Nature has been a source of constant inspiration for poetry, songs, art and fashion for centuries. It changes with the seasons, just as fashion does. In this way we often see seasonal colour trends, moving from pastels to brights for spring and summer, to darker, earthier tones in the autumn and winter.

I prefer sex to be an undertone in my clothes, rather than too obvious, so I was interested in how flowers are graphic but concealed and suggestive at the same time.
— Christopher Kane

Christopher Kane SS'12. Photos by Style.com

However, many designers take nature more literally as the source for their designs. Think Christopher Kane, whose SS’14 collection was about the anatomy of flowers – and who examined through his clothes their sexual undertones and the concept of deflowering. He had been inspired by a return trip to his high school in Scotland, in which art classes had involved dissecting, examining and drawing carnations and buttercups. As he told The Guardian, “I started thinking about how much we take flowers for granted, and how incredible they are, and how the female sexual organs have so much in common with the internal structure of a flower.” He continued, “I prefer sex to be an undertone in my clothes, rather than too obvious, so I was interested in how flowers are graphic but concealed and suggestive at the same time.”

The audience were treated to a botanical carnival, from the delicate clothes being worn to the stunning backdrop, which slowly transformed from mute shades of grey to a vibrant explosion of tropics and plants.

Chanel SS'15 Haute-Couture. Photos by Style.com

Chanel’s SS’15 couture show was a nature-led paper jungle. With straw-hat-clad, beige-and-white dressed male gardeners opening the show carrying metal watering cans and, later, huge bunches of flowers, the audience were treated to a botanical carnival, from the delicate clothes being worn to the stunning backdrop, which slowly transformed from mute shades of grey to a vibrant explosion of tropics and plants.

Then there is Alexander McQueen, who used nature as one of his most enduring influences. Take for example the SS’07 collection dress he made entirely from fresh flowers. Not only was it visually stunning, but the dress also mimicked the ephemeral beauty of nature; the flowers fell off the dress while the model walked the runway. It was inspired by artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s ‘Still Life’ (2001), a video depicting fruit as it decays. Almost ironic in the inspiration, given that it came from something man-made, one-step removed from the actual natural process of death and destruction.

Alexander McQueen SS'07. Photos by Style.com

It was inspired by artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s ‘Still Life’ (2001), a video depicting fruit as it decays. Almost ironic in the inspiration, given that it came from something man-made, one-step removed from the actual natural process of death and destruction.

Still-shot from 'Still Life', 2001 by Sam Taylor-Johnson

Another example was McQueen’s delicate butterfly headdress from La Dame Bleu SS’08, made of turkey feathers hand-painted in rich, vibrant tones of red, black and white. There was a vulnerability to the butterflies, but also an uncompromised strength, demonstrated ever more so in their collective huddle around the model’s head.

His interest in extreme weather conditions was part of that sort of dramatic view of life. And I think that one of the reasons why he loved nature so much was because it was so unpredictable.

Detail: Butterfly headdress designed by Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen 'La Dame Bleu' SS'08 Collection. Photo by Anthea Simms

As the Met Museum explains on their blog, and which can be seen in collections on display at the Victoria and Albert museum’s current Savage Beauty exhibition in London, “McQueen saw life cinematically, and I think that that approach to life was something that you see very clearly on the runway. So, his interest in extreme weather conditions was part of that sort of dramatic view of life. And I think that one of the reasons why he loved nature so much was because it was so unpredictable. They were spontaneous; it was something that one can never control, and I think that was always something he liked to show in his collections.”

Indeed, the unpredictability of nature and the weather has been an underlying theme to many designer collections. Anya Hindmarch’s canvas clutch and key ring in her current collection feature the cloud (with a hint of sunshine) logo, so familiar to many from weather reports. Then there was the hugely memorable Burberry show at London Fashion Week in 2012, headed by Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer. Viewers saw a simulated rainstorm of confetti, which poured over the models as they walked holding plain and striped umbrellas up high. It all felt very ‘British’ – albeit lacking with the soggy wet wellington boots, muddy coats and windswept tresses.

Burberry AW'12 Finale. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

The runway references continue. A Manish Arora Spring 2015 gown shimmers like jellyfish caught in coral. A coat and matching clutch at the Celine Fall 2013 show emulate green moss. Earth tones and animal details inspire Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection, with a snake wrapping its way round the waist of a burgundy prom-skirted dress, and a satin tiger prowling across the skirt of a sheer gown.

Manish Arora SS'15. Photos by Style.com

Kenzo decided to champion sustainable fishing and the need to protect the world’s oceans with Blue Ocean (2014), a capsule collection produced in collaboration with the Blue Marine Foundation. Putting tuna in front of their iconic tiger motif when it came to the list of what was important for the season, they produced clothes under the campaign message “No Fish No Nothing” that boasted fish motifs. We were made to think of the underwater environment, the damage mankind is creating and the impact we can have if we all start to change how we think about the way we source our food. Fashion became a vehicle for good, giving back to the same place that had inspired so much and that had been responsible for so much of the materials used by the industry.

Kenzo SS'14. Photos by Style.com

Rodarte, Dior, Viktor & Rolf, Elie Saab… nature is consistent throughout their collections too, amongst others, and is continued into the images produced using them too. Tim Walker often calls on nature's beauty in his photography. For W magazine in 2012, he depicts Jennifer Lawrence in an ethereal swan-inspired dress, made from real ostrich feathers. And in another W feature, there is Tilda Swinton (2013) surrounded by delicate pink roses, encased in a cloud-filled blue sky.

The beauty of nature, like artistic expression, is intricate, magical, and timeless.

Words: Verity Sulway and Grace Carter