Mushroom Mania in the World of Fashion

Mushroom Mania in the World of Fashion

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Remember the huge red mushy things Alice saw amidst the woods in Wonderland? And, how about Leo Tolstoy’s poetic verse in his short stories about the joys of picking fleshy little things in the jungle? For those in love with literature and classic tales, mushrooms may remind you of adventure stories in the forests and for those born during the 60’s and the 70’s you wouldn’t miss out on the magical mushrooms, would you?

From microbiology to pop-culture, humanity’s long affinity with mushroom has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. Known widely for its evolution patterns, fashion industry has briefly made itself a beacon of hope. Fashion designers look up to it for ‘innovation’, brands look at it as ‘a creative way to make their retail mark’ and consumers look at it as a ‘way of living’. But what does the industry as a whole look up to? To give itself a meaning, to survive amidst a breakthrough such as the pandemic, to keep itself moving forward? Science, artificial intelligence or nature? Well, in today’s scenario, we would say – All of it!

The role of fashion in environmental pollution is a story well known in recent years. Fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. It produces a huge amount of carbon emission along with polluting oceans with microplastics. The production and distribution of the cotton crops, fibres, and garments used in fashion, all of it contributes more to air, water and soil pollution. If calculated, the total greenhouse gas emissions related to textile production is equal to 1.2 billion tons annually. Despite knowing that the situation is grim, fashion industry took rather slow steps towards sustainable alternatives. The movement had begun globally to veer towards alternative fashion that is mindful of people and planet both. Designers and brands are getting innovative in their designs trying to incorporate circular fashion philosophy while staying conscious about their choice of materials and textiles.

Arguably, mushroom holds the ability to render our food inedible, our homes uninviting and our toe nails infectious and conjures up the notion of mould and decay, it looks like it’s the only roadmap to fashion’s future. The humble fungus has today become the greatest skincare and fashion trend with designers and brands foregoing traditional leather and opting for plant-based fabrics and vegan leather alternatives to keep up with the new age of consciousness. If you are feeling grossed out with the idea of wearing fungi all day, it’s because you haven’t tried it in the form of jacket, dress, bags and shoes.

For decades, mycelium has been sprawling beneath our feet. In the documentary ‘Fantastic Fungi’, mycelium is aptly described as nature’s internet, or the “wood wide web.” It’s just as vast: For every step we take, there’s roughly 300 miles of mycelium stretching below the surface.

Expert scientists and micro-biologists believe that mushroom-based fabric can be tweaked to be as hard as enamel and shell-like or as soft and permeable as a sponge, depending on the amount of light, humidity, exchange of gas, temperature, and types of “food” the mushroom is given (hemp, straw, etc.), rendering it as the perfect creative material for whatever you envision creating. It has also been proven that fabric created from mycelium is non-toxic, waterproof, and fire-resistant. It can be as thin as a paper for dresses and lamp shades, or incredibly thick for heavyweight items, and in either case, the end result is remarkably flexible and strong.

In the fashion world, where traditional leather brands ruled for ages, Stella McCartney became world’s first designer to create Mylo garments. Being a vegan herself, she has never used animal hides or fur in any of her collections. Mylo is mushroom leather, it is grown from mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus. McCartney worked with Mylo’s scientists to perfect the material’s weight, drape, and texture and in 2018, they made a Mylo prototype of her Falabella bag for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “Fashioned from Nature” exhibit.

Putting down her thoughts behind fashion industry’s first-ever Mylo outfits, in an interview, she shared “We had already done a bag, so I wanted to do the ready-to-wear jet black bustier and utility pants to give a bit more insight into how much you can do with this material, and how it can be swept across the industry to actually replace leather. Which obviously is the ultimate goal. This is the future of fashion. If we can get this right, then we can really make a huge impact on the planet.”

Soon after, the French luxury goods manufacturer – Hermes placed its bet on the mushroom leather by reimagining its popular Victoria travel bag in Sylvania, a leather alternative developed from MycoWorks patented fine mycelium. The restored fungi not only brought together Hermès and Stella McCartney under the vegan leather umbrella, but also brands like Adidas, Lulu Lemon and Kering, the parent company behind Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen to name a few in a race to create a sustainable solution for the fashion industry.

Spring-Summer fashion is typically about florals, nature-inspired prints, pastels and tropical holiday designs. But this year, for the Spring|Summer Fashion Week, it was mushrooms that caught everyone’s attention. Inspired by Merlin Sheldrake’s book ‘Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures, which describes the hidden world of mycelium, the sprawling underground root-like networks of fungi, the Dutch couture designer Iris Van Herpen’s spring 2021 couture collection was a performance dedicated to the importance of our being and the valiance of nature. Delving into the thought process of these state-of-the-art creations, Iris added “It is beautiful to see that within nature there is already this ‘wood wide web’ that shows very strong parallels to our own digital communication systems. During the pandemic there has been a realisation of our own fragility on this planet. More and more, I started to see couture as a platform for new ideas.”

Having showcased his collection, her fellow couturier, Rahul Mishra offered his own, a more literal take on fungi. His line up for spring 2021 featured dresses covered entirely of intricately hand-embroidered mushrooms and flowing gowns layered to imitate shelves of fungi sprouting from trees. Created with a hope to rethink our relationship with the outside world, he addressed the media on his collection saying “Mushrooms create rebirth in a real sense. They are a masterpiece of engineering all on their own.” Confiding the spaces of designers, mushroom inspired fashion is slowly making its way into the collections of vegan Indian brands like Paio, Aulive and Escaro Royale that are making fashion innovative and technologically high-end by exploring mycelium alongside other plant-based raw materials in a bid to make fashion mindful.

These historic mindful moves by traditional fashion houses portray a clear message – adapt with the changing times or fall out of fashion and we wouldn’t like if latter were an option. The re-imagination of fabrics and materials is wise and will define the next gen fashion.

Aishwarya Menon

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