A look at the recent fashion collections would confirm that the relationship between designers and nature remains firmly the lingua franca. Forget garden-variety prints; this season’s florals burst into 3D life, taking shape via embroidery and embellishment at Dolce & Gabbana, Simone Rocha, Erdem and, of course, they are ever-present at Chanel. There reliably each season, the couture-in-bloom theme is extended to the ready-to-wear collection, which is always presented in a nature-inspired set for shows – from a wintry woodland, to a manor garden, or a Cote d’Azur beach. The message is clear, being out in nature is the ultimate fantasy – it’s down to us to make that our reality.
Nature is channelled by designers as the dream as well as the inspiration. Coco Chanel first fell in love with the simple camellia after reading Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias, in which the heroine always wore a white camellia, to declare symbolically that her heart remained pure. The camellia was also loved by Chanel because, when wearing the flower, its lack of scent (there are some varieties with scent) meant it never interfered with her signature perfume – Chanel No. 5.
It’s a simplicity shared by Victoria Beckham: ‘I love a white rose,’ she explains. ‘I didn’t want anything too formal or too overwhelming, but something that reflected my personality, my style and my brand.’ In menswear, nature’s motif is also present, such as in the latest Gieves & Hawkes campaign, shot in Ibiza, which shows suiting with delicate exotic plants winding up the panels. Not overpowering but subtle, confident and eye-catching in the right way. It’s a confident play, that Paul Smith has championed for a long time with typical insouciance, and perfectly-pitched emphasis.
Nature’s allure for designers appears stronger than ever, as shown by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, who has saturated several consecutive Gucci collections with gardens and floral themes – no single white floral tributes for him, he’s more of a maximalist in his approach. ‘Today, there’s a great urgency to find a bit of poetry, beauty and individuality. I love the idea that a dress has a memory and a story to reveal.’ It’s something he has taken to the max in his advertising campaigns, with models captured in exuberant technicolour flower beds, or lying on richly coloured roses. He extends the theme to his new beauty launch, The Alchemist’s Garden – the ‘A Winter Melody’ bottle swirls with a range of blooms, cypress, bergamot and rose. He takes the Garden of Eden metaphor for another fragrance called ‘The Voice of the Snake’, with the serpent representing knowledge. The more traditional Gucci perfume is Flora – Michele is not shy of a strong message or scent. For that he has used gardenia, with a heady, exotic heavy fragrance, not for a shrinking violet, much like the Gucci collection, frankly.
An urge for romance, and the escapism a beautiful dress offers the wearer frequently leads one to the designer Erdem, who has built a reputation on intensely floral inspired dresses. He explains his inspiration: ‘It’s the colours and textures of flowers that draw me in, and a love of colourful prints. Or maybe I’m just a romantic at heart!’ In his London store, he populates the space with flowers, his floral print dresses and plenty of large green leafy plants, reminding us of the ways nature can surprise us, a bud transforming into an exotic bloom, or the colours that take your breath away. For his recent NARS make up collaboration he called it ‘Strange Flowers’, extending a very specific flower motif he has made his own. As the old Interflora message put it: ‘Say it with flowers’.
Another designer to draw inspiration from nature is Sarah Burton, creative director at Alexander McQueen, who says: ‘I’ve always loved nature. I grew up in the countryside, and when I was a child I loved to draw – that was my first love, actually. Eventually I was drawing clothes, but at first it was flowers and vegetables.’ For a recent collection Burton and her team toured Great Dixter – the English garden known for its unconventional plantsmanship and bold experiments – to find inspiration. To say the collection was a floral explosion would be an understatement.
While at upcoming designer Richard Quinn’s 2018 show, Her Majesty the Queen sat front row, witnessing his daring designs that use technicolour prints, and was recorded as saying ‘the florals were her favourite’.
If Ma’am has a preference, it ought to be good enough for the rest of us, and as we’re all rapidly learning, time spent surrounded by nature – or even dressed head-to-toe in nature-inspired designs – is good for our wellbeing, and if we happen to be wearing some of these designers’ creations, we’re either taking nature with us into our natural habitat, be it a concrete jungle, or, if we’re fortunate enough, out into nature – and we can be sure we’re going to blend in with the scenery perfectly.