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New Theme: ‘The Zoo’

A new theme unveils original items from the Europeana Fashion Collection: an ideal ‘zoo’ gathers a selection of clothing and accessories where animals – in all their forms – are absolute protagonists.

Detail of ivory silk blouse embroidered with giraffes, palm trees and cactuses, Italian manufacture, 1936, Courtesy Galleria del Costume Palazzo Pitti

the fascination fashion has had with the animal world doesn’t stop at the use of prints and patterns of animal skins. Even though the first association that comes to mind when thinking about animals and fashion is the use of animalier patterns – and thus the idea of ‘second skin’ – to create illusions and interesting juxtapositions, animals are the actual and unexpected protagonists of many of the items in the Europeana Fashion Collection.

Every society has interpreted animals in different ways, according to the mythologies linked to their behaviour and appearance. Animals have long been associated with well-defined features that identify them with precise characters. Allegorical representation of animals to signify force, beauty or grace are a common practice in many languages, visual as well as written and spoken; actual animals have been transformed by imagination in fantastic entities, such as dragons, and populated legends and magical stories.

Brooch-pendant in the form of a honeycomb in gold, diamonds and fire opals, made by John Donald, London 1969. Courtesy Victoria&Albert Museum

Animals are often associated with fortune or misfortune, and it is no surprise that they have been used as inspiration to create jewels and amulets. They are also often used to define personalities, and both art and fashion have used them as inspirations, metaphors to layer different meanings on objects and artefacts; the ‘amazing creatures’ populate skirts and waistcoats, forming intricate patterns or occupying the whole surface of jumpers and dresses, and have sometimes represented the encounter of different expertise and disciplines – not only art and fashion, but also illustration, biology and botany.

The motifs from the natural world have been translated into true-to-life decorations for clothes and accessories, but there is also a ludic element linked with the appearance of animals as ‘friends’ which makes them suitable for children-wear; the ‘cartoonisation’ of animals is a common practice not only in these kind of clothes, but also in the work of contemporary designers incorporating the idea of playfulness in their creations.

Travel through times and spaces and discover some of the uses of animals in fashion on the Europeana Fashion Portal

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