Thereâ€™s nothing new about fashion using nature as its muse â€“ see Miranda Priestleyâ€™s withering put-down in The Devil Wears Prada: â€œFlorals for Spring? Groundbreaking.â€ This year, however, itâ€™s not flowers but foliage that will have a major fashion moment.
At the spring/summer 2020 collections several major brands have taken leaves and plants as their inspiration.
At Christopher Kane, jackets and skirts were printed with a magnified photograph of wildflowers and blades of grass. At Dolce & Gabbana, dresses were printed with palm tree fronds and models wore tropical flower-inspired shoes and headgear. At Versace, Jennifer Lopezâ€™s catwalk appearance in a copy of the jungle print dress she first wore in 2000 sent the internet into meltdown. And in menswear, Dries Van Noten showed suits covered in green flowers and creepers, while at Valentino there were palm leaf prints and camouflage.
Green was a dominant colour, whether used head-to-toe (as in the first seven looks from the emerging design star Christopher John Rogers) or as collection showstoppers. Victoria Beckham showed floor-length, frilled apple green frocks; Gucci had fuzzy chartreuse jumpers that recalled artificial grass, and teal and pistachio suits. The LGD â€“ little green dress â€“ stood out, like the stroke of a highlighter pen, at Regina Pyo, Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga and Valentino.
In a recent presentation looking even further ahead to spring/summer 2021, the Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort predicted that green would be a key colour for the rest of the decade. She linked its popularity to a hunger for nature, seen also in the renewed trend for houseplants and the rise of the Japanese practice of meditation in woods or â€œforest bathingâ€.
Greenâ€™s popularity has been building for some time. Pantone named Greenery its colour of the year in 2017, and many of 2019â€™s stand-out fashion moments were green: in August, Phoebe Waller-Bridge made best-dressed lists in a forest green suit; singer Billie Eilish launched a childrenswear collection the same retina-searing lime as her trademark dyed parting; and this same bright green was worn by Lizzo and Lil Nas X on the red carpet and used for the most Instagrammed book cover of the year, Margaret Atwoodâ€™s The Testaments.
Historically, says Central Saint Martinsâ€™ fashion professor Alistair Oâ€™Neill, â€œgreen has been a problematic colour in European fashionâ€, owing to a perception that it â€œdidnâ€™t sit well with European [white] skin tones. Coco Chanel said she didnâ€™t like green,â€ he continues. â€œThere is a superstition around not making French stage costumes in green.â€ In the 19th century, he points out, green dye was highly poisonous, produced using arsenic.
Green is also a colour that signifies renewal; Atwood chose it, she said, for its hopeful connotations. Still, the trend highlights the disconnect between fashionâ€™s reliance on nature â€“ for inspiration and materials â€“ and the damage caused by its current business model. No designers said they had intended to explore the climate crisis with their plant-inspired collections, nor did they provide information about their environmental impact.
Such contradictions were discussed during sustainability panels at London fashion week, where model and environmentalist Arizona Muse talked about her own recent reconnection with nature. â€œI became accustomed to not seeing nature,â€ she said, â€œto seeing sidewalks and cars. Now, just by paying attention to it, I see individual leaves, I see trunks, I see insects on plants, all these things are becoming alive to me.â€
An optimistic reading of the trend would be to say that â€“ subconsciously at least â€“ the process of reconnection has at least begun.