Floral tribute: Horticulture has a long and distinguished history with haute couture - as a new exhibition attests

 

Fashion isn't in the forefront of my mind when I step out to garden: a faded blue canvas jacket, my second best pair of welly boots. That's it. But a new exhibition at The Garden Museum in London, curated by Nicola Shulman and sponsored by Vogue, spins elegant connections between the two.

In a painting of about 1600, the intricate patterns of a young girl's dress are mirrored in (or copied from?) the formal box parterres laid out in the garden seen through a window to the side. Christopher Bailey, creative director of Burberry, took inspiration for his spring collection in 2009 from images taken by garden photographer Valerie Finnis in the Seventies: grandees weeding and watering in their patched but beautifully-cut tweeds, mad hats and unsuitable shoes. A dazzling purple raincoat by Burberry is one of several contemporary exhibits that bring the story right up to date.

Gardens are often used as settings for fashion shoots – Dolce & Gabbana chiffon floating through wisteria, lacy-sleeved models among the roses at Great Dixter (Vogue last October) – but this is the first exhibition I've been to that explores more deeply the connections between the two. It's engagingly done, tracing a story that leads seamlessly from the two-year-old Lettice Newdigate in her embroidered bodice (the little girl I mentioned above) to an outrageous hat by Philip Treacy, a paphiopedilum orchid, several times life-size, terrifying in its perfection, but one of the most memorable exhibits of the show. It had wit.

So did the floor-length evening cloak from Valentino's spring/summer collection of 2013. The exhibition tells a predominantly English story, but recognising the important influence of Italy on our gardens, Ms Shulman included this marvel, inspired by the scrolling ironwork of the Italian Renaissance. Wrought iron becomes fine ribbons of appliqué, curling and swirling in symmetrical patterns over a gauzy material as transparent as glass.

Two-year-old Lettice Newdigate in her embroidered bodice Two-year-old Lettice Newdigate in her embroidered bodice
In the excellent book (£10) written to accompany the exhibition, Ms Shulman draws interesting differences between English trendsetters and those in France or Italy. The English are in love with flowers in a way that the others aren't, and it shows both in the gardens they make and in their clothes.

From the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, she writes "flowers overran the fashionable like a love-crazed bindweed". Wild flowers – heartsease, strawberry, honeysuckle – were as welcome on a dress or the cuff of a glove as exotic marvels such as tulips and crown imperials. The embroiderers had superb models in the portraits of flowers painted by 16th-century artists such as the Huguenot Jacques le Moyne de Morgues. Several of his jewel-like images are in the show.

When silkworkers started to colonise Spitalfields, flowers in singles or sprays, were a favourite motif. The most prominent 18th-century textile designers, such as Anna Maria Garthwaite, who came to London from York, were also members of the newly-formed botanical societies, which gave them access to imported rarities.

By 1741, Garthwaite was already including Magnolia virginiana, recently imported from the States, in her designs, though at that time it grew in only two London gardens: the nurseryman Thomas Fairchild in Hoxton and the woollen draper and silk merchant, Peter Collinson at Peckham. Several of Garthwaite's textile designs are on show in the exhibition.

Mary Delany, whose famous flower pieces, cut from paper, are now in the British Museum (they've lent a gorgeous red poppy), left a marvelling account of the dress in which the beautiful Duchess of Queensberry stunned the court in 1740.

Flower power: McQueen autumn-winter 2012 Flower power: McQueen autumn-winter 2012
On white satin, an entire landscape park was set out, with tree stumps "broken and ragged and worked with brown chenille, round which twined nastertians, ivy, honeysuckles, periwinkles, convolvuluses and all sorts of twining flowers which spread and covered the petticoat... many of the leaves were finished with gold, and part of the stumps of the trees looked like the gilding of the sun. I never saw a piece so prettily fancied."

Shulman also shows how the "pale yellow cashmere jumper, brogues and sports jacket", thought of as an especially English style in menswear (though pale yellow is perhaps too effete for an Englishman – more the kind of thing you'd see on an Italian) grew out of the sweeping changes brought about in the 18th century by Capability Brown, creator of the English landscape park.

To show off such a park, its owner had to ride out in it, with his guests. That meant a revolution in clothes as well as gardening style. Out went the fancy silks and embroidered gloves. Instead, men dressed like their grooms, in warm, hardwearing woollen broadcloth.

The painter, George Stubbs, who specialised in horses and their owners, caught the look exactly: the high-topped boots, buff-buttoned waistcoat, dun-coloured cutaway coat. They were clothes for the outdoors, quite different from the lavish extravaganzas of the previous age, meant for court, for pomp, dry floors and minimal physical effort.

Another delight at The Garden Museum is the installation by Rebecca Louise Law in the main hall, immediately in front of the entrance to the exhibition. Suspended upside down is a meadowful of long-stemmed flowers – tulips, roses, strelitzias, angelica – an arrestingly beautiful display that made me long, more than ever in this drear, terrible winter, for the arrival of spring.

Fashion & Gardens continues at The Garden Museum, London SE1, until 27 April; 020-7401 8865, gardenmuseum.org.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue