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Friday, March 24, 2023

Grand Rapids Public Museum staff curates an exhibit focused on fashion and nature

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Fashion fans are in for a visual feast with the latest exhibit from the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

The exhibit, called “Fashion and Nature,” explores the relationship between the fashion industry and nature. Nature often serves as inspiration for fashion, from colors to shapes and textures. But the creation of garments, especially in the modern age, can often cause harm to the natural world.

That dichotomy is on display at the GRPM exhibit, which opened earlier this year. The exhibit was created by Andrea Melvin, GRPM Curator of Collections, and Cory Redman, Museum Curator of Science.

Melvin has a background in fashion and combed through the museum’s collection of 10,000 fashion items to select pieces for “Fashion and Nature.” The pieces range from wedding dresses to fur coats and feather hats. Some highlights include an embellished dress made from beetle wings and a pair of high heels made from apple leather.

“We have a lot of unique fashion items,” said Kate Kocienski, GRPM’s vice president of public relations. “We have an amazing fashion collection, most of which was donated by people here in West Michigan. A lot of that is uniforms, wedding dresses, special occasion things that people wanted to keep.”

Most of the older collections in the GRPM, like most museums, are natural history and science items, so bringing those two collections together was where the “Fashion and Nature” exhibit was born.

In addition to showing how nature inspires fashion, the museum showcases the negative ways fashion can interact with the natural world.

From over-cultivation of clothing materials to using insects or plants to dye fabric, exploiting nature for fashion is a thing of the past.

“Hats were a fundamental part of fashion for a long time, people wore hats every day, and for a period of time women’s hats incorporated bird feathers,” Redman said. “The more exotic, the better. That had a really negative impact on the bird population.”

Along with the wacky hats, the museum pairs them with various birds of paradise on display.

While most of the GRPM’s fashion collection is already local, the museum contacted local designers to create one-of-a-kind garments for the exhibit.

One such piece was created by an area high school student.

“I think one of my favorite pieces is a new piece that we worked with local designer Riley Diehlman on,” Melvin said. “She is a young local artist and she creates wearable indigenous art and fashion with Anishinaabe practices. She created a beautiful dress for us, it just shows the beauty of fashion.”

Although fashion can be beautiful, its effect on nature can also be cruel. The exhibit shows how many garments are thrown away each year with piles of clothes displayed in front of infinity mirrors. Even doing laundry can have an impact on nature, when you consider the water usage required to run a washing machine.

The exhibit’s curators hope to get museum visitors hands-on with the exhibits, featuring touchable fabric swatches and a high-tech mirror that allows visitors to virtually try on pieces from the museum’s fashion collection. .

“My goal is that when people leave, they leave knowing there are simple things anyone can do to reduce the negative impact their fashion choices have on the natural world,” Redman said. “Reduce the amount of clothing you buy and focus on things that are made using sustainable methods or will last a long time. Use the items you have for as long as possible, and then once you can’t use them anymore, recycle or donate them. There really are simple steps.”

The “Fashion and Nature” exhibit will be on display through at least the end of 2023. The museum’s entire digitized fashion collection can be viewed at grpmcollections.org.

Tickets to the Grand Rapids Public Museum are $12 for adults ($10 for Kent County residents), $10 ($8) and $5 (free) for children 17 and under. The museum, at 272 Pearl St. NW, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

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