Get out your gardening gloves

Designers have succumbed to the greenhouse effect, and floral prints are springing up everywhere. Marion Hume finds it blooming wonderful

Floral Fashion used to be a contradiction in terms. People wore "fashion" (as opposed to "clothes") when they wanted to look up to the minute. In contrast, the floaty floral dress was about acceptable dressing that never went out of style ... but never quite came into it either.

Until this summer, designers - especially those at the cutting edge - left the rose and the lilic bloom pretty much alone. Pretty floral prints were the preserve of vintage tea dresses (or their contemporary reissues by Ralph Lauren, who is more a superb stylist than a fashion designer). Florals were for country garden fetes, tea parties on the lawn, or for those who wished they could be attending either instead of being on a sweaty tube or bus to work.

Now, however, the most modern of designers are finding flowers funky. The British design duo Sonnetag Mulligan has worked a hem the width of a herbacious border around lilic skinny flares. Fellow Briton Abe Hamilton has splashed vivid summer blooms across teeny stretch T-shirts (as well as slinky second-skin evening gowns and microshorts). Hussein Chalayan, who cuts his clothes not from cloth but from waterproof industrial paper, has sprinkled crinkly jackets with the flowers of an English hedgerow.

The vintage market, ever a good source of floral prints, is now furnishing pieces that look suprisingly modern rather than fey and romantic. We found a chintz, rose-print skirt, which is fully lined and rustles as one walks, that looks as though it could have come from Hussein Chalayan's current collection (but it didn't).

Bouquets of flowers are turning up in the most suprising of places; stretchy tiny dresses as well as wispy, floaty ones, wide-leg trousers and second- skin jeans. This summer, florals are everywhere, at just about every price. International designers, as well as the tough London crowd, appear to have been poring over horticultural tomes and there were times at the international shows when the tented venues resembled those of the Chelsea Flower show. Even the Japanese, normally associated with black, black and more black, skipped out into the garden with antique dark floral dresses from Comme des Garcons and hot house buds on Issey Miyake's Pleats Please line.

Meanwhile, the high street is awash with blooms; the store windows of Regent Street's Dickins & Jones are full of florals, while Warehouse, Miss Selfridge, Kookai, Jigsaw and Top Shop currently look like exotic urban greenhouses. This season's most chic fashion accessory? Judging from a languid summer shoot starring Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista in the current issue of Harper's Bazaar, it's a pair of gardening gloves.

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