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‘Biophilia’ style: Nature as self-expression, solace becomes popular design choice

‘Biophilia’ style: Nature as self-expression, solace becomes popular design choice

From tattoos to clothing to furnishings, more people seem to be adorning their bodies and homes with themes from nature. Designers and artists who see this biophilia trend think it’s a response to both the pandemic and anxiety about environmental destruction.

“Our collective yearning for nature and the solace that it brings, especially during the pandemic, has led to a fixation on all things earthy,” says Veronique Hyland, Elle magazine’s fashion features director and author of the new essay collection “Dress Code.” “It’s popping up in all kinds of design spaces.”

Biophilia is a term biologist Edward O. Wilson used in the 1980s to describe humans’ connection to the natural world.

Experiencing the outdoors has become something of a luxury, Hyland says, with fewer people having access to green spaces or the time to enjoy them. So people are carrying nature with them, whether that’s a bracelet crafted of beach glass, a leather jacket made from mushroom fiber, or a tattoo of dad’s favorite flower.

“I’ve definite seen an uptick in people wanting nature-themed tattoos,” says Stephanie Cecchini, owner of Lady Luck Studio in Goshen, New York. “I think it’s because people are putting more thought into their tattoo and using the representation of nature to reflect their own lives.”

Along with thistles, sunflowers and orchids, Cecchini has inked lions, giraffes, bears, pet dogs and a lizard.

Jillian Slavin of New Paltz, New York, loves trees, particularly a white oak near her childhood home. When she recently decided to get her first tattoo, she sent Patricia Mazzata at Hudson River Tattoo a watercolor of the tree. Mazzata designed an image Slavin liked so much she had it inked large on her back.

“I couldn’t imagine it any smaller or in any other place,” she says.

Stacy Billman of Savoy, Illinois, worked as a floral designer in college. Over nine months during the pandemic, she got a tattoo sleeve of flowers on her arm. She started with her favorite flower, the ranunculus, then added wax flower, peonies, orchid, protea, tulips, anemones freesia, dahlia, lisianthus and, to finish, a sunflower on her wrist and the text: “No rain, no flowers.”

“I can’t control the rain, but I can choose how I respond to it,” she says.

For their coming fall collection, Private Policy designers Siying Qu and Haoran Li were inspired by the Netflix documentary “Fantastic Fungi,” Hyland says. The line pays tribute to mycelium — a mushroom-based alternative to leather. They included keychains made from foam made of dehydrated mushrooms.

“Last season in Paris, Stella McCartney presented a fungi-inspired show that included a bag in Mylo mushroom leather,” Hyland says. “Last year, Hermès teamed with Mycoworks to create sustainable mushroom leather.”

Hyland says Hood by Air designer Shayne Oliver worked with makeup artist Pat McGrath for this season’s runway show to turn the models into “human bouquets,” with 3-D floral makeup and eyelashes made to look pollen-covered.

Olivia Cheng of the New York label Dauphinette used gilded gingko leaves, dried rosebuds and ethically sourced beetle wings as embellishments.

Designer Catherine Weitzman launched her studio, now based in Hawaii, after being inspired by nature during travel.

“Found objects and recycled metals play a big part,” she says, “and allow for a connection to be formed between nature, myself and the person who wears my jewelry.”

She has necklaces made of tiny alpine flowers captured in glass, earrings of fan coral cast in gold vermeil or recycled silver and pendants of fern from the forest floor, cast in metal.

Weitzman thinks biophilia is trending because being surrounded by nature and connecting with others enhances “mood, productivity and creativity.”

Redbubble.com, which offers artists’ work, has scarves with imagery of lapping waves, geese in flight, pheasant feathers and dappled sunlight in the woods, among its offerings.

French luxury linens purveyor Yves DeLorme says its new collection is inspired by nature, with jewelry bags depicting tropical plants, lemurs and forests.

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The decor marketplace abounds with flower motifs: tiles printed to look like minerals or wood slabs; furniture that boasts of its origin as a chunk of rock or tree; and renderings of sunbeams, storm clouds and celestial bodies on wallpaper and soft goods.

Rachel Magana, senior visual designer for Fernish, a West Coast furnishings subscription service, says engagement on its website goes up whenever photos of greenery-filled rooms are posted.

“Biophilia certainly became more engrained during COVID, when more of us started to become ‘plant parents’ and found a new appreciation for making our homes a relaxing refuge,” Magana says. “Biophilia is a part of every photoshoot, every ad, everything we do.”

Eilyn Jimenez of the Miami firm Sire Design says clients are asking for homes that provide a sense of calm. “With all that’s going on in the world, home should be an escape,” Jimenez says. “Being at home has also driven the trend of connecting to nature through design.”

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