The dress is made of undyed natural 40% hemp 60% silk blend fabric and organic cotton. It is machine-sewn and the side panels of the bodice and skirt and cuffs are embroidered with a floral design. It fastens behind with a zip fastener and mother of pearl button. A pair of silk ties fasten in front for decorative and size adjustment purposes. The dress is lined with lightweight organic cotton. There are two alternative headdresses; a pillbox hat in palm fibre trimmed with hemp and silk blend roses, and a headband of padded silk chiffon bound with silk ribbons which are knotted where they fall at the back to form a lattice-work garland interspersed with roses made of hemp and silk fabric. There is also a shawl of undyed hemp-silk fabric and leather open-toed sandals. For storage, there is a wood and metal coathanger and calico dress and shoe bags.
This ensemble was designed as an ecological wedding dress. The concept of the outfit was that multiple versions would be made to be lent to brides free over the period September 1996 to June 1997. Each dress was intended to be returned after having been worn. Over 200 people took part in the project, involving 65 dresses. The dresses were available in a variety of sizes and styles to suit a wide range of figures. There was also a groom's outfit consisting of trousers, waistcoat, shirt and scarf. The natural silk, cotton and hemp fabrics are made of almost exclusively organically grown fibres. The production throughout is ecologically aware, with the fabrics kept natural and undyed, and minimal use of chemicals and water in their production. After each wearing, the dresses were drycleaned using an environmentally friendly hydrocarbon process. At the end of the year's run, the dresses were put up for sale in HessNatur's shop. This particular dress was exhibited at the Design Museum in 1999 as a winner of a Sustainable Design Award, after which it was given to the V&A. The judges' comments noted that sustainability was rarely taken into account when producing wedding dresses. In addition, the concept of lending out ethically manufactured clothing was in sympathy with HessNatur's company culture. This made HessNatur's wedding dress loan project a worthy award-winner.
This 1996 “eco wedding outfit” by HessNatur reflects an alternative, ecologically aware approach to wedding fashion. To mark its 20th anniversary in 1996, the German company HessNatur aimed to make aesthetically attractive ecological wedding outfits which used natural fabrics and sustainable resources. The company philosophy is that garments should be high quality, long-lived, and manage resources responsibly. By the late 20th century, the wedding dress was typically a single-use garment using non-ecologically produced, chemically-processed fabric, and involving a great deal of labour. HessNatur’s outfits, in contrast, used completely organic, natural cotton, raw silk and hemp fabrics which had not been chemically treated in any way, Their aim was to reconcile the concept of the wedding garment with the “HessNatur lifestyle”. The wedding outfits were intended to be loaned out, rather than sold directly. This extended the garment’s lifespan and guaranteed optimal use of resources. In addition to this, HessNatur wished to show the beauty of natural fabrics that had not been subjected to bleaching, dying, or other conventional chemical treatments and finishing processes. Hemp textiles were popular in the mid-1990s for hard-wearing everyday use, but HessNatur wanted to show that a hemp-silk blend could create a more elegant, refined fabric. Finally, the company wanted to demonstrate the viability of alternative methods of textile distribution and sustainable economy. Due to demand, the original run of 50 outfits was expanded to 65, but this still proved too few. Between September 1996 and June 1997, over 200 couples were married wearing loaned HessNatur outfits, but an additional 140 couples had to be disappointed. The management of loans and timetabling was achieved through a telephone service and specially developed computer programme. Interested couples who visited the shop in Bad Homburg, or the Switzerland office, were helped to choose the most suitably-sized garments for themselves. For the ceremony, they were then sent the garments to wear. Afterwards, the garments were returned for cleaning (using an environmentally friendly hydrocarbon method) and passed on to the next couple. The loans were free of charge for one year only, to commemorate the 20th anniversary. The outfits were made by a small designer atelier, and all costs associated with the manufacturing and loan process were absorbed by HessNatur. The HessNatur wedding outfit was a winning entry to the Sustainable Design Awards. These awards challenged entrants to show how their environmentally sound, ecologically acceptable manufacturing methods could be brought to a wider audience, as opposed to the “eco-niche”. The design approach was to produce a design that was completely a special occasion garment, demonstrating “timeless elegance” and a “romantic natural style”, using pure, untreated natural fabrics, and was flexible, size-wise, to fit a variety of body shapes and styles flatteringly. As the dress was expected to be worn throughout the day, comfort was of paramount importance. Contracts with suppliers were exclusive. Sustainability considerations included: Ecology: Each design step and stage of production was ecologically aware. HessNatur aimed to show that mass production could be replaced by making a limited number of high quality garments designed to have a long life, and circulating these via the loan system. Economy: The circulation of a limited number of garments, rather than making an individual dress for each client ensured moderate resource use. The customer bond was established through individual assistance as well as the loan process. Social: Worker welfare was taken into account, by ensuring environmentally friendly and comfortable working conditions, and the value of hand-crafting was recognised. The cotton was certified organic as per EU regulation 2092/91. All fabric processing was ecological, to HessNatur’s own standard. By not bleaching the fabrics, 15 litres of water, 45 grams of chemicals and 1,50 kWh energy were saved for each kilogram of fabric. Historical significance: This is a unique ouitfit created by the German company, Hess Naturtextilien ('hess natur'), to celebrate their 20th anniversary. It is an important example of ecological design in the wedding dress industry, an area where sustainability is not usually a concern. It won a Sustainable Design Award in 1999 which recognises products that reflect an understanding of the impact of design on the environment.
Given by Hess Naturtextilien GmbH
Location: In Storage