The LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens gave new meaning to the phrase “flower power” when models strutted the runway in handcrafted floral apparel during the Couture de la Fleur fashion show Wednesday.
The showcase capped off the garden's annual Wine and Roses fundraising dinner, bringing a youthful spirit and unparalleled artistic expertise to the evening. Patrons beamed in delight and cheered as each model flaunted the living masterpieces, transforming everyday bromelias, Spanish moss and chrysanthemums into dynamic works of wearable art.
The models showcased 18 garments, ranging from a historic tiered lace dress from the LSU Textile and Costume Museum archives to a structural Japanese kimono. Each outfit was enhanced with floral accoutrements by a team of floral designers from Mendel University, an LSU partner institution in the Czech Republic.
The show included three collections. The first featured six pieces donated by the Textile and Costume Museum and the second included five outfits previously designed by University students and faculty. The final collection, the floral haute couture closer, highlighted seven ensembles specially designed for the show by University graduate students.
The stunning exhibition was the culmination of months of planning and coordination, said Botanic Gardens coordinator Katie Guitreau.
The idea for the fashion show stemmed from a chance meeting between Jeff Kuehny, the Botanic Gardens resident director, and Mendel University indoor landscaping and floral design assistant professor Jiří Martinek. Martinek has 10 years’ experience executing floral apparel fashion shows, and Kuehny recognized an opportunity for the two universities to highlight their talents and bring something new to Baton Rouge, Guitreau said.
By extending the program’s reach beyond the immediate efforts of the Botanic Gardens, the team was able to expand the public’s view of horticulture and its artistic limits, she said.
“Our mission is to educate the public and be a place of not only learning but a place to enjoy nature,” Guitreau said. “To only focus on one element of horticulture would be doing people a disservice.”
The presentation surely expanded apparel design assistant professor Casey Stannard’s understanding of nature’s capabilities.
“I’ve never seen twigs look so good,” Stannard joked in the dressing room before the show, as makeup artists dusted models’ cheekbones with striking purple tones and put finishing touches on slicked hairstyles.
Stannard led the team of graduate students in the design process, but before the project started she had her doubts, she said. Collaborating across disciplines is exciting and produces diverse work, but producing partially complete ensembles without fully understanding how the floral assembly processes would alter the outfits was challenging, Stannard said.
The design process unfolded over roughly four weeks and involved collaboration with Martinek and his floral design students via PowerPoint presentation. Each week the teams would debate the merits of different garment constructions and the durability of clothing from the Textile and Costume Museum, Stannard said.
The team from Mendel University had a different perspective on apparel construction and challenged the University students to think outside their limits, said apparel design graduate Megan Romans. Instead of fluidity and quality of movement, the Czech designers were concerned with the attire’s ability to bear weight and maintain the integrity of the floral design’s shape, she said.
A strong base structure is crucial to withstand movement on the runway, said Martinek. Each design typically included a belt, harness or non-traditional fabric such as plastic netting or wire to secure the flora and fauna, he said.
Once the support structure was assembled, the designers built a base layer of hardy leaves, branches and foliage that could withstand two or three days without water. Longevity and durability are key factors when selecting flowers because some weather drying and natural discoloration better than others, Martinek said.
Martinek and his six floral design students added the more delicate blossoms and floral species to the outfits in the final hours before the show. The blooms were cut down, wrapped with floral tape to encase moisture in the remaining stems and sprayed with light preservatives before being secured to the clothing with either floral or hot glue, he said.
The trickiest part often isn’t the construction, but carefully dressing the models to prevent damage to the flowers, Martinek said. Backstage models shimmied into gowns, designers draped floral skirts and a particularly problematic pair of floral knee-high stockings were yanked into place, as Martinek and his team hurried to make last minute touch-ups and reaffix loosened blooms.
In total, Martinek and his students used at least 15 varieties of flora and fauna in the show, including multiple orchids, chrysanthemums, grasses, bromelias, subtropical plants and found natural objects, including branches and Spanish moss.
Romans said once completed the ensembles no longer resembled flowers, but morphed into showstopping abstract art. It went far beyond what she thought was possible, she said.
Stannard said few shows can compare.
“I’m impressed, and I've been to a lot of fashion shows over the years. There are very few things like this in the U.S,” she said. “It’s pretty novel.”