Re-Imagining the Flower: How Far Will Fashion Month's Designers Go?

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but what happens when you change its color? When you construct it out of fabric? When you render it softly transparent, or bold and broken-apart? When you pair it with other, wilder roses?

As one might expect from fashion collections destined for spring, designers have been justifiably obsessed with florals during the past four, frenetic weeks. While a simple floral pattern is always going to look good on a girl in a spring dress, it's not going to take the audience's breath away, and it's not going to make them think. So for Spring 2014, designers took a step back and questioned the entire concept of a flower, breaking it down into its most elemental parts, revisiting its darker side, and discovering blooms in unexpected locations.

Let's start with the literal. Here's Christopher Kane's so-obvious-it's-cool flower, semantically deconstructed:

In using text, Kane is playing with the relationship between signifier and signified (check out Wikipedia's page on semiotics if you need a refresher course). The words "flower" and "petal" will conjure up images of real-world flowers in the viewer's mind, and the pastels don't hurt, either. But take a step back: neither sweatshirt has anything to do with tangible, real-world flowers. That innocent-looking lavender sweatshirt isn't showing us a garden, but an example of how readily we rely on words to create meaning.

The bold placement of the word "Flower" on the models' heart and stomach, respectively, makes the word seem more like a label of the model than a descriptors of the dress. It's defiant and a bit objectifying at the same time. That striking pale yellow sweatshirt contains a flower in media res, so to speak, sliced open on the botanic operating table so that we can stare at its colorful heart.

But maybe a rose doesn't have to smell sweet at all. Marchesa wasn't afraid to explore the flower's funereal side — after all, blooms have long been associated with traditions other than weddings.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The collection's exquisite all-white looks seemed inspired by the idea of a corpse bride, with the witchy hair extensions and all that trailing fabric:

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

On the sunnier side of things, Dolce & Gabbana opted for florals in 3D that bloomed off dresses and hair so vividly, it looked like they were growing out of the soil of the model:

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Roman myth is full of young girls and lovers turning into foliage by the gods, whether to reward them or save them, and this Greco-Roman-themed collection calls to mind that sort of divine transformation — especially that final look, in which the model is almost overwhelmed by her blossoming dress.

Dries Van Noten didn't seem to care whether his florals were realistic or not. The Van Noten flowers weren't designed to remind us of nature, but to glorify human production. His luxurious florals were reproduced from 19th century patterns found in the archives of Les Arts Décoratifs:

These were flowers representational not of nature, but of the world we've build on top of it;in other words, not blooms from the garden, but the type of two-dimensional flowers you'd find in old still-life paintings and on antique slipcovers. Even the pleated, bloom-like structures were impressive because of their construction, and not because they bore resemblance to actual flowers.

But of all the lovely flowers on the runway, the most striking new take on florals came in the form of a single look in the Alberta Ferretti show. The entire show was filled with colorful, abundant, Mexican-inspired blooms, like an overgrown garden in mid-summer:

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

But one of the looks stood out for its simple white palette, as well as for its shocking sheerness:

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Though transparency has been all over the runways during the past month, it's rare to see a model's breasts so vividly exposed. But in comparison to the soft form of the breasts, the flowers appliqued down the side of the outfit look garish, overly bright, and tiresomely flat. Here, the breasts become the central point of the look — and they look like flowers.

The world will never get tired of flowers; they're just too beautiful, too joyous, too life-giving. In the hands of artists, they can break apart, grow larger than life, or reappear in unexpected places —but they'll always be flowers, and we're always going to love them.

Images via driesvannaughty,stacyigel, azharabu, and bfbritt via Instagram