Fashion editor Justine Lepage believes there’s something to be said of the aesthetic of mushrooms. These plants/creatures/none of the above look very distinct from any other living thing, but also very different from one another. The fashion industry has always been inspired by natural elements, but the place of mushrooms as the ‘it-girl’ inspiring the biggest designers seems only quite recent. Let’s dig into the why of this mycelium mania.
Part of the appeal of mushrooms lies in the cottagecore wave that has taken over the internet around 2018. This aesthetic, as well as its more recent siblings goblincore and mushroomcore, were inspired by the chronically online desire to touch grass. The Tumblr youth has been yearning for a life in connection with nature, baking bread, recognising different types of trees, and foraging. This aesthetic ideal is partly based in climate change nihilism, but also in the desire to escape elsewhere, to a simpler lifestyle, away from taxes and retail jobs, where a girl and her wife can simply plant their own little vegetables. The yearning for a better life skyrocketed as we were all locked in our houses and flats throughout 2020. On top of the aesthetic itself, I remember being on foraging TikTok back then and being fascinated by people picking wild garlic from the forest, or making pizza out of giant puffball mushrooms.
As simple as the values of cottagecore might seem, they are not without critics. The main, and most obvious one, would be that, as for most online aesthetic currents, it is not the most inclusive. Any online aesthetic will be essentialised as a costume for any conventionally attractive woman to wear, and stripped of all the movement stands for. If you look up “cottagecore”, most of the people portrayed will be thin, white, able-bodied cis women. Of course, that doesn’t represent all people who enjoy the cottagecore aesthetic, and some accounts like Cottagecore Black Folks on Instagram showcase that beautifully. Despite the current trend being predominantly loved by LGBTQ+ people (take for instance the trope of the “cottagecore lesbian”), it’s difficult not to see some aesthetic ties to right-wing trad-wife beliefs. Some critics have called cottagecore eurocentric or even said it promotes colonialism. After all, whether it’s with the left-wing cottagecore or the right-wing conservatives, people wearing pretty dresses are staying home to bake bread! But that is where the comparison stops, as the political differences between the two groups obviously add up to way more than what they have in common.
The cottagecore movement recently branched out into adjacent terms like “goblincore”, that keep the root of connecting to the earth and natural materials, but rougher around the edges, and with a more inclusive twist. Goblincore embraces dirt, DIY aesthetics and an almost grungy vibe. This movement shows that mushrooms are a weird and wonderful inspiration to all fashion creatures.
The environmentalist aspirations of cottagecore are also increasingly shared by high fashion. More and more initiatives have blossomed through the runways in terms of textile waste reduction or innovative materials. And mushrooms are at the forefront of the latter, being presented as an innovative, sustainable alternative to leather. Stella McCartney, who has since the creation of her brand been opposed to the use of animal skin and fur, partnered with Bolt Threads on the creation of Mylo Garments, a lab-grown leather alternative made of mushroom. This marks an interesting step in the field of leather substitutes and offers a refreshing alternative to the rebranding of faux plastic leather as “vegan”.
A general mushroom frenzy has taken over the world in the past few years, with documentaries like Louie Schwartzberg’s Fantastic Fungi being broadcasted widely, so it’s no surprise that mushroom patterns have been examined with more attention than ever by fashion designers. Whether they are being used as a print by Rodarte, or their shapes are mimicked in Iris Van Herpen gowns, it’s an endless field for designers to explore, and the conquest is on its way. Mushrooms are vastly fascinating and defy the laws of the natural world in visually interesting ways. My personal favourite side effect of this trend is the sprouting of stunning mushroom outfits worn by Drag Queens on the reality tv show Rupaul’s Drag Race. Designers and frequent drag collaborators like Eda Birthing and Liquorice Originals have been eating them up!
This mycelium mania on the runways trickles down to fast fashion and retail outlets, as all trends tend to do. Amanita patterned cardigans are the hot item of the season, in a mainstream mass-produced distillation of the alternative trend of mushroomcore. Mushrooms are no longer for weirdos but for the mainstream, and toadstools are on their way to becoming the heir to the 2012 quirky hipster moustache pattern, multiplying at a funghi-nomenal rate. Mushrooms are hot, so sprinkle some in your fits babes!