Licentiate Column 20/10/11: The Language of Florals

Only a foolish or unthinking person could dismiss flowers as innocuous.  As well as just looking pretty, they have the power to inspire, to heal or even to kill.
Flowers form the basic components of drugs, live-saving or otherwise.  They also have the weight of history on their shoulders (especially the poppy, which is both a flower of remembrance as well as the base for heroin).

In the 19th century floriography or the language of flowers was so powerful that a simple posy could tell your other half that you loved them (red roses), that you should just stay friends (yellow roses), that they made you want to vomit a little bit in your mouth (frog ophrys)  or even tell them that you’re actually gay (green Canterbury bells).  See, you really can say it with flowers.

This bouquet says 'I love you but I hate your taste in capes. You look like a lovelorn Mrs Claus' (possibly).

So, if blooms can carry such power, symbolic or otherwise,  then why do we insist on wearing floral print in such an innocuous way?

My sister is like a lot of women.  She is drawn to floral print like a magnet.  It’s just so very her; fresh, feminine, flirty (in fact, most of the words you could hear in an ad for sanitary towels can also be heard in relation to floral print).  It is, unlike my beloved sister, delicate and nonthreatening and ever so slightly boring.

Sometimes it seems like EVERYONE is wearing floral print

It’s the boring that we love.  It’s slightly ironic now that, when flowers used to say so much, now we wear them to make absolutely no statement at all.More stand-out than block colours yet less strident than other graphic prints, floral prints usually strike a happy medium.

Detail of Mary Katrantzou S/S '12

That is, until now. Over the past year or so, the borders of conventional floral print have been blurred.  While we might have paired our floral blouse with a pair of trousers in a complimentary colour, more and more people are choosing to pair it with another, different floral print, resulting in a clash of colours and textures that recall a verdant rain forest and not the average niminy-piminy field.

Rodarte S/S '12

Possibly the most famous flowers of all time, Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and ‘Irises’ have been appropriated by Rodarte, the joy-inducing yellows now embroidered or twisted and pixellated in the printing process.  The movement of the flowers on the body brings a new dimension to both the work of Van Gogh and the Mulleavy sisters.  It’s an original artwork no longer seen through a static computer screen or the lenses of millions of tourists.  Instead, they are given a new lease of life on the bodies of models.

Jil Sander A/W 11-12

Consider, as well, the impact of an all-floral outfit.  Jil Sander’s entirely floral suit of orange tones on a black background is pure high impact. No shrinking violets, they.
Even paired with another go-to print, florals take on a life of their own.  Ashish, the London based label with a serious thirst for sequins, also used sunflowers in the recent collection.  Instead, their glittery heads are arranged carefully on a background of black and white stripes for maximum impact, almost visually eclipsing the Rodarte effort.

Ashish S/S '12

It’s all about juxtaposition.  Unlike the 19th century, flowers can now make whatever visual statement that we like.  We just have to be careful what we pair them with.

Pic 1 – ‘A Victorian Bouquet’ by William Powell Frith, pic 2 ‘At the Vermont State Fair, Rutland’ (1941) by Jack Delano, pics 3, 4, 5, 6 from Stylebistro.