Displays of Grandeur
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Displays of Grandeur

Flower fashion

Photos by Katie Elliot

Together, fashion and flowers have stitched the fabrics of culture and humanity. Floral motifs and appliques routinely adorn the runways of Milan, Paris, and New York from designers like Alexander McQueen, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana. Fashionistas throughout history have incorporated flowers into their getups (think: Julius Caesar and his laurel leaf wreath). Billie Holiday tucked gardenias behind her ear while Frida Kahlo embraced vibrant, multi-coloured blooms to accentuate her updos. Lana Del Rey is known for her flower crowns; Loras Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers from Game of Thrones, carries a shield embellished with an intricate floral design; and Nucky Thompson, of Boardwalk Empire fame, often dons a carnation on his lapel.

Flowers also are integral to cultures. Japanese fabrics pay homage to the chrysanthemum, while the peony and the lotus have long been depicted on silks from China. Such prints have inspired Chinoiserie styles, European replicas of intricate Asian prints. Flowers spot the cotton garb popular in India, which spurred another cross-cultural tradition — chintz fabrics. Carnations and daisies appear in brocades, Persian fashions incorporate tulips and persimmons, and the hibiscus is the quintessential star of Hawaiian fashion. The application of flowers in fashion is as diverse as the cultures that have inspired such fashions.

As the floral fashion trend continues to bloom across genders, generations, and cultures, the Fleurs de Villes Mannequin Series inspires the use of flowers as fabrics. Attendees can stroll along the stationary runways to get close-up views of mannequins dressed in floral bouquets. These displays depict intricate and elaborate fashions, from gowns to swimwear to accessories, constructed entirely out of foliage and flowers. Tina Barkley and Karen Marshall Ducommun, lifestyle experts with backgrounds in the publishing world, created the event, which pops up in various cities throughout the county to “…work with top local florists, designers, growers and nurseries, to showcase that city’s world-class talent and create stunning displays of art.”

Flower fashion“This event is sweeping Canada, and is a Canadian initiative that celebrates and showcases our industry and creative talents,” said Natasha Crawford, owner of Brown’s the Florist in Victoria, a two-year participant in the series. Crawford, her cohort Andrea Strachan, EMC, their team, and other participants have pushed the floral fashion envelope through Fleurs de Villes.

Travelling to various cities and towns, this event unites communities and their florists. Each team works with sponsors who help fund the vision. Brown’s the Florist’s sponsors have included The Victoria Symphony, The Victoria Chamber of Commerce, and The Empress Hotel. Fleurs de Villes brings together the participants as a cohesive group of business owners, design and floral enthusiasts, and creative experts. “This show provided a great opportunity for us to say ‘hello’ and the VIP event on opening night allowed us to celebrate our industry,” Crawford said. “As a collective, the display is absolutely magical.” Other florists who put together the Victoria display included Jennings Florist, Mayfair Flowers, Foxgloves Flowers, Fine Floral Designs, Petals Plus Florist, Platinum Floral Designs, FLEURtacious by Lynda Marie, and A Sea of Bloom.

While fashion designers manipulate fabrics and textiles, designers for the Mannequin series manipulate fresh products. They consider water sources, foundations, and types of flowers to use. They study magazines for inspiration. The endeavour is rigorous. Designers must manage space and materials and determine logistics. But participants say the benefits are vast: they get a chance to market their shops and businesses, they win awards, and they showcase their talents and creativity.

The intrinsic rewards, however, are the most important. “Our combined talents allow the public to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ our creativity. The diversity is imaginative, inventive, and inspiring,” said Crawford. “It is a strong feeling you get when you can look at your work five days later and the flowers are still lovely. It’s what I would imagine the Rose Bowl Parade to be like. Each float alone is awe-inspiring, but viewed together, it’s this amazing event worth talking about!”

As we continue to see the imprints of flowers on fabrics, cultures, and communities, events like the Fleurs de Villes Mannequin Series will continue to inspire florists to create and to collaborate. It will further merge fashions and flowers. It will challenge designers to push their creative limits. Most important, it will remind us of the connections we have with other people and the world around us. That, after all, has always been the role of flowers in fashion.

Crossing the Threshold

What’s it like to design floral costumes for mannequins? Natasha Crawford and Andrea Strachen, of Brown’s the Florist, gave us the inside scoop.

To begin, the overall objective for businesses is to come up with a good design, often inspired by trends, fashion magazine images, or designs from past shows. Each team has a sponsor who provides $1,000 to use for materials. Participants just donate their time and labour.

Designers may only use fresh materials. Strachen suggests making an oasis, and entwining it with chicken wire and ti, cordyline, and aspidistra leaves. Along with the water supply, teams must consider the foundation for their display and overall daily maintenance.

With a design and logistics figured out, designers consider the specific tools they will need. “I love to prowl the aisles of hardware stores looking at plumbing and building supplies with designer eyes,” Strachen said. “This usually provides lots of entertainment for the team.” On Brown’s the Florist’s shopping list: Saran wrap, chicken wire, oasis, glue, moss, glue dots, twine, strapping tape, wire, duct tape, zip ties, wire cutters, metal scissors, gloves, a ladder, bags to transport the materials, plumbing strap, and plywood.

Participants must also contend with transportation issues. Unloading and moving the mannequins adds pressure to the installation. The trick is to work carefully and slowly, though some designers opt to work on site.

Tina Miller
Tina D. Miller is a writer, teacher, evaluator, puppy mother, fabric manipulator, and football enthusiast living in Philadelphia. In 2008, she earned her MFA in creative writing and has since written and published several flash fiction stories, blog posts, and novels.
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