Flowers & Fashion: A Love That Endures

My latest contribution for the ACCESS magazine, The Hague based expat publication


They say fashion is a cultural barometer of our times. It gauges the zeitgeist of an epoch. In the 60-s, for example, the mini skirt and the flower power became the symbols of liberation, and in the 80-s it was all about “excess-orising” a la Dynasty – big hair, big shoulders, glitzy jewellery, only to be followed by Japanese minimalism and the deconstruction ushered in by the Antwerp six.

As society’s mirror, fashion reflects the cultural and social trends prevalent at a given time. So it is not surprising that when the financial crisis hit in 2008, the fashion world turned from bling and logo mania to sobriety and restraint.

Three years on and at the backdrop of sobriety a new trend is emerging: a flowering garden of earthly delights. Exotic blooms, prim roses, wildflowers and all sorts of floral prints ranging from huge motifs to stylized graphic patterns ruled the catwalks from New York to Paris, from London to Milan heralding the return of the pretty and the feminine. The trend has been so pervasive that even menswear has had a healthy injection of floral cheer.



A much needed antidote to the ever somber news? The return of the flower power? Or simply an indication that our crisis weary souls are yearning for beauty?


On a recent trip to Antwerpen, at the Dries Van Noten store I watched local patrons, undeterred by prices, snap up coats and dresses in bold printed fabric. The print was an unlikely mix of: hand-coloured seventeenth century studies of butterfly wings, eighteenth century Arcadian land- and seascapes, early-nineteenth century rose studies of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, and an image of a Victorian jungle –all these spliced with photographs of modern cities at night. A giddying cocktail you’d say? As mismatched as it sounds, the result was an utterly desirable poetic modernity. And on a grey February day a promise of sunshine and better times.




In March the British Vogue further sealed the trend profiling Thierry Boutemy, a French florist who eschewed the glamour of Paris for the provincial charm of Brussels. When the ultimate fashion bible sings praise to horticulture heroes there is something in the air.

Of course, Thierry Boutemy is not  your ordinary florist, he is  artisan fleuriste, floral artist, and a true poet who weaves magic using flowers, preferably wild, instead of words.  He has become the darling of the fashion world with the likes of Dior, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten  and Viktor & Rolf calling on Thierry’s vision to create floral accompaniment for their shows. It is easy to understand why, once you see his creations – enchanting dreams, transporting you into the fantasy land of childhood fairy tales. “My bouquets are not structured, not perfect, even shambolic. …but if  I did something more contrived, I would be betraying myself, and the flowers…”

Flowers and their delicate fleeting beauty have always inspired fashion. Flowers are pretty, romantic, they are symbolic of femininity, and they show the beauty of the natural world. In Victorian England the mastery of the language of flowers  was as important as being well dressed; and in the Middle-Eastern mythology luxuriant flowers are part of the verdant gardens of paradise.


Sultan’s robe from the Topkapi Palace collection


In the Ottoman Empire men and women used flowers and floral motifs as personal adornment. Mens’ robes were tailored from fabrics with floral patterns: hyacinths, roses, carnations and tulips undulating across sumptuous silk textiles.


The New Look, Christian Dior


Christian Dior’s love of flowers inspired him to create the New Look in 1947. Drawn to their architectural symmetry, their colours and their scent, he sought to transpose these qualities on to the clothes he designed:  “I was drawing flower women, soft, sloping shoulders, generous busts, slim waists and wide skirts like flower petals.”

Gabrielle Coco Chanel professed endless fascination for camellia, a white flower brought to Europe from Japan by a Jesuit priest. So deep was Mademoiselle’s infatuation with the flower that it permeated her most intimate surrounding. Camellia was everywhere: on the Coromandel screens she obsessively collected, on chandeliers in her apartment, in her hair, and on  her clothes. Invariably white. Discreet. Subtle. Today a white camellia brooch is as much a part of Chanel’s DNA, as the little black dress or the little tweed jacket.

Yves Saint Laurent, the undisputed king of fashion, the man who gave women the freedom to wear trouser suits and le smoking, created some stunning couture pieces drawing inspiration from art and flowers: Monet’s water lilies, Van Gogh’s  sunflowers and irises come alive artfully embroidered on fabric.


YSL, art inspired couture


Dutch designer Jan Taminiau, favoured by Princess Maxima and Lady Gaga, produced five pieces especially for the Floriade 2012 fusing couture technique with floral inspiration.


Flowers have a staying power it seems, and flowers and floral prints are a recurring trend. Love it, or hate it, embrace it, or shun it, but do not forget to stop to smell the roses.