Look back at the past to understand the present and predict the future
If we look back a hundred years to the 1920s, as we have been doing as a society for the past three or four years, seeing the parallels and learning from the past, we will notice that this was the moment when Constance Spry came to the fore.
With a backdrop of the First World War and the lead up to the Second World War, the renowned British florist Constance Spry (taking inspiration from Dutch flower paintings) picked flowers and materials from the garden and shocked society by overturning the formal structures beloved by the Victorians in order to create something much more akin to the style we know today.
Containers were eccentric, found at random in attics and designed to create contrast, to shock and create a stir. She sealed the natural link between floristry and the arts, the theatre and even cinema by helping Norman Wilkinson, (the famous British stage designer), create a sensation at a perfumery in Old Bond St with their collaborative decorations.
She became the darling of London Society, then US Society and so made her way steadily to becoming the icon we know her as today.
I call her the Mother of Floral Design. What does she have to do with floral design today?
In a post-Covid world and faced with a cost of living crisis, finances are tight to say the least, so people are turning to flowers for inspiration, escape, connection, innocence.
In the last five years, floral installations have become a signature of London streets; doorways draped and adorned with flowers - real or artificial - of every kind and colour.
These theatrical statements delight and surprise shoppers and hospitality guests alike, as Constance did a century ago with her dramatic, informal use of unlikely materials and containers.
Chelsea Flower Show
Fast forward 100 years and we see the annual transformation of Chelsea and its surrounding streets: the ingenious brainchild of Cadogan Estates, who own most of the retail space around this area.
Piggybacking on the Chelsea Flower Show, which is all about gardens and gardeners, they came up with an idea which celebrated florists and the flower after it had been cut.
They realised that local shops who might resent the draw of the Flower Show away from their premises, would benefit from some exposure.
So the Chelsea in Bloom competition was born and this drove the ever-increasing popularity of floral installations, floral art and a more creative relationship with flowers whilst creating a connection between the Chelsea Flower Show and the surrounding area.
This started to really resonate around 2016 when Instagram took its place as a serious marketing tool for the retail sector.
Covid-19 and the pandemic
Fast forward again to 2020, and for almost two years everyone was stuck at home with nothing to do except to watch the regeneration of Nature during the glorious spring sunshine; no pollution, light pollution, noise pollution or traffic to clutter the streets and our minds - people naturally reverted back to a more natural disposition.
The practice of arts and crafts re-emerged as a meaningful way to spend time. The forced exposure to the ‘Great Outdoors’ reconnected us to Nature and the environment.
The gift of flowers was a powerful way to let loved ones know we cared when we were unable to see them and the humble flower, once again, was able to compete with electronics as a source of entertainment, diversion and inspiration.
2022 and the return to ‘normal’ living
2022, was the year when most places were finally announced ‘Covid-free’ or at least no longer under heavy restrictions. It was the year when we could all get married; when we met loved ones we had not seen for several years in some cases, or when we realised how special it felt to be in the same room as a friend, a colleague … anyone at all!
It felt so special, and the role of flowers and indeed, floral design to mark celebrations, a role it has served since prehistoric times, came to the fore once again.
So as festivals became more popular than ever before (now we had embraced the great outdoors), the young started to wear floral crowns at their weddings (hitherto reserved for children), a bohemian celebration of life and connection; weddings reflected this festival mood too.
Moongates, broken arches, field flowers, grasses and crafted designs gained a popularity that reminds us of Constance Spry and her break-away from the formal, rigid diktats of the Victorian era.
Floral designers were busier than ever making up for two years of idleness. Colours exploded, formalities were dropped and the only focus was to create a vision worth investing in - an investment in time, in physical connection, in togetherness.
Where to next?
In 2023, with the cost of living crisis, the Ukrainian war, uncertainty about the future, people have not given up on the joy of connection. In some ways, we are more invested in the moment as we don’t know what will come next.
So whilst events are slightly lower key, they are not the pared-back affairs one might expect. People this year will continue to celebrate: there may be fewer lavish statements, but dramatic and striking offerings will continue to feed our imaginations, create magical stories and mark the moment with unique decorations. Colours are moving towards more unusual and unexpected shades and tones.
Carnations continue to enchant us with their ever-growing range of colour choices. Delicate flowers will continue to dominate, surrounded by indigenous foliage, grasses and field flowers. Roses are being grown with unusual colours, textures ….
There will be rich, sensuous blooms to draw the eye. People will continue to explore more creative designs; suspended blooms, frames with sculptures but this year, increasingly, we will see dried flowers coming into their own.
We shall see whimsical stems, dyed in delicate shades such as peach, cream, ivory to create arrangements that speak to the sepia tones of vintage photography and a nostalgia for the simplicity of country living.
These colours also reflect the rise of the ‘Feminine’, a movement that sees feminine values rising in importance across society, from government to charities to ethical business organisational structures.
So I look forward to indulging the senses again this year, with choice art works, abundant planting schemes and a continuing connection with Nature.