A few years ago, on an episode of some hyperbolized, high-affect children’s nature show, I saw an animal which I could not comprehend. The now extinct Tasmanian tiger had the face of a dog, the body of a tiger and a marsupial pouch like a kangaroo, like some kind of animal Mad Libs. When I finally accepted in my middle-aged, cynical mind that this animal indeed existed and was not a creation of photo-manipulating software, it was an absolute delight to conclude that nature had put together a combination I would not have expected and could not have predicted. And as these moments of serendipity always go, it made me think further about the infinite, relentless combinations that nature produces. Body with a neck three times its length, check. Rodent body with 22 finger-like appendages on nose, check. Enormous crustacean with Technicolor body, check. There is no limit to the natural world. (Answers: giraffe, star-nose mole, rainbow lobster)
To distill it into a fashion perspective, there is never a colorway, proportion, pattern, idea or theme that nature has not already tried and executed successfully. The snow monkey is a strange-looking animal with its hairless coral face and sable-colored shock of fur. It resembles a mutated cat hiding in a bear costume, and yet, because it is a creation of nature, it becomes a compelling aesthetic idea. The coloring of this curious arctic primate was clearly an influence on the fall collections at Tod’s, Erdem and Zimmerman although it may have not made an appearance on the designers’ mood boards.
At Stella McCartney, muted monochromatic popovers with fluorescent aqua sock-like boots recalled images of Japanese rail birds perching, and the black leather and wool two-button car coat with puffy canary yellow collar at Louis Vuitton seemed to personify angelfish in the coral reef. Francesco Risso of Marni, who called his fall collection “techno primitivism,” felt prompted to express the philosophical face-off between technology and nature. One of the most standout pieces — an electric blue, high-shine patent trench-coat wrapped in a thick white belt — seemed to reject the natural world altogether, and yet the exact shiny blue-and-white color scheme is found in the blue forest millipede, which incidentally also looks more extraterrestrial than animal.
The high correlation between the natural world and fashion also seems to explain why we are drawn to it as humans, even if we don’t understand it. Watching a designer’s seasonal presentation seems vaguely familiar and starkly foreign at the same time — like being with an alien who came to earth, caught flashes of all of its inhabitants and environment and tried to reconstruct the pieces without the benefit of context or perspective.
It all leads me to hope that nature is not only governed by pragmatism, survival and evolution but by beauty, design and elements other than. A robin’s egg being blue or the symmetry of a tiger’s face or autumnal leaves turning into the saturated hues of a sunset may have scientific values that we have not discovered yet, but we are delighted by them immediately, with every encounter and without reason. It is an instinctual response to be moved by the perfection and continuity which only nature possesses. In fashion and life, it is one thing we continue to mimic, fight and desire, always searching and in praise.