Sunday, February 22, 2015

Nudibranch Fashion, Jellyfish Couture: Marine Invertebrates Do the Oscars

Nudibranch photographed by David Doubilet (via Photoshelter blog)

Recently, I was tickled to read a tweet;

For context, the Golden Globes were the previous evening.

Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur (1904),
plate 43: Nudibranchia
A someone who enjoys the most weird and wonderful specimen of the animal kingdom and who has done a lot of fieldwork at sea, I knew instantly what she meant. If you are not familiar with arguably the most weird and wonderful sea creature going, you should watch National Geographic photographer David Doublet introduce the nudibranch. National Geographic calls the short film an introduction to "the glamor slugs of the sea" and Doubilet himself says, “Of all the creatures in the sea, these are the high fashion models.”

Leopold and Rudolf Blashka, glass model of a nudibranch,
late 19th/early 20th century

These spectacular marine invertebrates, are perhaps improbably, mollosks who shed their shells after the larval stage. They are multifarious and come in thousands of species, though they are often confused with sea slugs. You may have seen the illustrations by famed 19th century biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel (whom I've written about previously) or the amazing glass models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. They inhabit the all the oceans of the world. The come in every conceivable colour combination, it seems, a range of improbable shapes and though most are small they can range from roughly 1 to 50 cm in length like the fabulous Spanish Dancers. The name "nudibranch" comes from the Greek for "naked gill", a description of the rosette of branchial plumes protruding from their backs. The tentacles on their heads are sensitive to touch, taste, and smell. They are hermaphrodites, each having both types of sex organs, but they do need two to mate. They may appear harmless, but they are carnivores, and some produce and use toxins defensively. Even cannibalism is not unknown, and they will eat other species of nudibranch.

This marvellous hat is part of Fashion at the Races'
Deep Sea series, and is specifically inspired by the
nudibranch. It is a headpiece which "is hand
sculpted out of hot pink jinsin straw, and it has
battery operated LED lights to mimic the
bioluminesene that many deep sea creatures have."
The tweet sent me down the "nudibranch fashion" rabbithole. These amazing creatures don't merely ressemble the more out high fashion, they are sometimes their inspiration. Entire seasons for some designers may be inspired by sea creatures like the nudibranch.

Mirella Bruno Print Design Project
Direction Boards SS/2014.
Note that this includes a few nudibranches.
The logical thing to do, of course, is to have a go at it: matching award show gowns to nudibranch species, and see if in fact they do all ressemble nudibranches! I've written previously about how origami has inspired fashion, crystallography has inspired fashion or a wonderful mash-up of dresses and gig posters. So what about a mash-up of fashion and nudibranches? First, I thought to check whether this has been done.  Where I See Fashion,  is a visual feast; fashion student Bianca Luini creates an on-going blog of mash-ups of fashion photography and everything else, from natural history to abstract art, where the everything else echos the lines, patterns, shapes and colours of the fashion. Searching through their images, it seems she has paired fashion imagery with marine invertebrates, but only (as far as I can tell) with jellyfish.

Match #226
Yiqing Yin Fall 2012 | Jellyfishes at the Aquarium of The Bay in San Francisco, CA

Match #157
Jil Sander Spring 2011 | Jellyfish in a tank lit up with coloured lights photographed by pixelmama
Where I See Fashion: Match #1 gown and jellyfish
Where I See Fashion Match #8 photo and bioluminescent jellyfish

So, without further ado, and with thanks to all the people and creatures mentioned for their inspiration, here are my Oscar dress/Nudibranch pairs:

Marion Cottilard attends the 87th Annual Academy Awards, February 22, 2015
(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images) and dorid nudibranch
Cadlina luteomarginata (Jeff Goddard, Santa Barbara).
Rosamund Pike attends the 87th Annual Academy Awards, February 22, 2015
(Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage) and a spanish dancer nudibranch
off Australia (Photoe by Chris, Underwater Australia)
Emma Stone (Getty) and Manned Nudibranch Aeolidia papillosa
(Photo (c) Luc Gangnon, 2015 Aquatic Biodiversity Monitoring Network)

Blanca Blanco (Getty) and nudibranch (via here)

Scarlett Johansson (Mark Raulston/AFP/Getty) and green nudibranch
(by Saffron on scuba-fish gallery)
Gwenyth Paltrow (Getty) and a Nudibranch egg rosette


  1. This is so fun, you did such an inspired job pairing the nudibranches with dresses! Scarlett and Emma are my faves (though Gwenneths sure is spot on).

    1. Thanks Faunalia! I've been thinking about this for a while so I was all ready Oscar night. I had hoped for some more patterned dresses, but it was kind of amazing how I could find parallels even for the monochromatic dresses. The beading on Emma's dress really does match the pattern on the Aeolidia papillosa - and hemline too. Plus I think Scarlett's necklace is just so branchial plume now. Trust Gwennie to wear a nudibranch egg rosette on her shoulder. ;)



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