‘I never promised you a rose garden’: embroidered furs and floral intarsias are on the runways, but sometimes the past holds greater innovation and ideas

Tulip Fever: Oscar de la Renta, SS 2015, black mink coat with white tulip design in intarsia.

Oscar de la Renta’s sky blue pink mink coat decorated with flowers and his black and white intarsia tulip coat for Spring-Summer 2015 are charming and pretty, in line with the worship at the altar of the goddess Flora that has prevailed in the international collections recently. They also pose the question: is this all there is when it comes to working with fur and flowers? Floral embroidery, universal, symbolic, beautiful was explored by the embroidery designer to Louis XV Charles Germain de Saint Aubin in his Art of the Embroiderer, 1770. In this he talks about this as well as working with ermine, dyeing it, appliquéing it, beading it, combining it with feathers and peculiarly, Spanish flies ... yet this experimentation,  244 years ago has seemingly not been developed much.  This is just a small look at this area, taking in the late Queen Mother’s ermine cape of 1923 and the utterly brilliant cutwork ermine floral ‘lace’ cape of 1936, pre-laser cutting, a testament to#craftsmanship and skill.

People are rethinking fur – it is no longer necessary to use it to the max to achieve luxe ... Rather fur and materials, whether they be silk, wool, linen or leather -  should flatter and set each other off.  Embroidered fur is as old as the hills, and most recently it has been explored by the label By Walid – ‘upcycled’ fur collars and stoles that would have been left to rot have been decorated with silver gilt, 18C gold bullion passementerie, beading and lace. Now he has achieved a following for his lovingly restored antique fabrics – florals, quilting, woollens, velvets, ikats and indigos – all reworked an combined – and lined with recycled furs. Both fabric and lining are equally luxurious and exquisite – and each piece  is a one off. They do not have the slickness of off the runway, but they do have the elegance and sophistication of a #Fortuny garment; both look to the East and look to the past for inspiration.

It is extraordinary that while fashion designers explore and rework the past – can we talk byssos and Fortuny, Issey Miyake and Fortuny, Dolce and Gabbana and Byzantine mosaics ... Cristobal Balenciaga and Velasquez etc etc  -  that fur designers and ideas people do not develop clever ideas from the past. New is not always the answer – imagination, research and technical ability is. And the message is this: plain fur is no longer the ultimate luxury. It need that little extra to set it apart from the ordinary. Fashion is about elitism and in order for fur to be aspirational there has to be that added beauty and interest.

Decorating with flowers in art and design is timeless and almost universal. Formal white mantua, back view, 1744, the V&A Museum. It may have been worn at the wedding of Isabella Courtenay, fifth daughter of Sir William Courtenay, 2nd Baronet and de jure 5th Earl of Devon. Thought to be a combination of professional and amateur [handwork] embroidery. Rococo design in coloured silks, the quality at the top of the petticoat less finished than at the bottom. It is thought that the Courtenay ladies may have been responsible for the amateur work; the blood of the Plantagenets flowed through their veins but cost may have been a consideration. I think it makes this a far more beautiful ensemble, given this legend.

Fit for a queen; fur and flowers; Italian woven silk  gown with  worn by the long suffering Eleonora of Austria, Queen of France, c.1530. This portrait by Joos van Cleve shows. The sleeves of her gown are paned and decorated with pieces of what may be variegated European mink or fitch.  It isn’t ermine as this is not a robe of state, but the white signifies purity – and I believe great luxury given the rarity of this fur.

The White Queen: Queen Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV and member of the Skinners’ Fraternity of Our Lady’s Assumption. Elizabeth Woodville is wearing ermine on her robes of state, symbolising not only royal status but also purity. Depictions of the Virgin Mary show her sometimes dressed in ermine, as legend had it that the ermine would destroy itself rather than suffer dishonour. so this works as a double signifier here; holding the orb and sceptre she doubles as the Queen of Heaven. The flowers are deeply symbolic – dianthus meaning ‘divine flower, roses for chastity, love, innocence, with the added emblem of the white rose of the House of York.

Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, chose this cloak as part of her wedding trousseau in 1923. ‘This evening cloak chosen by Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and made by W. Ujhely; it is made of tail-less ermine with corner panels of white velvet broche let into it and is further adorned by flowers made of the ermine. There are no sleeves or armholes in this cloak, but the lining has pockets into which the hands can be slipped and hold the wrap in place, while its collar can either forma  small cape  or it may be made into a roll collar to frame the face.’  Vogue, Late April 1923.

Ermine:  Evening cape of ermine ‘lace’ flowers, at the National Fur Parade and Exhibition at Dorchester House, London, September 1936. Furriers, designers .... Look at this and weep.

AW 2013 and Valentino says “Ermine!”  in mink – in fact, it’s really miniver because the black pieces are imitating the black tips of the ermine tail. The applique fleur-de-lis inspired flowers on black net are scarcely a great development on the 1920s and 1930s techniques.

During the eighteenth century, floral motifs the most widely used motifs in embroidery design. Charles Germain de St Aubin was the embroidery designer to Louis XV and was responsible for over 200 floral water colour studies and two suites of floral engravings.  St Aubin’s L’Art du Brodeur was published in 1770.

‘Embroidering in Fur’ – by St Aubin, 1770 – dyeing ermine, ermine flowers, beading, appliqué; the use of feathers, beetles and Spanish flies.

Floral embroidery detail, French, formal coat, c. 1780 – 1790. This ensemble of breeches, coat and contrasting waistcoat ‘would have made its wearer appear to be walking around in his own private flower garden.’ From St Aubin, The Art of the Embroiderer, reprint 1983, ed. Edward Maeder, LACMA. This from the collection the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, accession number M.63.51a-c

From the Worth Archive, Maison Worth velvet evening gown, 1904, ‘Karacul ‘applied on the hem and train, embellished with embroidery. It is a superb collection of photographs which methodically documented all the models produced by the House. This will have been designed by Jean Philippe Worth; it was during this time that Poiret worked at Worth but he would not have been allowed anywhere near the formal evening gowns.

1895, the divine Misia in embroidered fox collar and muff by Toulouse Lautrec, on the cover of La Revue Blanche.

By Walid, vintage mink necklace, embroidered  with ancient boteh design in beading and silver gilt thread.

Transylvanian Saxons, or Siebenburgers, early 20th century, Sunday dress -  she wears the traditional embroidered lambskin coat and the Borten, the velvet hat. The lambskin or ‘shearling’ is on the inside.

Mary Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
Sky blue mink coat decorated with an embroidered floral design, Oscar de la Renta, SS 2015

By Walid, coat in antique fabrics, embroidered and woven, worked with overstitch, specially dyed and pieced together in his atelier, with recyled mink lining. The style is reminiscent of the ‘oriental’ robes so beloved by the sophisticates of 18th century France and later developed by Mariano Fortuny.

By Walid, coat, antique fabrics, specially hand-dyed and pieced together, each unique. This lined with antique mink, September 2014.

Fortuny, printed silk coat with Italian Renaissance organic motifs edged with (what looks like chinchilla) fur. The Fortuny Museum in Venice will host the forthcoming Marchesa Casati exhibition, which opens on 3rd October.

#dearmrsminiver  #fashionhistory  #fortuny  #bywalid  #mink  #18C  #ermine  #luxe #staubin  #lacma  #theartoftheembroiderer  #embroideredfur  #misiassert  #upcycling  #antique #furfashionhistory #ermine  #mink  #furinnovation  #queenmother  #fashionfur  #embroideredfur  #georgefrederickworth #vintagefur  #floralfur  # the White Queen #plantagenets

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