Last month, when Loewe presented its spring 2023 menswear collection in Paris, the brand sent out models wearing clothing adorned with lush greenery. There were coats featuring grass in asymmetrical patterns, sneakers decorated with blossoming blades, and pants that had weeds bursting through the fabric. Even more impressive was the fact that the plants were real — the result of a collaboration between the fashion house and Spanish designer Paula Ulargui Escalona.
“The main focus of the project was to reconnect humans with nature by feeling the moisture, the texture, and the life,” she tells Refinery29. “I wanted to show that the fashion industry could be as sustainable as nature itself.”
A graduate of the Istituto Europeo di Design in Madrid, Ulargui attended the Brockwood Park School in England, where she says the students used to “grow our own food,” which first ignited her appreciation of plants. Later, while studying in Madrid and Milan, Ulargui began to experiment with growing plants from textiles. “I started getting interested in not just working with those materials but creating new materials,” she says.
In the process, Ulargui faced some setbacks: Some plants never grew, while others would blossom just once. “There are so many factors that can stop the process or affect the process that it's sometimes super confusing,” she says, noting that the space, light, fabric, and the seeds can all influence the outcome. (She has also experimented with growing mushrooms, one of fashion’s trending materials, which she found to be difficult because “the process of inoculating the mycelium is super tricky.”)
Even after years of research, Ulargui still hasn’t landed on a foolproof formula for making plants grow out of clothing: “I think the technique is to [continue to] experiment,” she says. “I tried so many fabrics, so many seeds, so many ways of cultivating the plants, and you just have to understand what the plants need and make that connection.” The material used in the Loewe was inspired by her final thesis project, titled “Siamese Skins: Two Natures, One Body,” and the furthest she has come to succeeding in her mission to bridge horticulture and fashion.
For the Loewe show — an experience that Ulargui describes as “mind-blowing” — timing was key. In preparation for the show, Ulargui, in collaboration with the brand’s creative director Jonathan Anderson, spend around 20 days growing the plants which ranged from cat’s wort to chia plants. Yet, when it came to delivering the plant-apparel samples, Ulargui says it had to happen as fast as possible, so she rented a car to make the 13-hour drive from Madrid to Paris. For the show, she traveled to France to start the process from scratch there, growing the plants for three weeks in a polytunnel, a greenhouse alternative.
While Ulargui says that, for now, the plants inside the clothing will not stay alive long-term, this experience is only inspiring her to continue her research. “The main goal is to [answer the] question of, ‘Would you be able to plant in a way to keep them alive forever?'” says Ulargui, adding that the pieces are currently not for sale. She’s also eager to explore other partnerships: “I would love to collaborate with artists and actors to create pieces for specific events.” She’d also like a chance to exhibit her work.
While Ulargui is quickly making a name for her work, she wants to encourage everyone to partake in experimenting with nature: “Everyone [should] try to make a small [seed] sample and try to learn for themselves what the plants need,” she says. “The main purpose of my project was to reconnect humans with nature and I think this is such a therapeutic way to do it.”