To understand fashion’s constant referencing of birds and bird symbols, one must understand our primary association with the animal. Birds, for most cultures, present a sense of freedom, sensitivity and, depending on the territory- a sense of exoticism.
Designers are often inspired by the lightness and grace of birds, and reference this not only through prints or designs of the species but also the flow of the fabric. Loose and lightweight fabrics aim to capture the motion of flight. Cutaway tanks, loose-fitted dresses, Fellini-esque floppy headwear all aim to mimic the flight of birds.
Accessible collections use bird symbols to capture a light feminine energy. For ss 2010, Miu Miu used patterns with bird species on their suits and dresses to add a youthful feminine vibe to the collection. Symbols of the animal are usually found on t-shirts and necklaces for major youth retail brands and the freeing association we have with birds often tie themselves to the female spirit.
Exotic species of birds often find their way into orientalist collections. Louis Vuitton’s ss 2011 line used bold oriental dresses with zebra, giraffe and exotic bird prints. Referencing a bold bird species in fashion, like the peacock, often allows for a bigger statement in wardrobe vs the more subtle connotations of let’s say, a sparrow.
For more literal connections to fashion, birds are often referenced directly with feathers, wings and headgear. Images of the heroin from Swan Lake are conjured-up - the idea of metamorphosis through fashion and costume. Alexander McQueen references birds in a dark fantastical manner for his fw 2009 showing. Black feathers were draped over models with clown-like red lips, black latex mixed in for a fetishistic feather spectacle. For the 2011 MMVA’s, Lady Gaga wore a piece from this collection for her performance of ‘Born This Way’. A conscious metaphor of breaking away from stereotypes and setting yourself free was shown not only through the lyrics but through the McQueen feather dress.
It might just be a birds ability to fly that fascinates the human spirit, and thus it is through the fashion and garment industry that these animals keep on being referenced. By symbolizing birds as exotic, free and often embodying the feminine spirit, fashion continues to be inspired by these creatures.