, Gift of John J. Sasek. 81.88.1
(R) Saks Fifth Avenue, cocktail dress, Fall 1953, USA, Gift of Sophie Gimbel. 75.69.3. (L) Evening coat, circa 1920, France, Gift of John J. Sasek. 81.88.1
The concept of metamorphosis, from biological to symbolic, is explored through garments such as a dress by Dolce & Gabbana adorned with butterflies. In “The Aviary,” a selection of pieces by Alexander McQueen, Comme des Garçons, Cristobal Balenciaga, and other designers, further addresses the symbolism of birds and feathers. The section called “Physical Forces” highlights the impact of theoretical physics and space exploration, demonstrating the cultural significance of these scientific endeavors.

Throughout Force of Nature, digital media allow visitors to learn in greater detail about many of the concepts presented. Interactive iPads and a related website provide supplemental information about historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Rachel Carson who revolutionized the way we see our world. Important inquiries into nature are also addressed, such as the meaning behind the astonishing colors and patterns we see among birds.

Valentino Couture, coat, 1974, Italy, Gift of Mary Russell. 96.84.1
Valentino Couture, coat, 1974, Italy, Gift of Mary Russell. 96.84.1
John Paul Gaultier, top and skirt, 1988 and 1987, France, Museum Purchase. P88.76.2 & P87.47.1
Jean Paul Gaultier, top and skirt, 1988 and 1987, France, Museum Purchase. P88.76.2 & P87.47.1
Historically, the dynamic between fashion and nature has alternated between harmful and responsible. However, fashion’s impact on plants, animals, and the environment has been largely detrimental. The final section of the exhibition examines this complex relationship. It highlights ways in which designers and companies today are working toward creating a responsible and sustainable relationship with the natural world, encouraging a vital discussion about future directions in fashion.
Force of Nature is organized by Melissa Marra-Alvarez, associate curator of Education and Public Programs, The Museum at FIT.

Force of Nature is made possible by the support of the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT.


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