Colour without dye, scientific millinery and self-grown clothes. Clara Hebel explores the future of fashion design: biomimicry.
Living in glassy cities, staring at screens and having a much bigger knowledge of software than of the natural world. That is the life most urban people live. Both a longing for nature created by a feeling of being overwhelmed by technology and increasing criticism on unsustainable concepts are challenging the fashion industry to find new ways of design. Innovative designers start to explore biomimicry, a design concept already established in architecture, product and technology design, as the way forward. Janine Benyus, one of the earliest adopters and supporters of biomimicry and president of the Biomimicry Institute, explains how biomimicry is “a movement, a solution-seeking methodology, a philosophy” on top of being a design concept. What makes biomimicry highly alluring is its reference to arguably the most genius designer of all time: nature. Jasmin Malik Chua, editor of ecouterre.com speaks about an amount of experience that probably cannot be found on any other designer’s CV: “Nature had a millennia to test and refine its concepts. There is no better designer.” She continues by pointing out the sustainability of nature’s designs: “There is no waste in nature either. Landfills are a purely human invention.”
Alexander McQueen can be named as a designer who ingeniously knew how to use the powerful aesthetic of nature to move and inspire. “I have always loved the mechanics of nature and to a greater or lesser extend my work is always informed by that,” is how he explains the massive influence of nature on his work. An example is a dress from his Spring/Summer 2010 Plato’s Atlantis collection, that mimics the process of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.
Besides looking at nature’s aesthetic for inspiration biomimicry also explores its internal mechanisms to simulates complex biological processes. Designers famously looked at the wings of birds for the creation of airplanes. After going for a walk with his dog Swiss engineer George de Mestral had to remove countless burrs from his pet’s fur which led him to design Velcro, the most common example of biomimicry design in fashion. Another example is Morphotex a fabric that mimics the structure of the Morpho butterfly to achieve a shiny cobalt blue colour without using any dies or pigments.
“Designers are always recycling retro looks to create the next big thing. But biomimicry is something that has not been explored yet in a significant way. It will be a new interesting idea to provide to people.” is the value fashion writer Isabel Slone sees in biomimicry fashion. Patrick Boyle, biologist and organism designer at Ginkgo Bioworks makes innovative ideas become reality. “There are fabrics, colours and textures people have dreamed about but have not got access to. If we show that fashion designers can talk to us and design new fabrics to their specification, that's going to be very powerful,” is how he maps out the future of biomimicry in fashion.
For her project ‘Pollinator Frocks’, artist, writer and designer Karen Ingham has already explored some of the opportunities biomimicry and the interdisciplinary exchange of design and science has to offer. In collaboration with biologists and engineers she created patterns based on scanning electron microscopy images of plant pollen grains. These patterns were printed on fabric that was then treated with pollinator food sources. So insects are drawn and fed by the clothes when wearing the dress.
Fashion design student Nicole Gallacher is also interested in biomimicry’s power to act as a connection piece to nature. She thinks “designers can not only use nature as inspiration but influence, inspire and teach others with biomimicry fashion design.” Instead of looking at the glossy pages of Vogue she delves into science journals and looks at drawings of petri dishes, which inspired her conceptual headpiece ‘Mutate’.
Suzanne Lee, fashion designer and researcher at Central Saint Martins, is one other example of someone who pushes fashion into its future. Founder of design consultancy Biocouture she grows her own kind of vegetable leather from a recipe of green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. She also organises ‘Biofabricate’ the world’s first summit dedicated to biofabrication, which premiered last December. For ‘Biofabricate’ Lee brought together scientists, designers and industry professionals in order to bridge the gap between the disciplines. The biologist Patrick Boyle spoke at the summit and thought that is was “fantastic” as it “really opened my eyes to new application areas for biology. Fashion, architecture, and design all need new substrates that biology can provide.“ He is sure: “There will be much more crazy stuff coming down the line. I'm pretty excited. It's a fun time to be involved in the area.”
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