Fashion & Gardens analyses the way we deck out our gardens as we do our bodies…

“Gardens are a space where everything interconnects”, mused Christopher Woodward, standing with some of fashion’s finest names (Christopher Kane, Philip Tracey, Alexandra Shulman and Lara Mullen, to drop but a few) under a luscious meadow of fresh flowers, which was elegantly suspended within the lofty heights of the converted St Mary’s church.

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His theme? Fashion & Gardens, the title of the Garden Museum’s latest exhibition which examines the historical interconnection between these two great British art forms – a deeply fruitful (sorry) topic which Woodward, The Garden Museum’s Director, and Curator Nicola Shulman discovered, has remained overwhelmingly unexplored.

Thought that your old jeans, muddied wellies and dusty gardening gloves couldn’t be further from the glamorous garments of the catwalk? Think again. This small yet illuminating collection, which spans from the age of Queen Elizabeth I to the catwalks of London Fashion Week 2014, explores how fashion and gardening have been woven together throughout history: both growing out of the past, decorating the present and adapting to the future

Fashion and Gardens

Shulman lays out the collection like a story, an eclectic narrative which begins in the early 17th century with gardeners and embroiders working from the same patterns. Cue an artwork which is being exhibited in London for the first time since it was painted in 1606: an anonymous portrait of a young Jacobean heiress, ironically named Lettuce Newdigate, whose dress is decorated with elaborate embroidery that perfectly and purposefully mirrors the shrubbery of the garden outside.

The layout of the exhibition allows contemporary fashion to stand seamlessly alongside historic works of art, which means that Lettuce Newdigate and her peers can continue to speak through, and be integrated with the 21st century. The collection’s centrepiece – a Valentino evening gown with an under-layer embroidered with flying birds, caged by a cape decorated with the muscular spirals of an iron-wrought garden gate – manages to distil the life of a garden into fabric, just like the young girl’s dress in the portrait.

Fashion and Gardens

The question of ‘what people have worn to visit gardens throughout history’, however, could be the most intriguing twist in the tale. As ‘upper-class classics’ – think Barbour jackets, tweed and hunter wellies –  continue to proliferate on the streets of Hackney and, thanks to Kate Middleton, in the wardrobes of would-be princesses worldwide, they have their roots in landscaping trends of the late 18th century. As gardens were opened up to the wider landscape a new style of informal, tailored clothing was required – garments which have since been perfected and synthesized by British designers right up to the present day.

With historical continuity in mind, the narrative is perfectly concluded by a trench coat, that icon of British outdoors-wear, from Burberry’s SS14 collection. “I wanted this idea of an English rose garden” Christopher Bailey comments. “There are all these very dusky, gentle, soft colours and then all of a sudden you’ll see a spiky, very red rose in the middle of it.” It is clear that over 400 years later, in the midst of both high street and high-end fashion, the garden and its inventive uniform continues to innovate and inspire.

Fashion & Gardens runs from February 2nd – April 27th

Words: Joy Starkey

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