The Story Behind Those Magic Mushrooms You’re Seeing Everywhere

Amanda Randone
·4 min read

When it comes to gems the hidden ones are often stories, not stones. Welcome to Demystified, where we look beyond the jewelry box, past our closets, and into the depths of our most cherished possessions to reveal their cross-cultural significance.

Soil, psychedelics, and now, our closets are just a few of the places one might unearth a mushroom or two (we’re talking the fantastical-fungi variety, not your typical pizza topping). From annual culinary festivals in Colorado to truffle-hunting escapades across Italy and Mexico, the highly sought-after mushroom has amassed global clout with growing environmental interest in the abilities of certain types to clean up toxic waste (like petrochemicals, pesticides, and herbicides) in the ground. But that’s not all, folks: in addition to being edible and eco-friendly, mushrooms are now proving themselves as stylish to boot. According to Indy Srinath (an LA-based permaculturalist, urban farmer, and educator), it’s the mushroom’s dreamy, edgy, yet down-to-earth appeal that’s fueling fashion’s latest fungi frenzy.

“In stripped-down depictions of capped mushrooms, they tend to look symmetrical and invoke feelings of the ethereal world,” Srinath explains. And, considering the resurgence of modernism as an attractive design trend, the mushroom is having a major moment as a result: “They’re natural, which makes them popular as organic shapes that are a bit more invigorating than, say, an outline of a plant. Their slim tapering makes them [easily suited] to a mid-century modern scheme while their whimsical symbolism gives them a touch of the unexpected.”

That symbolism takes root in the mushroom’s compelling and varied history in the realms of medicinal discovery, Victorian literature, and 1960s psychedelic counterculture. Leo Tolstoy has waxed poetic about the joys of picking the fleshy little things in the woods, and even our patron saint of capitalism, Santa Claus himself, is believed to have drawn aesthetic inspiration from mushrooms after flying over (and then ingesting) them in his sleigh. Srinath points to the irrefutable similarities between his famously red-and-white suit and the color patterns of the archetypal fly agaric, pop culture’s favorite kind of fungi (you’ll know it from Bambi, the Alice in Wonderland sculpture Central Park, and Bella Hadid’s nails).

Most significant, however, is the story of Mexican healer María Sabina, who Srinath describes as “the godmother of mushroom medicine.” Sabina is celebrated for her mushroom purification ceremonies which introduced the sacred, curing practices of her people to the rest of the world in the twentieth century. “I think for the folks in this region, the mushroom seems to symbolize tradition, indigenous wisdom, and ceremony,” Srinath says, adding that the subsequent exploitation of these traditions by westerns is a tragic consequence of Sabina’s vision. Still, Oaxacan mountain villages today proudly depict mushrooms painted in psychedelic, vibrant patterns to pay homage to their bounty of benefits.

Various iterations of fairy-like, cartoonish mushroom motifs have also made their way into fashion houses such as Chanel, Gucci, and Jil Sander. Be it a pleasant remembrance, a much-needed method of escapism, or an ode to nature, the current rise of mushrooms as jewelry, t-shirt designs, and trendy lamps makes complete sense at a time when memories feel like bittersweet gifts from a pre-2020 world. Daniel Fletcher, menswear artistic director at the forever-funky Italian label Fiorucci, has been revisiting and resurrecting elements of the brand’s archives for this very reason. The result: Fiorucci’s recently debuted Woodlands collection. “For me, there is something quite nostalgic about them; it can go one of two ways, the ’70s trippy route or the magical woodland creature direction, both of which fit quite nicely into the Fiorucci universe where anything goes,” he says.

“Anything goes” is an undoubtedly enticing notion amidst ongoing stay-at-home orders asking us to do, well, nothing at all. So as we stay put in this new normal, transforming our closets into anything but sounds even tastier than a European white truffle (a ‘shroom so special it’ll set you back about $3,600 per pound). “I think people are awakening to the healing powers of mushrooms,” Srinath shares. “So seeing others wearing mushrooms on their clothes always says to me that, perhaps, more people are realizing the integral role of mushrooms in our diet and on our planet.”

Follow Indy Srinath on Instagram here and learn more about her work to establish a Black-owned, Black-led urban farm that’s accessible to all BIPOC folks here.

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