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How We Borrow Our Beauty from Nature

issue eight : animal instincts

Fashion has a long old history of plagiarising from nature. We copy animals defining beauty (or for the most part, take directly from the natural world). Everything from snakeskin handbags, crocodile skin shoes to leopard print coats… you name an animal, us humans have probably tried to wear them in one way or another. Perhaps the most thought-provoking collection of our time is Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection, Plato’s Atlantis. Inspired by Charles Darwin’s 1859 book; “On the Origin of the Species” – said to be the “foundation of evolutionary biology” – McQueen merged nature and technology for his final chapter, leaving us with a legacy of oceanic inspired prints and those famous armadillo shoes.

During the Palaeolithic period, humans would wear animal skins for warmth and protection from the elements, but as humans ‘evolved’ as a species, so did our vanity. From wearing animal skins to denote power and status, and more recently, animal prints for fast, throw-away fashion fixes.

While animal welfare is becoming a growing concern among consumers and many are now more inclined to buy faux versions, the irony is that these “animal-friendly” alternatives are still far from animal-friendly, as they are made from incredibly destructive materials such plastics (both in the extraction process and manufacture). Once in our these faux-furs enter our wardrobes, they continue to damage the environment by adding to the micro-plastic problem plaguing our waterways and oceans.

But what happens if we stop pillaging nature and instead learn from it? It has, after all, been functioning in perfect synchronicity since the dawn of time. The results are long-term, sustainable “products, processes and policy” innovations that make life easier for us, and oh, so much kinder to our magnificent muses. This is, of course, the unadulterated definition of biomimicry.

 Liz by Aks Huckleberry. Painting by Khandiz
Liz by Aks Huckleberry. Painting by Khandiz

Scientists, engineers and designers have come up with some truly inspiring inventions that we use in our everyday lives, often without us even realising where the inspiration came from. If you take a moment to look around, you will be mesmerised by just how much artificial nature is weaved into our everyday existence. It’s enlightening when you start connecting the dots.

Biologists have been looking at animals, and now even insects, to learn how they self-medicate to relieve various alignments (hint: through the use of plants).

  • Wind-turbine blades inspired by humpback whale fins are said to increase efficiency by 20% and reduce noise pollution – even Trump won’t be able to complain. Which is excellent news considering our urgent need to switch to cleaner, renewable energy sources. Pronto!
  • Ornate hexagonal tiling that besets some of the most elegant homes in all the rounded-corners of the globe are inspired by the humble honey-bee of course… well, their honeycomb to be more precise.
  • Velcro! That ingenious two-sided re-attachable tape was inspired by burrs clinging to dog fur. Swiss engineer George de Mestral discovered how the burrs hook would attach to anything with a loop, way back in 1941… and that, my dear readers, is a brief history of how velcro became a mainstay in our lives.

I know, I know! You’re here to find out more about beauty…best you keep ready!


 Image by Kristin Vicari for Absolution Cosmetics. Hair & Makeup by Khandiz.
Image by Kristin Vicari for Absolution Cosmetics. Hair & Makeup by Khandiz.
  • The timeless “cat eye” aka: the feline flick. Women (and men) have been calling on our furry-friends to create feminine, feline eye shapes for centuries. Although most synonymous with the glamour of the 1950s it shows no signs of going away thanks to the likes of makeup maestros Charlotte Tilbury, Pat McGrath and Lisa Eldridge (to name a few). Cats (and their alluring eye shapes) have been a source of cosmetic inspiration as far back as Bastet, the ancient Egyptian cat god.
 Image via Instagram /  @ruthie_n_black
Image via Instagram / @ruthie_n_black
  • Butterflies seem to be all the rage at the moment, with the butterfly eye makeup look fluttering all over Instagram. This metamorphosed winged liner look sees boldly painted eyelids (either in a single colour, or rainbow colours) with rounded, wing-shaped designs sealing the colour off. Or even more elaborate looks like this one from New York based mua, @ruthie_n_black
 Image by  Egor Kamelev via
Image by Egor Kamelev via
  • What about glow-in-the-dark makeup? Yep, that too is a reproduction of nature. This time from the jellyfish. The fluorescent proteins found in these creatures of the deep can be implanted into other molecules mimicking their ability to glow. While our fluorescent makeup may not have actual jellyfish cells swimming in it, rest assured, if we didn’t have jellyfish, we wouldn’t be able to stand out in the dark!
 Closeup of fish scales | Image:  Rajesh Dangi , licensed under Creative Commans 3.0
Closeup of fish scales | Image: Rajesh Dangi , licensed under Creative Commans 3.0
  • Fish scales have been used in cosmetics for years. This crystalline colourant, known as guanine, is used to add a pearly, iridescent finish to a host of beauty and personal care products. The mineral alternative is mica (which is rife with human-rights abuses… but that’s a whole other article).

Let’s face it, we have been borrowing various degrees of camouflage techniques from the animal kingdom for just about every application of makeup we make. The very act of applying makeup to make ourselves look (or feel) more attractive is straight out of nature’s handbook.

Don’t you think it’s in our own best interest to start taking better care it?

In UNTAINTED’s new approach to inspire our readers, I think it’s important to look beyond the relatively superficial concept of this being merely a beauty platform, and want to highlight the social and environmental impact we are having on our planet.

Biodiversity loss is a very real and pressing issue that affects far more than inspiration for our beauty habits. It quite literally impacts our very survival as a species. We have seen an unprecedented decline in biodiversity over the last 50 years – an estimated 52% of planetary biodiversity was lost between 1970 and 2012, according to the website Save the Earth.

in focus:

untainted |ˌənˈtān(t)əd| adjective
not contaminated, polluted, or tainted: the paper was untainted by age.

UNTAINTED is a directional beauty platform, pushing the boundaries of clean, sustainable beauty. We are inspired and motivated by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi.

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