Recently I wrote a post about quitting fast fashion trends and finding ways to make your sustainable style timeless. One of the main things I focused on was ending the idea that the only way we can curate a long lasting wardrobe is to give up anything remotely colourful or interesting, and opt for minimal, neutral and basics instead. It’s just not true. I have pieces in my closet that I’ve had for over a decade that are nowhere near minimal; because if you know how to approach and curate your wardrobe as a whole there are ways to keep these items going for as long as you want.
Recently ethical and sustainable fashion pioneers People Tree offered to send along their Cherry Orchard Jumpsuit to me, which I felt illustrated this point from a different perspective too. It’s part of their ongoing collaboration with the V&A, the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance, with a diverse collection spanning over 5,000 years of human creativity. People Tree work closely with the V&A team: going into the archives to select a variety of prints, which in turn give the team ideas of the type of style and era they are interested in working with, resulting in unique capsule collection pieces for each season that celebrate print, artistry and the tradition of British craftsmanship. It’s a totally unique working relationship, which is perfect seeing as People Tree’s long standing commitment to ethical and sustainable fashion has also naturally included an appreciation of fine craftsmanship and high quality construction under fair conditions. It’s a match made in artist, and artisan, heaven.
Inspired by the 1930s designs they picked out, the People Tree Autumn/Winter collection utilises silhouettes of the time as well as selected prints that are inspired by nature. The Cherry Orchard Jumpsuit has a low cut v-neck (something I wouldn’t often go for), a flattering waist tie and trousers that are actually tailored correctly to their sizing (I didn’t have to get them taken up at all!), as well as featuring one of the V&A’s boldest archive prints.
This jumpsuit is perfect proof that it isn’t just minimalism that stays in style long term. The print People Tree chose to use for this piece is 80 years old (and the original designs are 100 years old) and works just as well now as it did when it was first designed, before World War II.
People Tree’s collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum offers collections that celebrate the enduring beauty and excitement that can only be found in pattern and print; highlighting quality and craftsmanship by honouring and resurrecting prints that were lovingly and thoughtfully designed in decades past. They celebrate the variety of design, which the Museum is renowned for, as well as the natural beauty of materials associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. This is a perfect fit for People Tree, who also thoroughly consider and value the materials they work with. Their V&A pieces are made by Creative Handicrafts, a social enterprise working to empower disadvantaged women of the slum communities of Mumbai, India, who are also examples of exquisite craftsmanship.
It’s also a real treat to find that this jumpsuit is made from tencel. tencel is made from sustainably sourced eucalyptus verified by FSC and PEFC (Programmed for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) however it is far kinder to the earth in comparison to it’s tree-derived cousins like rayon, bamboo or modal. Eucalyptus is highly renewable, can grow in most climates, uses less land than cotton, and doesn’t require irrigation, farming, pesticides or herbicides. The process of turning Eucalyptus into tencel uses one non-toxic chemical in a closed loop process, which prevents pollution from ending up in waterways, unlike materials like rayon which require so much chemical processing that by the time they become fabric, they are no longer naturally biodegradable. Only 10% of eucalyptus is cut down to make tencel, so this jumpsuit comes from a forest, not a farm, which is pretty fitting considering the theme of the print. Tencel is also a highly durable fabric with anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties that gets softer with every wash, and isn’t prone to wrinkling or pilling. Honestly, it’s a wonder material. This is my third possession made of the fabric, and I am convinced over and over again of how wonderful it is (you can find more information on tencel here).
When it comes to this design specifically, it is steeped in a long history. The international movement in the decorative and fine arts began in Britain, both appreciating simple forms and medieval, romantic and folk styles, with this jumpsuit marrying these elements together effortlessly. One of the key players of the era was William Morris, a man I’m wholeheartedly convinced would be my best friend if he were alive today. Morris was a pioneer of the Arts & Crafts, strongly opposed mass production and poor working conditions, and highlighted the beauty of the natural world through complex designs that were mainly inspired by nature he found in his gardens, on country walks and on woodcut images. Other People Tree V&A collaborations have specifically featured Morris prints, which seems a natural place to begin, however their current collection is focused on a slightly later time period, and the work of another artist with similar themes. The cherry orchard print is based on a dress fabric from the 1930s which was printed by Cresta Silks of Welwyn Garden City and originally designed by Paul Nash,
Paul Nash was born in 1889, a few years before Morris died, and through his life worked as a surrealist painter, war artist, photographer, writer, illustrator and designer. He was one of the most important landscape artists of the first half of the twentieth century, with a strong love of landscape, both in decorative style and through increasingly abstract and surreal modes of creation. He created drawings and the book cover for Richard Aldington’s Images of War (which can now be seen in the British Library), published in 1919, that evoked shell fire and explosions, and over time these designs morphed into the textile design of Cherry Orchard. He turned an idea that originated from great tragedy, and developed it into something beautiful. In this way, like Morris before him, Nash created an enduring design that was both inherently political and celebrated the immeasurable wonder of nature simultaneously. I believe it is this spirit that has made this print endure for so long.
Like this print, the pieces it has inspired also make a powerful statement, both in their bold design and in People Tree’s unwavering commitment to ethics, whilst also being joyful and fascinating in their design. To me, that is true timelessness.
Photos by Teegan Egerton