Send a Message With Your Prints
This month, Grace Pickford explores the symbolism of floral prints.
Whether your favourite floral print is ditsy daisies on summer dresses, tropical succulents and exotic blooms, or delicate peonies on silk fabrics, every flower has its own individual language forged from the whispers of traditions, cultural origin and spiritual beliefs.
Floral designs continue to inspire fashion, interior design, and art because of their versatility, colour, and coded messages. Just as the Victorians passed secret messages between lovers through the hushed meaning of a bouquet, the floral prints on your wall or in your wardrobe speak volumes too. Now that it is spring and the flowers have come back out to play, what message are you sending with your floral prints?
Exotic flowers, large succulents and arty animals have taken centre stage this season. The Versace SS20 runway saw a stunning collection of jungle greens, fanning leaves, and dripping, embellished dresses. The finale imprinted the jungle theme into eager eyes as Jennifer Lopez displayed a flowing green floral print dress that celebrated the bare beauty of mother nature with its minimal coverage, and a waterfall created by the loose flowing fabric. Francesco Risso also made floral statements in the SS20 collection for Marni through the creation of a tropical wilderness using upcycled and organic materials.
Tropical prints are the banner for what is important in the modern world: the protection of our rainforests, slowing the impacts of climate change and respecting natural environments. Want to make a statement with your florals? Tropical and exotic prints are the new king of the fashion jungle.
Daisies and ditsy prints
Ditsy print dresses are a staple in many a summer wardrobe with the daisy often being the flower used in these smaller prints. The daisy has long been a symbol of innocence and purity with their white leaves and yellow centre. However, this flower has also been associated with the figure of the femme fatale: a dangerous woman, innocent on the outside yet hiding a core of corruption. F Scott Fitzgerald’s character Daisy in The Great Gatsby perfectly embodies the secretive side to this devilish flower.
The daisy also holds the symbolic meaning of youth and wakefulness: in old English, the daisy refers to the “day’s eye” because the flower’s petals close around the yellow centre at night and open again during the day. If you want your print to say “I’m awake, rested and ready for the day” then kiss goodbye to the patriarchal depiction of women as either the innocent flower or witchy weed and enjoy the refreshing symbol of wakefulness this spring/summer with a light and fresh daisy print.
The flared trouser is back for business and double denim is no longer a cause to call the fashion police. Another ‘70s trend that has reappeared is the vintage floral pattern. Not only does this support the reusing of clothes by buying vintage, it also provides a dusty hue of colour to any room or wardrobe. Vintage florals usually come in clashing colour sets of browns and yellows, greens and purples and are either small or oversized, earning them the title of ‘gaudy’ and proud. The late ‘60s and early ‘70s saw the rise of flower power as a symbol of non-violence, peace and love. Rocking blooming head pieces and floral prints, the style is now popular for summer festivals and bohemian-chic outfits. The vintage print can also be a more subtle and everyday look with vintage floral dresses and wallpapers in faded tones.
Poppies, irises, and daffodils interwoven into spiralling designs on rich red canvases, blossoming trellises embroidered and detailed onto fabrics: Mughal designs are the expression of the taste for florals in 17th century South Asian art and culture. Created during the Mughal dynasty, these floral designs are luxurious and intricate, reminiscent of their dynastic origins. Colourful, vibrant and detailed, these floral prints make beautiful designs for tapestries, dresses and interior design. Show your taste for the expensive things in life with these prints.
A flower exuding rich cultural history and the elegance of traditional Chinese art and culture, peonies speak the language of royalty and luxury. In Chinese tradition they are the flower of the kings, loved for their billowing petal formations, vibrant colour palette, and sensational scents. Depicted in cacophonies of exotic birds, mythical creatures and colourful leaves, peonies are often the symbolic fruit amongst the abundant patterns of embroidered silk designs for traditional Chinese clothing like the cheongsam. Planted in Imperial Palace gardens during the Tang dynasty, these flowers represent power and wealth as well as happiness and prosperity for their voluminous blooms and enticing colours from blushing pinks to sultry reds. This flower is symbolic of the richness and abundance of life.
Depending on whether the sunflower evokes images of Van Gogh or summer festivals, that might be enough to tell you what the sunflower means to you.
The sunflower is the world-wide symbol of radiance and vitality. Named for their similarities to that big old orb in the sky, sunflowers were a source of energy and nourishment as a valuable food product l.when they were first discovered in the Americas. They continue to provide nourishment in the form of eye candy in the modern day. Still used for their seeds and oils, this flower is the true symbol of warmth, life, and, go on I’ll say it, happiness
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”: thanks to Shakespeare the rose has remained a symbol of romance and passion. For the Victorians, the traditional rose was the symbol for purity and innocence in young women – think Pride and Prejudice. Extremely overdone in the department of love, if the symbol of the pure, innocent woman or star-crossed lover doesn’t tickle your petals there are plenty of other symbolic meanings behind this thorny minx.
The suffragettes used a yellow rose as the symbol of their fight for the vote in the early 19th century, which transformed the flower’s meaning from jealousy and infidelity to one of unity and friendship.
The rose has also been reimagined in fashion design, being an inspiration this season for designers Richard Quinn whose SS20 collection flooded the runway with roses on voluminous jackets and dresses – and Lela Rose, whose spring collection oozed floral elegance as models graced a runway of yellow petals and displayed prints of roses big and small on white backdrops.
Dahlias are important in different cultures and have various symbols depending on who you ask. The Victorian language of the dahlia spoke of virtue and grace and they were given as symbols of commitment. In Mexican culture, the dahlia symbolises adventure and change and they are often found in bridal bouquets for this reason. Dahlias are very popular flowers in Mexico for their long blooming season and vibrant colours. Mexican culture has a love for vibrant colour, floral extravaganza and kaleidoscopic festivities. The dahlia has been the national flower of Mexico since the ‘60s but their history is rooted in the Aztec culture where they were used for food and medicinal purposes.
Dahlias are a wild card flower as they also have underlying meanings of betrayal and warning. They are the perfect flower to symbolise the spices of South America and to express sentiments of love and all of the excitement that comes along with it.
Like the sunflower, tulips crave the sun and will acrobat their stems in order to get the best angle to reach the light. Speaking the language of opportunity, aspiration and adjustment, these flowers are for the determined and the inspired. They also have meanings of spiritual awareness and maintaining a sense of self and serenity. Their different colours symbolise different attributes with white symbolising forgiveness and pink representing confidence. Originating in Central Asia and becoming popular in Turkey, the tulip gained its name from the Persian word for turban as when in full-bloom the tulip takes a turban-like shape. Their unique natural shape has inspired fashion designers such as Dior and Capucci who have recreated the rounded bulb in dress form.
Sakura (to bloom) in Japanese, cherry blossoms’ flowers are considered the national flower of Japan: photographed across the country in ethereal clouds of pink and white, these flowers are one of the main reasons people visit Japan in spring. Beautiful and ephemeral, cherry blossom blooms are poignant in their metaphorical meaning of new life and renewal in the Buddhist culture. They are a wistful and beautiful reminder of the brevity of human life and effuse the values of mindfulness and calm in their floral embodiment of ‘nothing lasts forever’. When the flowers fall from their stems they are swept away and create puddles of petals on the ground. The cherry blossom print is a reminder to appreciate the beauty around you and to live in the present.
No matter what floral print is your favourite, the flower will never be out of style. As long as spring rolls around, so will flowers in fashion. Your print speaks volumes: what will the language of your floral fancies be this spring/summer?
You can read more of Grace’s work on Twitter by following @pickford_grace.
Photographs via Pexels and Unsplash Illustrations via Canva