It was hard to miss the living greenery sprouting from the runway pieces at Loewe’s spring/summer 2023 show in Paris over the weekend, which explored the relationship between nature and technology (or the “fusion of the organic and the fabricated,” as creative director Jonathan Anderson put it).
But actually incorporating live plants into garments was no easy feat, and the result of months of collaboration with Spanish textile designer Paula Ulargui Escalona, who began developing her technique during the final year of her degree in fashion design and communication at the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Madrid.
“We spent four months testing different garments [and] accessories until we decided which ones we wanted and which plants we wanted,” Ulargui Escalona tells Vogue of working with Loewe, whose design team approached her directly about her work. “It was actually very challenging as I’m in Spain, so I had to grow them here and then send them to Paris in 24 hours. There was always this tension [of seeing whether] they were still going to be good when they arrived.”
Eventually, the team landed on chia plants and catswort for the collection, with the seeds prepped in advance by Ulargui Escalona in Spain. They were then transported to Paris, where they were grown in a polytunnel 20 days ahead of the show – with the designer on hand to ensure the plants had the right conditions and all the nutrients and minerals they needed.
“You constantly have to find a way to [help] the plants grow better without damaging the fabric,” she explains. “You have to check if they need more light, if they need more water, if they need a [certain] type of nutrient. You can check the colours of the leaves to guess what it is that they need – the most complex part is to be able to see all that and react fast.”
Indeed, the decision to work with living plants was somewhat of a gamble on Loewe’s part, despite the years Ulargui Escalona has spent perfecting her technique. “A few days ago it was 40 degrees [Celcius] in Paris and we were all in a panic as we didn’t know if [the plants] were going to be nice,” the textiles designer continues. “It’s incredible they [took the] risk.”
Like Anderson, Ulargui Escalona sees incorporating plants into garments as a way of opening up the conversation about fashion’s relationship with nature. “My goal when I started this project was to stress how it is time to reconnect with nature, to take care of it and to truly understand that fashion has to be more sustainable.”
While the Loewe plant pieces won’t be available commercially, they’re reflective of a wider move within the industry to create plant-based materials that actually have a positive impact on the planet – with algae-based innovations that can actually absorb CO2 from the atmosphere being a prime example.
In the meantime, though, Ulargui Escalona is looking at how she can take her living plant textiles even further – and who knows, maybe you could have live plants growing in your wardrobe sooner, rather than later. “You can actually keep them alive in your fabrics as long as you take care of them,” she concludes. “I actually think it could be super therapeutic for a person to have a garment like that, that you have to take care of. It’s [about building] a connection. I think that’s what we need right now: consumers being more conscious, taking care of the things we have and trying to reconnect with nature.”
This article was originally published on Vogue US.