Moody Blooms: How Dark Florals Became the New Breton Stripe

Winter florals are glamorous but casual, womanly rather than girlish – and are an instant style update

You probably think this is about a trend. It’s not. Floral patterns on a dark background is not so much a fashion trend as a fashion takeover. It is a look that is absolutely everywhere – so much so, that you have probably stopped noticing it. It is in my wardrobe and – as a glance around the Guardian office confirms – in a whole lot of other wardrobes too. The formula is simple: flowers of any variety bloom against a dark-coloured background. Perhaps on a blouse, possibly a trousersuit or an evening gown, but most likely on a dress or a skirt.

Without much fuss or fanfare, dark floral has lodged itself into modern life. Like the Breton stripe a decade before it, it has become style shorthand for looking current. And for looking good, but not looking as if you thought about it too much. Alessandro Michele’s super-maximalist aesthetic at Gucci has amped up the resting pulse rate of fashion, so you need a bit of print and colour for an outfit to feel really contemporary. On the other hand, the mood music of the #MeToo era doesn’t lend itself to a bunting-and-cupcakes vibe, so viewing the traditional femininity of the floral print through a darker lens feels right. And as fashion moves towards a more sustainable, less fast-moving model, a print that is a bit summery (because, flowers) and at the same time autumnal in its colours also feels right for now.

Erdem Moralioglu has been making winter florals look super-chic for most of his career. For his autumn 2009 collection, he embroidered tiny, intensely coloured chrysanthemums and violets on to black dresses. Explaining how his colour scheme had taken a moody turn that season, he said at the time that the muse he had previously imagined “running free and romantic in the meadows” had now “visited nightclubs and gone home on the bus”. Ten years later, he is still into a moody bloom: this season’s Reese dress, £520, has tightly furled peonies and sprigs of cherry blossom against a black background.

Dresses (from left) Boden, Marks & Spencer, and Sezane Penelope

“I’ve always been fascinated by women and all things that imply femininity,” he says. “Flowers are an extension of that – beautiful, complex, sometimes dangerous. I like the contrast of a delicate floral print on a dark base, with little secrets hidden in the artwork. There is something wonderful about things that can be both pretty and dark at the same time.”

“Glasual” – glamorous and casual – is the new smart-casual. Smart-casual looks a bit meh these days, while glasual fits the dressier, look-at-me vibe of the Instagram era. The winter floral is instantly, effortlessly glasual. It is ideal for day-to-night wear; where animal print can feel a bit too much of a stretch first thing in the morning, florals have a long history as daywear. Fast-forward to cocktail hour and the moody, jewels-on-black-velvet colour combination brings just enough edge.

You can wear a winter floral dress with tights and heels, or bare legs and trainers, or – this season’s update – with knee-high boots. The high street is getting better and better at the winter floral dress, each season. If you want a steer, I’d suggest the Francesca midi-length semi-wrap dress by Boden, £98, with spriggy florals on either black or burgundy or Marks & Spencer’s shirt-dress, £55, with golden lilies and white daisies on navy. But winter florals wear well and don’t date easily, so the one you bought three winters ago may well still be going strong.

“While summer florals exude pretty femininity, there is something more edgy and dramatic about winter florals.” Natasha Rusus Issacs

The dark floral dress is fashion with a little “f” rather than a big one, but it is also A Bit French. It started with London-based designers – Alexander McQueen, as well as Erdem – but is now all over Paris, too. It is on the catwalk at Christian Dior and Dries Van Noten, and all over the streets of Paris. Every chic Parisienne’s current favourite haute high-street label, Sézane – tagline “French everybody can speak” – is selling a Penelope dress, £135, with tiny bright flowers on black.

“Small flowers on a dark pattern is a timeless pattern,” says brand founder Morgane Sézalory. “It is not a specific trend but something that really goes through the time. During fall and winter, it is always a staple to have in your wardrobe. The print works really well on a midi or long dress with a pair of boots.”

Michelle Obama, Janelle Monae and Anna Wintour. Composite: Guardian Design; Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images; Mike Coppola/FilmMagic; REX/Shutterstock

Natasha Rufus Isaacs is co-founder of the ethical British luxury brand Beulah, which she launched 10 years ago with a mission to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation of female fashion-industry workers in the developing world. Every Beulah sale – the Yahvi painterly forest rose dress, with digitally printed pink and green florals on dark silk, £550, for instance – creates employment opportunities for vulnerable and trafficked women around the world. Floral prints, Rufus Isaacs says, are just as popular in the winter months as they have traditionally been in the summer.

“While summer florals exude pretty femininity, there is something more edgy and dramatic about winter florals,” she says. “They are also incredibly versatile – great to style with dark separates and knitwear and more subtle than a flirty summer print. I smarten mine up with an oversized coat and boots, or dress down with some trainers and wear in the office every day.”

The dark floral is Anna Wintour at Wimbledon. It is Michelle Obama at a state dinner. It is Janelle Monáe on the red carpet. It is the beauty of flowers as painted in oil by the Dutch masters, rather than in postcard watercolours. It is smart but not stuffy, womanly rather than girlish. Dark florals are not just a trend, because they show no sign of wilting. These are the flowers that never die.

Read the article on The Guardian.

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