The Beauty of Decay and Rebirth
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
The rhythm of life runs in cycles. Everything that lives must eventually decay and transform into a different matter that again will grow and rise. We live in a breath-taking universe, surrounded by organisms and ecosystems that move in perfect symphony with one another. Our home planet has the ability to renew and regenerate itself by grand divine design. For us as human beings, it’s high time to learn from nature, and to contemplate: How can we live gracefully here and be in for the long haul?
As the old year draws to a close, winter’s hushed existence and the coinciding, barren nature tell their own tale of a seeming absence of life and a state of transition. A foggy blanket covers the dormant fields, the forgotten apples of autumn have fallen into a state of decomposition, and honey fungus sprouts around rotting roots, softly embedded in damp moss. For our latest fashion story, The Beauty of Decay and Rebirth, we collaborated with a selection of designers whose work comprises forms of conservation, ephemerality, nature-driven production methods and antique fabrics.
Further Reading & References:
How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement, The New York Times
Biomimicry in Action, Janine Benyus at TEDGlobal 2009
Anna Rosa Krau @Klaus Stiegemeyer and Talent and Partner
Sophia Schwan @Klaus Stiegemeyer
Carolin Jarchow @Nina Klein
Actually Existing has created a monthly EDIT series in which all items, otherwise destined to become consumer waste, have been edited to improve their function and grant them another existence. They are all one-off pieces, locally produced with up-cycled materials. This hat is a combination of two formerly discarded rattan hats, unified and embellished with left-over leather scraps.
Basing her collection Fleur Invader on Walter Benjamin’s statement that fashion always involves a dialogue with death, Regina Weber has incorporated pressed flowers encased in silicone in a collaborative process with flower artists Anatomie Fleur. The luxury of the perishable and fashion’s denial of the natural course of things create a clash of ideas tangible in her stiff, silicone statement pieces. Translating her designs into a story detailing the inevitability of deterioration, she questions whether there is everlasting beauty in the natural world.
Emily Frances Barrett
Currently, an artist in residence at Sarabande, the Lee Alexander-McQueen Foundation, Emily Frances Barrett details the beauty of decay and discarded items by preserving hand-pressed flowers and old- cigarette butts in several layers of resin. Silver bottle caps, ring pulls and seashells become precious trinkets adorned with handmade silver fittings. Her perishable luxuries, frozen in time, question our approach to beauty.
The ephemeral collection is solely based on the laws of nature. Constantly changing and adapting to the season’s and nature’s unpredictability, Keef Palas portray the irony of fast fashion’s simultaneous ephemerality in their designs driven by the natural resources at hand. Vacuum packed with a packing date displayed, their statement is to “try to expire the ethos of possession to bloom in the philosophy of joy”.
Based in New York, Alice Waese’s organic designs are handcrafted from intricately textured silver and gold. Originally having created her designs from found objects that were transformed into new shapes, she now transcribes her stories onto paper as well as textiles, gold and silver. She has created a unique conceptual narrative by including a secret compartment in each of her limited-edition books where a piece of her jewellery is hidden, or by hand-stitching her fictional characters onto her pieces of clothing as well as casting them in her pieces of jewellery.
Katie Roberts-Wood focuses on a non-stitch construction-technique where she hand-links silk organza into feminine pieces that are defined by their structures and forms. Drawing on themes of repetition, nature and mathematical patterns, she questions the fundamentals of garment construction by creating her own processes and language.
The almost forgotten fabric of tea-silk is at the centre of Rechenberg Studio and its process of creation is one that has lasted centuries but is all but forgotten in present-day China. It can only be created by using 100% pure silk that has not been mixed with any other type of yarn. First, the fabric is hand-dyed 30 to 40 times with tea leaves, twigs as well as yam juice. After completing this step, the fabric is laid out in the sun on a grassy field to prevent it from directly touching the hot earth. This step may also be repeated up to 30 times until the sun has created the right colouring in the dyed silk. Finally, the fabric is soaked in red mud extracted from the river, which gives it its glossy brown/black sheen. The silk is washed thoroughly after the mud has dried and is dried again in the sun. The outcome is a beautiful fabric that has is dark brown or black on one side and rusty-red on the other.
Inspired by the pre-industrialised era, Aogu Otsuga has created the fictional character Andrew, who travels the world in search of antique fabrics and inspiration, which are the foundation of his driftwood. Everything began when Aogu Otsuga discovered a shed filled with abandoned precious fabrics in the UK. His non-cyclical creations for Andrew Driftwood are defined by century-old stiff and durable linen, flax and cotton fabrics that are naturally dyed with Sumi ink, being stirred for an hour and are traditionally crafted by hand in Japan. It takes up to ten days to create one garment.
Eatable of Many Orders
The Japanese brand Eatable of Many Orders treats the materials used as ingredients that are combined to create the finished piece or “dish”. Since all materials sourced are chemically free and based on their natural existence, the finished pieces are whimsically portrayed as edible. The handbag range works with vegetable tanned leather, sourced in Japan, that is hand-moulded and sewn, topped off with natural blocks of wood, that are carefully dried over the course of several years, creating a unique patina the more they age. The Atami woods provide the wooden blocks, located only ten kilometres from the brand’s studio.
Designer by Pages:
Spread 2: Actually Existing Hat, Vintage Blouse, Shorts and Socks (left), Vintage Jumpsuit, Miista Mules (right)
Spread 3: Actually Existing Hat, Vintage Blouse
Spread 4: Regina Weber Coat, Top and Skirt, Emily Frances Barrett Earrings, Vintage Socks and Bag, Miista Shoes
Spread 5: Golden Joinery Embellished Jumper
Spread 6: Keef Palas Earrings, Vintage Scarf, Alice Waese Blouse
Spread 8: Regina Weber Blouse, Andrew Driftwood Trousers, Rechenberg Studio Vest, Alice Waese Earrings (left), Roberts Wood Coat and Skirt, Emily Frances Barrett Earrings (right)
Spread 9: Roberts Wood Jacket and Culottes, Bite Studios Blouse, Emily Frances Barrett Earrings
Spread 10: Vintage Dress
Spread 11: Vintage Blouse (left) and Dress (right)
Spread 12: Left Earring Alice Waese, Right Earring Emily Frances Barrett, Vintage Dress
Spread 13: Vintage Blouse, Cardigan and Boots, Andrew Driftwood Trousers, Emily Frances Barrett Earrings
Spread 14: Andrew Driftwood Jacket, Vintage Pants and Shoes
Spread 15: Eatable of Many Orders Bag, Andrew Driftwood Jacket
Spread 17: Andrew Driftwood Coat, Vintage Collar, Blazer and Trousers