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Ground-breaking florals in fashion history


With the sun making a pleasantly early entrance this spring, we spotted a number of shoppers at our last fair picking up lighter pieces for their wardrobe. And, of course, no spring ensemble would be complete without lashings of florals.

No doubt about it, nature is one of the biggest influences on art and fashion throughout history, and, as such, they never go out of style. In recent years, they’ve become the butt of spring-fashion jokes as the obvious choice but we think this is undeserved as they always look beautiful and some of fashion’s most iconic moments have included humble flowers.

We chart the moments in fashion history that prove that florals for spring really can be ground breaking.

1700s – While floral designs on clothing were much demurer than we know them today, and reserved only for the higher classes as they had to be hand embroidered, you were most likely to find standout flowers on hats and in hair. Fresh flowers to be exact. When Marie Antoinette popularised the over-the-top ‘pouf’ hairstyle, it made it possible for women to hide vases in their hair to keep the flowers fresh all day, though you’d have to take extra care when curtseying!

1800s – William Morris creates a legacy of work as a textile designer during the arts and crafts movement which continues to inspire fashion designers today. Nature is a very strong theme in his work and his florals are instantly recognisable.

1920s – Liberty introduces Tana Lawn floral-print cotton. The fabric, named after Lake Tana in Ethiopia where the cotton was grown, becomes an instant best-seller. The ditsy floral prints that are printed on it become just as iconic as the cotton itself and get made into clothing, homewares and accessories by Liberty’s devoted followers. Tana Lawn is still available from Liberty today.

1955 – Mary Quant uses a bold, black daisy as her logo and opens a store on King’s Road. Its pop style is truly of its time and is one of the strongest examples of fashion branding in history, plastered on not only clothes labels but across the stores, on packaging, on her makeup line, and on the clothing itself.

Mid-1960s – 1970s – Laura Ashley, having been developing her printed textile business gradually since 1953, finds her feet in the floating cotton maxi-dresses of this time with chintzy floral, nature and ‘lace’ prints. Though the brand is still in business today, this was arguably its heyday that would secure its brand identity for the decades to come.

1970s – Textile designer Celia Birtwell develops the notorious ‘candy flower’ print for her husband, Ossie Clark’s fashion line. The combination of Celia’s taste for eye-catching colours and Ossie’s free-flowing elegant silhouettes made them the hottest design duo of the time. In a recent interview with ACHICA, Celia talked about her inspirations, “Over the years I have been inspired by many things and people, however the one single thing I come back to again and again is nature. It never ceases to amaze, it always delights, it challenges, it always changes, offering and teaching you something new.”

1990 – Jean Paul Gaultier releases his photographic autobiography ‘À Nous Deux La Mode’ with iconic cover art picturing the designer surrounded by daisies in the artists Pierre et Gilles’s signature hyper-saturated colours.

2000 – When season three of Sex and the City hits screens, fans were eagerly watching Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion choices as much as her love life. The flower brooches she wore in this season became synonymous with the character, much copied by women around the world, and also becoming a divider of opinions as the flowers grew to comically large proportions as the season went on.

2007 – Marc Jacobs releases his award-winning Daisy perfume, making the most common of flowers a high-fashion icon once more. It captures the essence of youth through its scent, its bottle and its campaigns.