Nature crafting fashion
As much as the garden has always been a rich repository of motifs and inspiration, the ocean also proved to be a place of treasures for designers and craftspeople.
Fish and shells, corals and seaweed, dolphins, sharks but also landscapes, waves and reefs, are popular motifs of seaside communities, for whom they are symbolic and connected to their lives and work. From the North Sea to the Mediterranean, styles and patterns relating to seascapes appeal to local communities and visitors or travellers alike.
Interestingly, men of the sea were amongst the most skilled sewers and embroiderers: sailors had to mend their own clothes and many of them even created their own clothes from scratch. Their embellishments were directly inspired by the materials they had or found in their travels. They used wool and silk yarns to embroider clothes, bags and hats with names, mottos, stars, figures, ships, flags or anchors.
The woolies - embroidered woollen pictures - are a famous kind of embroidery made by sailors from the 1840s up until World War One. Most of the materials used to make woolies - sailcloth, duck cloth found in sailors’ trousers, linen and cotton - were found onboard ships. Woolies showed a variety of stitches, including chain and cross-stitch, darning and quilting.
The sea gives rise to many fantastical myths and tales which have inspired fashion designers, who use techniques such as embroidery and materials like shells and corals to evoke the magical sea and send fashionable mermaids and tritons to the catwalk.
Some of the oldest gems used to craft clothes and accessories come from the sea: pearls. Pearls are indeed a gift from nature: they form when an irritant enters an oyster's soft inner body, which protects itself by secreting a crystalline substance called nacre, whose layers form the pearl.
The rarity of natural pearls made them a prized - and, in some cultures, sacred - possession, reserved for the elites. In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar decreed only the ruling class could wear pearls.
In 1893, Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker, created the world's first cultured pearl, opening up new possibilities. It took him 12 years to perfect his technique and create spherical pearls that were indistinguishable from the natural ones, and he obtained the patent for his invention in 1916.
However inspired they are by it, the fashion industry is also responsible for the pollution of seas and oceans. Designers Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney have been campaigning for a more conscious way of working, developing new systems and techniques to protect oceans and their wildlife.