Women's hat by Oliver Niblett, Great Britain, 1959. Publicity photo

From July 14 to October 16, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (MDAD) in Riga will host the exhibition «Tamed Nature» based on the collection of the fashion historian Alexandre Vassiliev. The show will offer its viewers a rare opportunity to enjoy a nature–inspired selection of numerous gowns and accessories dating from the 18th to the 21st centuries.

Stories Editorial July 11, 2016

The current exhibition «Tamed Nature» is already the eighth running project organised by the Latvian National Museum of Art in cooperation with «ABLV Bank» and Alexandre Vassiliev Foundation. It is dedicated to the everlasting symbiosis of nature and fashion, and features 100 costumes, never exhibited before, and more than 300 accessories.

There is undeniable evidence that people in all epochs have tried to transform and domesticate nature, and in doing so, they have recognized it as one of the ways to implement their power. At the same time, nature has always been a challenging and inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists, musicians, poets, architects, and fashion designers. The waters of the ocean depths, forests, meadows, flowers, animals, birds and insects help us discover unusual colour combinations, new shapes and silhouettes, and ornamental patterns.

Following the concept of the owner of the collection and the exhibition curator, exhibits are not grouped chronologically, but, instead, arranged in thematic blocks — forest, garden, sea, ocean, jungle, savannah, and exotics. Each clothing and accessories’ group (hats, purses, shoes, jewellery, furs, articles of leather and suede) tells its own story about the relationship with nature. For example, the bright colours of the jungle and their occupants — pythons, parrots, birds of paradise, and panthers; soft tones of savannah and its rich fauna — elephants, zebras, lions. In turn, beige shades of sand, amber and shells remind us of the beach, while the immense underwater world of the ocean reveals fish, sea turtles, sea stars, corals, and pearls. The exhibition also vividly represents the impact of park and garden culture on original fashion solutions: shady trees, lavish flower beds, butterflies, and singing birds.

«As you know, each century and decade has its own favourites: thus in the 18th century, during Marie Antoinette’s lifetime, also men loved to show off wearing trendy floral garland embroidery vests; in the 19th century topical were coral jewellery, pearl embroideries, articles of mother of pearl and tortoise bone. During the first decade of the 20th century, luxurious ladies wore ermine muffs, corsets stiffened with baleen stays and considerable size flower-adorned hats, whereas in the 1930s fox boa became enormously popular. During the 1940s python skin shoes, crocodile, lizard and toad skin purses came into fashion, but if we were to inspect women’s wardrobes in the 1950s, in each of them we could find a romantic floral print dress, presumably adorned with mayflower pattern,» Vassiliev comments.

The exhibition is complemented by an extensive programme of events «Nature of Fashion», which includes a cycle of six lectures, meetings, and discussions with the participation of fashion field experts, as well as a variety of creative activities.

The exhibition «Tamed Nature» will be on show at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Skārņu iela 10/20, Riga. More information on the exposition and its satellite events can be found on the MDAD homepage.