Flowers are more than just plain, one-dimensional adornments in the rarefied haute couture space. The sublime shape of their petals and their vibrant colours lend a creative voice, vigour and vivacity to couture creations.
Many couturiers in fashion history have experimented with flowers to suit their design vision. Whether it's Chanel's camellia, Dior's lily of the valley, Givenchy's red carnations or Alexander McQueen's roses, designers have used flowers in many ways, from embroidering them on evening dresses, embossing them on bags and reimagining their shape to fashion dramatic silhouettes. Here's a look at some of the striking experimentations:
Camellia and Chanel
Coco Chanel first pinned a camellia on a dress in 1923. Before that camellia was mostly worn by dandies like the French novelist Marcel Proust in the buttonholes of their jacket lapel.
Chanel later released them from men's buttonholes. Once a lady asked Gabrielle what she was having for breakfast, she answered, "a camellia". Over the years, Chanel extrapolated her favourite flower motif in myriad ways, embroidering it, fraying it and feathering it while fashioning it from chiffon, organza and leather.
At the recent Paris Fashion Week, the brand's creative director Virginie Viard picked the emblematic bloom as the center-piece of her fall ready-to-wear show. She mounted a giant symbolic white camellia that punctuated her creations - seen embroidered on jumpers, embossed on the bags and appliqued on the shoes. She shared in the release, “The camellia is more than a theme; it’s an eternal code of the house.” Her predecessor Karl Lagerfeld had crafted an haute couture dress from a bouquet of camellias seen on model Solange Wilvert (styled with a ribbon-tied bouquet of white roses) for the finale of his Fall 2005 couture show.
Lily of the valley and Dior
Dior's DNA has Lily of the valley, Christian Dior's favourite flower. It has populated his creative canvas, from his personal stationary to the jacket lapels. In fact, Dior's entire 1954 spring collection, Muguet, was inspired by this botanical good luck charm. Lily of the valley also forms the base of a perfume, Diorissimo, that Christian Dior ordered to Edmond Roudnitska, a famous maître-parfumeur settled in Grasse.
Dior men's current B23 high-top sneakers come embellished with a delicate lily of the valley silk thread and bead embroidery, inspired by the Dior archives. For Fall 23 Dior Men too, Kim Jones sent out jackets and sweaters embroidered with tiny chains of abstracted lily of the valley.
Balenciaga and carnations
When Demna Gvasalia presented his first couture collection for Balenciaga, red carnations were given to guests, worn on lapels, and carried down the runway. Labelled as the “50th Couture Collection”, it was also the maison’s first couture show since Cristóbal Balenciaga retired in 1968.
As the models walked the runway, there was a poetic eruption of red carnations. The opening model carried a single red carnation followed by the second look where it was pinned to the lapel and then again seen on Look 40. What makes the red carnation at the Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture show sartorially significant is the fact that it's the national flower of Spain, the birthplace of Cristóbal Balenciaga. His native country, its vibrant hues, textiles and embroideries often informed his couture view. Moreover, the late couturier held a penchant for the luscious red of the crimson carnation for his creations and often used it as a recurring motif.
McQueen and rose
When one looks at the incredible design history of Alexander McQueen, it's hard to overlook the English rose. It became a powerful symbol of the house appearing in Lee's earliest collections in the 1990s and carrying into Sarah Burton’s work of the 2010s. McQueen once said, “Everything I do is connected to nature in one way or another.” Over the years, Mcqueen's rose has been recontextualised in an array of ways: presented in perforated leather in 1997, in a bloom dress by Burton in 2019, or reimagined through burlaps and muslins season after season.
In December 2019, Burton celebrated McQueen's love for blooms by staging an installation, Roses, at the brand’s London store at 27 Old Bond Street. “To me, it’s the queen of flowers, the most British flower of all, a symbol of femininity,” says Burton, in a video that accompanied the installation.