Designers have long sought to capture the ephemeral beauty of the rose. Its influence on fashion over the centuries is now the subject of an exciting new exhibition

A model walks the runway at the Dolce & Gabbana ready to wear spring/summer 2021 show during the Milan Women’s Fashion Week. Photo: Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Blush, briar, rambling, miniature, floribunda, cabbage, climbing, dog, moss, damask, grandiflora, hybrid, shrub and tea; varieties of roses are myriad but they all capture the human eye. As fashion curator Amy de la Haye observes in her book Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion – which precedes the exhibition of the same name due to open at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York in early 2021 – roses are flowers that are looked at.

This looking at roses has not been a passive act; the rose has been a rich source of inspiration for designers, artists and perfumers since early human civilisation. Humanity’s fascination with the rose reflects our attraction to its ephemeral beauty and our desire to capture it in more enduring form. A rose’s moment of perfection is exquisite but fleeting; a perfect symbol of the brevity of human life.

The FIT exhibition will present the first socio-cultural examination of the rose in fashion and how this seductive flower has shaped trends in dress, scent and jewellery (for both men and women). The rose can be dated back over three million years, and its broad geographic sweep is entwined with stories of trade, politics, religion, gender, food, beauty, and identity. It is inextricably linked to perceptions of feminine love, purity and seduction, so has consistently shaped the way we look, dress, and smell.

Thousands of years ago, the Egyptians wore both fresh roses and rose scent and used charred rose petals to colour their eyebrows, while in Ancient Rome the flower was so adored that a lavish annual festival, the Rosalia, was staged in its honour. Rose has been liberally used as a scent for millennia: it is part of the olfactory language used to anoint royalty (both Henry VIII and Napoleon wore rose scents), cleanse heretics, symbolise God, express virginity, cure illness and flavour food.

The rose occupies both a singular place in popular imagination and a pre-eminent role in design – this delicate bloom has influenced the form and decoration of clothing, jewellery, and fashion imagery more vividly than any other flower. Wild yet cultivated, savage yet delicate, the rose has remained an enduring symbol due to the intrinsic dichotomies it represents. The rose is the queen of the blooms; » » ephemeral but enduring, resilient and rambunctious, fragile yet fierce.

This new exhibition, curated by Amy de la Haye of the Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion, and Colleen Hill of The Museum at FIT, will explore the significance of the rose in fashion and dress from circa 1750 to the 21st century. Over 75 objects, including fashion clothing, millinery, fine jewellery, perfume and artificial roses, will feature for their […]