There are few things as powerful as the language of flowers. Hauntingly emotive, they signify the changing of seasons, speak softly of loss and love, and inspire poetry in their name.
In celebration of Iris Day, one of the most beautiful and revered of all the blooms, we consider their cultural significance and place within fashion, from Givenchy’s floral catwalk to Gucci’s botanical prints.

Irises, 1889, Van Gogh

Irises, 1889, Van Gogh

A furling canvas of colour, Irises are fittingly named for the Greek Goddess Iris: the personification of the rainbow, messenger of the Gods and celestial link to the heavens. In Greece, purple blue stems are still planted in tribute on women’s graves so that she might guide them on their journey to the after-life. Throughout Europe, Fleur-de-lys swirls were etched onto coats of arms and embroidered into royal robes, a sign of religion and royalty that still remains an enduring symbol of France today.

Black Iris III, 1926 by Georgia O'Keeffe

Black Iris III, 1926 by Georgia O’Keeffe

Within Art, allegories of lust and life are etched in fringed folds and elegant stems. Black Irises, flushed and enlarged, were the favourite flower of Georgia O’Keefe. Drawn as a Japanese motif they tell the love story of a poet, of purple blooms from a golden river, and a journey along way from home.
Van Gogh painted multiple studies of their twisted silhouettes and vivid blues; one of which, painted only a few months before his death, would go on to sell for $54 million

Maison Martin Margiela autumn 2014 couture

Maison Martin Margiela autumn 2014 couture

This same study inspired a bodice of blooms at Maison Martin Margiela; a patchwork of embroidered petals that fell into sheer lengths for couture 2014. At Blumarine they were watercolours; brush strokes of lime green and vivid violets across a canvas that clung and swam over thighs; sensual and raw.

Blumarine spring / summer 2009

Blumarine spring / summer 2009

This chorus of Summer colours seen at Dries Van Noten the previous year; a heady, bold bouquet of Irises, Sunflowers and Lilies on silk, twisted at the neck and cuffed as blooms on the arms.

Dries Van Noten spring / summer 2008

Blumarine spring / summer 2009

By autumn / winter 2011 they were to be softer, darker; the same wild garden under cover of night.
Givenchy’s Irises were tamed in patent blacks and demure necklines. Transparent lengths bloomed from the waist, encrusted florals climbed silk and sheersas petals crept out from satin shadows. A room in the Palais de Tokyo was perfumed by arches of deep purple blooms the models walked beneath.

Givenchy autumn / winter 2011

Givenchy autumn / winter 2011

The following year Gucci softly wrapped it’s men in layers that folded and flowed “like the bud of a flower”. Velveteen blues and botanical prints of Irises and Roses were woven into fabrics, and shimmered in metallic thread. The effect was of a star strewn sky or moonlight’s reflections on ocean waters: dark, romantic and all encompassing.

Gucci autumn / winter 2012

Gucci autumn / winter 2012

Plumes of mauveine and violet etched with gold light were to be seen at Peter Pilotto. Cuffs and collars unfurled as soft petals as elsewhere prints cut across tulip skirts and entwined themselves around the arms of a dress. An exploration of lineal aesthetic as texture and markings informed pattern and cut.

Previous Summer’s offerings of sensuality and heat cooling into something more delicate, more constrained.

Peter pilotto autumn / winter  2012

Peter pilotto autumn / winter 2012

Florals, imbued with romance and soft sensuality, have regularly informed femininity in fashion. Synonymous with Spring, they talk of new life and new love, wild fields and forgotten gardens. They are a poetic, brooding; an exploration of nature and sexuality, from the humblest Forget-Me-Not, to the elegance of an Iris.

Images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Vogue Magazine

 

 

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