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Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses

From designer gowns and headpieces to photographs and illustrations from the 19th-century, learn about how the rose became fashion’s favourite flower

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There are few flowers more synonymous with the world of fashion than the rose. Alongside their shared seasonal, multi-sensorial nature, both roses and fashion also have the ability to inspire a passion which transcends mere aesthetics – a fact explored by the Garden Museum’s latest exhibition, Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose. Spanning decoratively embroidered Victorian items to stylish modern masterpieces, the exhibition showcases the powerful sartorial influence of our favourite flower. At its heart are several Alexander McQueen pieces, with the designer described as ‘fashion’s rosarian’ thanks to his love of roses.

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Philip Treacy hat in Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 07 Runway Collection ©IMAXtree
Philip Treacy hat in Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 07 Runway Collection ©IMAXtree

Highlights of the show include recent tailoring by the label’s current designer Sarah Burton featuring a silk satin rose peplum, which forms part of a rose-themed collection channelling McQueen’s passion for the flower. Within fashion, the black rose has acquired a glamorous and transgressive allure – a concept perfectly captured by Lee McQueen’s own designs. Elsewhere, a collection of naturally-coloured silk roses adorn a hat by Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen’s famous Sarabande collection, which the milliner revived especially for the exhibition.

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses CARDIGAN DRESS by COMME DES GARCONS Red knitted cashmere with worked rose motifs and train ca. 1991 Fashion Museum Bath
Cardigan dress by Comme des Garcons. Red knitted cashmere with worked rose motifs and train, ca. 1991, Fashion Museum Bath

Interpretations from other designers include modernist roses clustered on a red cardigan dress by Comme des Garçons – a colour associated with daring and provocation – and a 90s bucket back by Lulu Guinness, who explains “this design came about as I always wished I could carry my vase of roses around with me and smell the sublime scent they gave off.” The exhibition also features several showstopping hats by Stephen Jones, including one combining painted wood and leather to create a garden-inspired sculpture. 

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Stephen Jones La France photography Peter Ashworth
Stephen Jones, La France, photography Peter Ashworth

Throughout history artists, designers and writers have all been drawn to the fragrant flower, enchanted by its ephemeral beauty while being simultaneously fascinated by its prickly thorns – this conjunction of opposites has inspired them to draw out illusions to love, sin, beauty and sexuality, as well as rites of passage, degradation and death, references which are also captured in sartorial incarnations of the flower.  

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Miss Lillian Young illustration of ‘Rose Garden in Arden Holt Fancy Dress Described or What to Wear to a Fancy Ball 1896
Miss Lillian Young, illustration of ‘Rose Garden’ in Arden Holt Fancy Dress Described or What to Wear to a Fancy Ball, 1896
<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses J J Grandville ‘Rose coloured engraving from Les Fleurs Animées 1847
J J Grandville ‘Rose’ coloured engraving from Les Fleurs Animées, 1847

Curator Amy de la Haye spent three years collecting exhibits for Wild & Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose, which reflect the rich significance of these cultural connections. Standout pieces include famed set designer Simon Costin’s striking Rose and the Nightingale necklace – a collar of thorns which dramatically ruptures the wearer’s skin – as well as a surreal portrait by fashion photographer Tim Walker in which model Primrose Archer is dressed in blooms from his garden.

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Oliver Messel Silver rose from Der Rosenkavalier 1959 Courtesy Glyndebourne Archive Collection Glyndebourne Productions Ltd
Oliver Messel, Silver rose from Der Rosenkavalier, 1959
<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Ingenue roses. Postcard colour tinted portrait of a rose with buds c. 1920s.
Ingenue roses. Postcard, colour-tinted portrait of a rose with buds, c. 1920s.

Visitors to the exhibition will find kitsch tea sets juxtaposed with floral-printed John Galliano gowns sitting alongside botanical postcards, exquisite early 20th-century rose-strewn silk fans and a newly commissioned piece by British ceramics artist Phoebe Cummings, who has created a delicate sculpture of roses in full bloom in soft grey and blush tones. Just like real flowers, the fragile ceramic petals will disintegrate over time. 

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Phoebe Cummings Study Roses clay 2022
Phoebe Cummings, Study - Roses (clay) 2022

Alongside modern iterations of the rose, the exhibition also looks at the way in which the flower has historically influenced fashion.“Roses have been worn, emulated, steeped in symbolism and entwined with our biographies since ancient times,” says de la Haye. “Wild & Cultivated: Fashioning the Rose is an anthology – a term borrowed from anthologia, the Greek for flower gathering – to variously communicate how gardeners, individuals, communities and creatives have worn, shown or fashioned the rose.” 

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Rose flower shaped fan leaf. Duvelleroy France c. 1900 1910
Rose flower-shaped fan leaf. Duvelleroy, France, c. 1900-1910

Expect a romantically embroidered bridal waistcoat designed to symbolise the true love of the groom, whimsical 19th-century illustrations of ways to dress up as a rose, and thought-provoking insights into the importance of fabric flower production for dressmaking during the 1800s – an industry which employed an incredible 10% of Paris’s female workforce during this period alone.

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Folding fan advertising Parfums de Rosine for Poiret. France ca. 1911 1914
Folding fan advertising Parfums de Rosine for Poiret. France, ca. 1911-1914

These exhibits are all set against the backdrop of the Garden Museum’s own in-house treasures, such as rarely seen botanical lithographs by Ellen Willmott and photographs by horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll, as well as an abundance of both wild and cultivated, natural and artificial roses. 

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Primrose Archer Dressed In Flowers From My Garden Hackney 2020 © Tim Walker Studio
Primrose Archer Dressed In Flowers From My Garden, Hackney, 2020 © Tim Walker Studio

As part of the exhibition, de la Haye made a conscious effort to produce the displays as sustainably as possible, in a nod to the necessity to protect our natural world for future generations to enjoy. All of the mannequins used throughout the show have been borrowed from other museums or taken from de la Haye’s personal collection, with the Fashion Museum in Bath the only place outside of London used to loan objects in order to cut down on transportation

<em>Wild and Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose</em> celebrates fashion’s love affair with roses Genus Rosa Ellen Willmott R Alba var Rubicunda PtXXI 26 6 12
Genus Rosa - Ellen Willmott - R, Alba var Rubicunda PtXXI 26-6-12

Wild & Cultivated: Fashioning The Rose is at The Garden Museum until 19th June 2022
gardenmuseum.org.uk

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