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Beetle Dress

Last week, Tamara and I went to the Fashion and Nature exhibition at the V&A in London.

Dress from the 1800s decorated with the wing cases of the beetle Stemocera aeqisignata

I was in London a couple of weeks before, and Tamara asked me to go and scout out the exhibition, which I did. I thought it was a fashion exhibition, not realising that the thrust of it was the damage that fashion does to the natural world.

The lower floor of the exhibition was about days gone by – about ostrich feathers, and tortoiseshell, humming bird wings, and bear fur.

The upper floor was about the damage that modern processes do, from plastic fibres leaching into the waterways, to the chemicals used to manufacture clothes.

I think we are all inured to the damage done to the living world in days gone by, but the sight of a line of tiny, dead humming birds lying there in the exhibit, got to us.

They were killed many years ago to decorate hats.

So tiny, so defenceless.

Stemocera aeqisignata

The photo here (excuse the phone camera quality in poor lighting) is of a dress decorated with over 5,000 beetle wings and parts of wings from the Indian beetle Stemocera aeqisignata.

Can you see the iridescent green of the decoration? The man in the accompanying video explained that the colour comes from tiny prisms in the wings.

That is why, unlike dyes that fade, the colour is as fresh as the day the wings were plucked from the beetles in the 1860s.

Dress from the 1800s decorated with the wing cases of the beetle Stemocera aeqisignata

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