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Patterns in Fashion: vii. Natural World

  • The possibility of patterns inspired by nature are endless, taking inspiration from tropical birds, insects, butterflies, snakes, tigers, zebras, leopards, crocodiles, fish, leaves, trees, ferns, flowers, shells etc.

  • The study of medicinal plants and botanical gardens at royal palaces and the collection of natural history specimens from the 1500s onwards inspired botanical embroidery in the intricately made dresses of wealthy women.

  • Animal furs and skins were, of course, our original clothing; aristocratic, royal and tribal fashion taking inspiration and trophies from the skins, furs and bones of the hunt.

  • In Victorian times, collecting and studying natural specimens at home, such as shells and fossils from outings to the beach became a popular past time amongst the middle and upper classes. Adults and children also enjoyed pressing flowers and ferns collected from the countryside. The natural world became incorporated into the newly fashionable manufactured printed fabric.

Green Leaves - Nature Prints in Fashion

  • Leopard print has become part of mainstream twentieth Century fashion, from the 1920s onwards and made fashionable by film stars such as Joan Crawford. In the 1950s and 1960s, a leopard print coat was the mark of a wealthy woman and used by Christian Dior as part of his 'New Look' (1947).

  • In early 1960s New York, Bob Dylan made Edie Sedgwick's 'Leopard-Print Pill Box Hat' famous by singing about it. The heiress, it-girl and friend of Andy Warhol was famous for her interpretation of early 60s Mod style.

  • However, by the late 1960s, animal prints and furs were starting to be publicly condemned for animal cruelty reasons, as values of peace and love emerged in culture and fashion.

  • However, by the 1970s and 1980s, leopard print re-emerged as a trend in rock music as a sign of power and instinctual energy. Manufactured in mainly synthetic fabrics now, leopard print is considered a fashion perennial.

  • More conceptually, Alexander McQueen used the imagined destruction of nature and morphing of humans into amphibian creatures, to survive rising sea waters, as the basis for his last collection in 2010.

  • More recently, using cutting-edge techniques, Iris Van Herpen's 2020 runway collection 'Sensory Seas' featured laser-cut translucent layers to evoke marine organisms. Fashion designers will continue to be inspired by patterns from the natural world and its endless beauty.


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