On Trend: Paper Flowers

Chanel has been influencing designers and fashionistas alike since ‘Coco’ first stepped into the Parisian Haute Couture spotlight. The maison has introduced the masses to such ideas as ballerina flats, the little black dress, and innovative floral design. That’s right, floraldesign.

The notorious Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s head designer, introduced paper flowers as the focus for his Spring/Summer 2009 Haute Couture Show in Autumn 2008. The all-white theme was a symbol of a new beginning for the fashion house. The paper flowers that lined the walls and winding staircase portrayed the blank sheet with which Lagerfeld was starting to design for the future of Chanel.

As with many of Chanel’s triumphs, paper flowers began to appear as a trend in other creative arenas – interior decorating, weddings, and DIY Pinterest boards. At Ornamento, floral designer Orna Maymon balances her creativity between classic and current styles. In staying on trend, paper flowers have started to blossom in her event designs and around her shop at the Fairmont hotel.

Most recently, she exhibited paper as the medium of choice at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, held last month at Fort Mason Center.  There, Maymon constructed life-like white phaelonopsis orchid flowers out of cardstock paper and attached them to the stems, which were planted as if they had grown from the earth. In a less lifelike, and more decorative, instance she created a large mixed flower construction for the centerpiece of a wedding in San Francisco. Even for smaller decorations, Maymon is able to make a few cuts and folds here and there to adapt Lagerfeld’s paper masterpiece to the domestic level, of ones bedroom or tabletop.

Paper can continually change shape and improve with the right artist.  Whether accenting a larger living floral creation, or standing on its own, the construction of paper flowers provides a fresh perspective on a timeless design concept.

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What Would Cinderella Wear? Costuming Lily James and Cate Blanchett in Kenneth Branagh’s Forthcoming Film

Lily James (with Richard Madden as the prince) on set.

Photo: Courtesy of Disney Studios

Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell reinvents the glass-slipper splendor of Cinderella.

There’s a mysterious alchemy at work in the best costume design for film, a secret marriage uniting clothing, character, and a director’s vision. Who would Judy Garland’s Dorothy be without her blue gingham pinafore (Innocence!) and red sequined slippers (Temptation!), or Jean Harlow without her liquid satin gowns? (Both women’s looks were created by Adrian, the wardrobe king of Hollywood’s Golden Age.) Audrey Hepburn’s ethereal lightness was magnified a hundredfold by Hubert de Givenchy’s chiffon confections, while ice princess Catherine Deneuve discovered a deep vein of perversity within her thanks to Yves Saint Laurent’s costumes for Belle de Jour. 

“The bad guy is always the most fun to dress,” admits three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell. “And the good, kind person is always the most challenging.” Disney’s live-action Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh and due out in March, gave her plenty of room to stretch in both directions. Lily James (Lady Rose of Downton Abbey) stars as the ultimate little girl’s fantasy figure, while an elaborately skirted Cate Blanchett channels Joan Crawford as Cinderella’s evil stepmother.

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The evil stepsisters and stepmother are meant to be “a bit too much,” says Powell.

Photo: Courtesy of Disney Studios

For Blanchett, whom Powell has dressed in three films (including Todd Haynes’sCarol, also to be released next year), the designer’s costumes play a key role in preparations. “To be in dialogue with Sandy instantly makes an actor’s internal work become more active and purposeful,” she says. “She invites grace, chutzpah, and irreverence, and one’s performance must rise to the occasion.”Though the fairy tale is timeless, Powell was aiming for the look of “a nineteenth-century period film made in the 1940s or ’50s,” she says. Cinderella’s stepsisters sport the yellow and pink of 1950s sorority sisters. “They are meant to be totally ridiculous on the outside—a bit too much and overdone—and ugly on the inside,” Powell says. Dressing Cinderella herself, meanwhile, required a subtle rethinking of the tale’s traditional iconography. “I didn’t want her in rags, as she is often portrayed in the storybooks,” Powell explained. “What I gave her instead is a dress that starts out pretty and ends up looking faded, tired, and worn out.”

The film marks something of a departure for Powell, who earned her chops designing for the likes of fellow Brits Derek Jarman (Caravaggio) and Sally Potter (Orlando) and whose costumes combine her deep knowledge of historical dress with the wild inventiveness of an outsider artist. She grew up surrounded by the vibrant colors of the large West Indian communities in Brixton, the South London neighborhood where she still lives. Textiles she finds in fabric shops there make their way into her work, alongside expensive Italian silks.

As for the Dress—the magical raiment that arrives courtesy of Cinderella’s scatterbrained fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) on the eve of the royal ball—it’s a cerulean gown with a voluminous skirt composed of more than a dozen layers of gossamer-fine silk in different shades of pale blue, turquoise, and lavender. “When I first put it on, I felt both empowered and scared,” James recalls. “How could I live up to this? Then I realized I could use that fear to show me how Cinderella would feel at that moment.”

Cinderella’s signature slipper, meanwhile, is made of crystal, designed in collaboration with Swarovski, and based upon a shoe from the 1890s that Powell found in a museum in Northampton. That shoe had a five-inch heel and no platform. “So besides the fact that Cinderella’s slipper is crystal, the shape of the last makes it impossible to walk in,” Powell says. “I was amazed that I was allowed to do it—that nobody wondered how they were going to reproduce it for children. But then,” she muses, “I guess the glass slipper is the ultimate fetish shoe, isn’t it?”