Zita Elze’s Flower Dress at Somerset House

 

On the 20th and 21st of January this year, the annual Aashni + Co Wedding Show came to the West Wing of Somerset House. The event featured hundreds of breathtaking South Asian couture dresses and jewellery for brides, made by worldwide famous designers such as Sabyasachi, Gaurav Gupta and Tarun Tahiliani.

The Kew Gardens based floral artist Zita Elze was in charge of the floral design for the event, and transformed the rooms of the West Wing into magical scenes. Her flower arrangements were not only placed and draped across the architecture of the building, but also acted as fashion pieces in themselves. In one of the main rooms, Zita created a spectacular handmade fresh flower dress, inspired by Cinderella. As Zita said, “I didn’t want to create another blonde Cinderella so I sourced an elegant mannequin which also alluded to my country of origin Brazil, which has a whole rainbow of ethnic references. The design itself emerged from seasonally available blooms.” Its long and flowing skirt was embellished with sea lavender and the fitted bodice was off-the-shoulder, embroidered with tiny flowerheads. The natural pastel colours subtly altered depending on the texture and shape of each part of the dress.

Zita’s dress was displayed on a gracefully posed mannequin, which took centre stage at the end of a dramatic flower arch lined corridor. There were other floral displays within the space, providing a backdrop for the mannequin and the ethereal dress. In the evening, LED lights enhanced the colours of the flowers on the dress, contrasting with its natural appearance in daylight. At the opposite end of the wing on the Nelson staircase, Zita hung one hundred Cinderella-like shoes from the railings, as well as petal garlands. The shoes were filled with fresh flowers, and created spectacular shadows on the staircase thanks to the lighting. Zita had decorated many of the couture designers’ exhibition rooms, enhancing their dress designs. One area dedicated to jewellery featured a chandelier tree as a centrepiece, which one could walk around whilst viewing the precious accessories in the surrounding cabinets.

Zita has previously created handmade flower dresses for clients and events, and regularly crosses into the realm of fashion. Although not formally trained in fashion, she has a keen sensitivity when working with the human form and designing gowns. Each piece is unique. When creating a dress, Zita notes that she first “creates a textile base, then when the base is ready I apply my floral embroidery technique. This process normally takes a week, all by hand. In this case, I started with the train and then worked on the bodice during the last two days – so that the bodice was kept fresh throughout the exhibition. This is less important when working on a wedding dress which will only be used on the actual day.” Zita also designs accessories made out of real flowers such as veils, hair pieces, bags, parasols and jewellery. Although the materials she uses have a limited lifetime, there is still a beauty to her works once they have dried. The most interesting aspect of her flower dresses is this notion of temporality, and the way in which they gradually change colour and texture as they age.

By Grace Lee

Zita Elze’s shop and design academy are located on 287 and 303 Sandycombe road in Kew, Surrey. Make sure to visit!

All photographs taken by Julian Winslow

Welcome Spring! A Look at Lanvin’s Floral Frocks

Pierre Brissaud, “Dansons la capucine” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

With April fast approaching, so too come the beautiful blooms of spring! In celebration of warmer weather and brighter days, here are some fun floral designs from the early-twentieth century couturier Jeanne Lanvin.

Jeanne Lanvin for the House of Lanvin, “Roseraie” dress, Spring/Summer 1923. Silk. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Anonymous gift, 1964). Available at this link.

Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) started a millinery business in the 1890s and later expanded into couture as the clothes she designed for her daughter became popular among friends and fashionistas. By the 1920s the House of Lanvin was well established and wide-reaching, producing fragrances and clothes for men, women, and children. A guiding principle in her creation of female couture, as Lanvin put it in 1929, was that “modern clothes need some sort of romantic quality.” As such, her designs reveled in femininity through the use of ruffles, lace, ribbon, and, most notably, flowers. Many wonderful examples of Lanvin’s floral dresses survive in collections around the world, including a striking red and cream dress embellished with roses from 1923. This gown demonstrates how Lanvin’s preference for embroidery and appliqué (instead of patterned fabric) resulted in sumptuous, highly detailed creations. Ombré ribbons are arranged in a geometric pattern and punctuated with folded-ribbon roses, as well as a rose collar, sleeves, and belt. The marriage of a sleek pattern and soft roses evinces Lanvin’s eye for romanticizing trends to fit her house’s characteristic charm.

Jeanne Lanvin for the House of Lanvin, Dress, 1927. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Gift of Varney Thompson Elliott and Rosemary Thompson Franciscus in memory of their mother, Margaret Whitney Thompson, 1985). Available at this link.

Pierre Brissaud, “Il n’a pas pleuré” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Lanvin excelled at the robe de style, a gown that favored full skirts instead of the straighter silhouette popular at the time. While her robe de style were occasionally embroidered with flowers, it was more common for a large flower pin with copious ribbons to be pinned to the dress. Nearly identical pins can be seen in a dress from 1927 and a fashion plate from seven years earlier in the Gazette du Bon Ton. Pinned at the bust instead of the waist, this pin speaks to the continuity of style in the House of Lanvin, as well as a prevailing trend for florals.

Pierre Brissaud, “On t’attend” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Nearly every issue of the Gazette du Bon Ton features illustrated gowns by Lanvin, many of them with floral embellishments. Gazette du Bon Ton, which ran from 1912 to 1915 and 1920 to 1925, was an elite fashion magazine with intricate pochoir illustrations. The sweet scenes displaying Lanvin’s couture for women and children embody in turns a maternal ideal and feminine elegance. In both instances, florals lend a graceful naturalness to the looks on show.

Pierre Brissaud, “Venez danser” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Further Reading

Cole, Daniel James and Nancy Deihl. The History of Modern Fashion from 1850. London:
Laurence King Publishing, 2015.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture: The Great Fashion Designers. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.

Pel, Martin. 1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs. London: Unicorn in association with
Fashion and Textile Museum, London, 2016.