The world of fashion often draws inspiration from the natural world

There are materials from nature, and textures and colours, patterns and images. So many aspects of clothing design have natural origins – from flora and fauna motifs to sea forms and colours.

Silk has been made in China for at least 5000 years, from silkworm moths fed with mulberry leaves. Cotton is another ancient crop, spun and woven and dyed since prehistoric times. Other materials come and go, which in Victorian times included ostrich feathers and whalebone.

The search for new materials from nature has led to some strange and beautiful creations. Sometimes it involves taking from the nature on the surface, as with a cotton dress decorated with the wing cases of hundreds of green metallic beetles. At other times it involves taking at a deeper level, as with a dress crafted from the thread of silkworms injected with luminiferous genes from jellyfish.

But large-scale use of any material puts pressure on the world’s environment – as for instance with the amount of water needed to grow the massive amounts of cotton we use.

Fashion is inspired by nature, but at the same time ruthlessly exploits its resources.

“There is no better designer than nature”

- Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen expresses his concerns about our harmful impact on the Earth in his last fully realised collection Spring/Summer 2010, Plato’s Atlantis

He imagined a world dramatically changed in climate, with ice caps melting and land submerged, and human survival dependent on ability to live in the sea.

Fashion designer Iris van Herpen has created a series of pleated garments inspired by birds in flight. She has replicated feathers and soundwave patterns of flying birds, and showcased them alongside a kinetic lighting installation by Studio Drift.

Van Herpen explores synthetic biology, at a time when lab-grown materials are developing. She looks at the relation between the organic and the inorganic, biology and technology. She has coined a name for it: “Syntopia.”

Amsterdam-based artist Diana Scherer investigates the desire for humans to control nature through her series Exercises in Root System Domestication.

Diana Scherer trains the roots of plants to grow in intricate structures. Through this she creates a 3D textile. When the roots are fully grown, she removes them from the soil and cuts off the plant stems. The resulting pieces of material produced are not yet suitable to be worn – but they hint at something for the future, a more sustainable pattern of life in which we somehow grow our own fashion.

To imitate/mimic natural forms by PLEATING (pleated garments)Layering and manipulating surfaces by – SHIBORI and SMOCKING TECHNIQUESTEXTILE SURFACE DESIGN – decoration with dyed fabric petals, laces layered and embroidered; colour, stitch and texture; building up layers of stitches to create and embellish textiles