Flowers have been an inspiration to textile and fashion designers in the United Kingdom for centuries.
Floral embroidery abounds in the sumptuous gowns worn by Queen Elizabeth I. And flowers continue to be prevalent in the work of today’s fashion designers, as was recently demonstrated by Erdem’s collaboration with H&M, seen in the Regent Street window displays in November.
The London College of Fashion library special collections have multiple books on flowers, ranging from nineteenth century botanical illustrations to descriptions of Victorian floral buttons and hand-coloured fashion plates highlighting floral accessories. Examples of these items feature in the current display at LCF library.
Of particular interest in this display are several rarely seen mid-twentieth century floral design plates that were donated to LCF library by Hayes Textiles in 2003. Hayes were a London company who, from the 1960s, used these prints as sources of inspiration for designing and manufacturing cloth for head scarves or ties – known as gele – that were sold on the Nigerian market. Gele are lengths of stiff cloth intricately wrapped and knotted around a woman’s head. They are often worn for special occasions and are an important source of self-expression. These fashion accessories are still popular today and have significant cultural and social importance.
These books reveal how wide reaching the London textiles industry once was. Upon first glance at the prints in the display, their historical significance isn’t obvious. This is a great reminder that the full story isn’t always uncovered by looking only at the contents of a book, or in this case a set of prints. By investigating the context, such as who used these prints and for what purpose, exciting discoveries like this can be made. This is one of the many benefits of working with historic special collections.
The display is up in LCF library until the New Year so do come and have a look if you’re around.
The LCF archives also received textile samples and pattern books from Hayes. For anyone interested in viewing more of this collection, please contact the Library Special Collections team at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Archivist at email@example.com.