largest item of clothing ever made from spider silk. This gold cape was a four-year project involving more than one million spiders. And not just any spiders. These guys are a rare species from Madagascar with golden filaments that produce the blindingly saffron product you see here.
This fashion statement is currently on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Actually, spider silk is a hot commodity in the art world right now. Last year, another, slightly less ambitious spider silk garment -- an 11-foot scarf -- was exhibited in museums from New York to London.
Part of the fascination with the process comes from the craftsmanship. The scarf alone required a commitment from 70 people with the ability to work on machinery not really employed since the 19th century in France. But Madagascar spider silk also has some otherworldly properties. For instance, it's virtually weightless so it doesn't feel like anything. It's as close as you'll get to an invisibility cloak at this point. Amazingly, the material is also stronger than Kevlar. There's actually been research into developing a synthetic version for the military.
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Don't put it past the fashion world either. Both the cape and the scarf-which Vogue covered when it went on display-were designed by the textile team of Godley and Peers, who run an operation in Madagascar. While they're not looking to mass produce the product they have become darlings of fashion insiders hunting for new types of textural inspiration.
Here's essentially how the process works, according to The Guardian : " The spider is clamped by a sheet of wood with a half-moon aperture for its abdomen. In each hand-powered contraption are 24 females (they are always female). Handlers pull and spool strands from each spider's multiple spinnerets. A gossamer thread is made from 96 twisted strands."
After the whole thing is over, the spiders are released making the it seem fairly humane.
Guess who's not going for it? PETA. Shine reached out to get the animal advocacy group's feedback on the art world's latest darling.
In an emailed statement, PETA spokesperson Nicole Deo compared the process to "factory farming" and called out the museum for supporting it.
"[Using] silk that the spiders would normally have used to catch insects to feed themselves is as bizarre and unappealing as it is anti-environmental," writes Deo, who didn't say whether the organization are plans to protest the museum.
PETA folks can take comfort in the fact that this cape won't be showing up at H&M anytime soon. Four years for one loose-fitting top doesn't bode well for the next big fashion fad .
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