PARIS — Mycelium is having its moment.
MycoWorks’ Reishi, a mushroom-based leather, has debuted its first full look at an exhibit which opened Thursday at the Buro Stedelijk museum space in Amsterdam.
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Titled “Descent Into Fungal,” the immersive, sensory exhibit showcases a trench coat with intricate ruching and pleated details, which is paired with thigh-high Fisherman boots and a supersized hat created in a design collaboration with Amsterdam-based brand Yume Yume.
The boots were created with the “backside” of the material for a suede-like feel, while the coat and hat use the traditional “front” side. The head-to-toe look is suspended from the ceiling like an art piece. Guests can also see the mycelium grow in its pre-harvested state before the leather is made. Mycelium is the root structure of mushrooms.
MycoWorks and Yume Yume settled on the exhibit concept to show Reishi and educate people on the possibilities of alternative materials. “It’s one of the unknowns,” said MycoWorks creative director Xavier Gallego. “So let’s show mycelium, let it grow through this exhibition and then show the potential of the technology that we created.”
Yume Yume creative director Eva Korsten said they decided on the exhibition instead of a fashion show presentation to “create a sense of pause.”
“Fashion is an industry that is high pace and continuously moves fast. Art is an industry that allows more time to discover, think and process what you are looking at. I just felt it needed more time to be appreciated by a wider audience,” she said. “Hopefully [the exhibit] raises awareness around fashion choices.”
The exhibit also features a video by London-based visual artist Household Pictures, who filmed the mycelium growth process over a year.
“A collaboration like this wasn’t only mind-bending from the creative side of things, but also, and perhaps more importantly, from a brand value perspective. Natural materials are limited,” Korsten said. Reishi is an an alternative to working with animal products without having to turn to oil-based synthetics. “I feel there’s a shift happening in the fashion industry’s mindset.”
From a design perspective, Korsten said the material is “strong” but has a “super soft feel.”
Working with Reishi required new ways of working with the brand’s existing tools and machines. “We had to take our current design process and rethink each action,” she said. “It’s been a such a learning curve.”
Her approach to using the underside of the material was a new twist for Gallego. “But every time that we do a collaboration, it’s a new learning,” he said, noting the finish performs well on footwear.
The brand collaborated on a jacket with Swedish label Deadwood, which debuted at Copenhagen Fashion Week in June, as well as a handbag with Hermès in 2021. It is continuing to work with luxury brands on material innovation and is ready to scale up production following the opening of its full-scale factory in September, which can produce millions of square feet of its leather alternative. The material can be grown-to-spec and customized for thickness.
“We have this material that is premium enough that designers and brands want to play with it, want to create with it,” he said. The material has improved since its launch five years ago and now with the factory up and running, they are ready to create larger projects and collections. “So for us, this is the moment.”
He also hopes the exhibit sparks an understanding that humans and nature have a symbiotic relationship. “This exhibit is an example of what could happen if you truly partner with nature, engineering and creating something new,” Gallego said.
The exhibit is also meant to be a statement to the fashion industry. “It’s a call to action to designers and brands [that] this beautiful material is available and collaborations are possible,” he said, particularly as brands state commitments to using alternative materials to meet their sustainability targets. “Collaborations are part of our DNA and we need that to grow. We need that to take this material to the next level.”
MycoWorks will next take Reishi on the road for an appearance at Biofabricate conference in Paris on Jan. 10. The Stedelijk exhibit will run until Jan. 25.
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