The Genteel
October 30, 2020


William Morris Prints, Alice + Olivia, Tory Burch and Otswald Helgason. Sources: and
William Morris Fruit Wallpaper

William Morris's wallpaper, Fruit.

Artists are endlessly influencing the collections of fashion designers. Over the past few seasons we've seen Van Gogh at Rodarte, Picasso at Jil Sander and Lichtenstein at 3.1 Phillip Lim. But how many interior designers, nay, Renaissance men, have made their mark in the fashion industry? Few, if any, other than the late-nineteenth century textile designer, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement and fan of Gothic architecture, William Morris.

Born in 1834 to a wealthy middle-class family living in Walthamstow, England, Morris is said to have spent his formative years running around the British countryside in a medieval suit of armour. The eccentric child grew into an inquisitive young man, studying theology at Oxford whilst obsessing over Gothic architecture and mingling with Pre-Raphaelites. In 1859, he moved to Red House in Bexleyheath with his wife and Pre-Raphaelite model, Jane Burden. Unimpressed with the furniture available at the time, Morris and his friends took to designing every aspect of his home's interior, from the furniture to the stained glass windows. Upon completing the home, Morris and his friends took their hobby commercial by forming the design firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company, and by 1875, he had started his own firm, Morris & Company.

Influenced by tapestries in Gothic churches and monasteries, winding vine and flora embroidery was a favourite of Morris's. He became most known for his wallpapers and his repeating patterns revolutionised interior decor, particularly amongst the middle classes. These intricate, medieval-inspired prints would become his firm's trademark in the late 19th-century, and over one hundred years later, his signature floral patterns hit New York fashion week, gracing the A/W 2013 collections of Ostwald Helgason, Alice + Olivia and Tory Burch.

Bermuda shorts and blouse from
Ostwald Helgason A/W 2013.

Floral prints may be nothing new - "Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking," deadpans Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada - they're prevalent in April and May, but not so much in the fall. Designers are changing that idea, using organic prints in richer colours and textures for the cooler months - and we have William Morris to thank for that.

The presentation of Ostwald Helgason by design duo Susanne Ostwald and Ingvar Helgason wowed critics at NYFW. Their boyish silhouettes were given a girly flair with Morris-inspired floral prints and pastels. A tailored gold suit was the highlight of the collection with its Morris-esque brocade giving texture to the otherwise stiff look. True to the Morris aesthetic, the collection was full of leafy prints in different tones. Ostwald Helgason's matching collared blouse and pair of cropped pants were shown in a beautiful array of greens, while another set with Bermuda shorts were done in greyscale with hints of bright yellow.

Ostwald Helgason is on its way to becoming a household name with rave reviews of the collection, as well as a superstar clientele. Rihanna has worn their jackets, but it's street-style darling Miroslava Duma who has put the label in the spotlight. Known for her bold outfits, Duma's donning of a graphic print from Ostwald Helgason was a ubiquitous image on street style blogs.

Another label influenced by Morris's designs was Alice + Olivia. Minimalism is not a word in designer Stacy Bendet's lexicon; over-the-top is more her speed. The label's fall lookbook seems to be set in a parlor à l'Age d'Or. The collection of primarily black and scarlet pieces is set off against a pale blue William Morris print complete with a molded fireplace and gilded armchair. A jewel tone floral double-breasted jacket is paired with mossy green wide-leg pants, and a full-skirted suit resembles Morris' famous print, Blue Fruit. Those more daring are encouraged to wear a stunning floor length skirt, complete with exotic birds and flora.

Alice + Olivia Floral Skirt.

All-American girl Tory Burch was one of the last designers to show at fashion week, and she too looked to Morris for inspiration. Her runway's backdrop, like Alice + Olivia's lookbook, featured a pale blue Morris print. Burch's collections normally stray towards preppy Americana, but her fall collection was aimed at a Rockefeller set. Floral and vine print dresses in decadent colors floated down the runway, accompanied by fur-cuffed gloves and velvet shoes.

Morris's influence, apart from the direct quoting via prints, is also seen in Burch's nod to the Art Nouveau movement. Taking cues from the natural world, organic forms were seen in all areas of design, including architecture and fashion. Burch's dragonfly accessories are reminiscent of the Art Nouveau, as are her similarly shaped sunglasses. Adding a girly touch, Lurex threads sparkle throughout Burch's pieces. Thanks to Burch, conservative knits are no longer reserved for old ladies; her embellished pieces take the sweater to a whole new level.

For some, the late-nineteenth century's industrial age was a time of economic stability - if not flourish - and the artistry of the time reflected this. Morris's designs were made for people who appreciated fine quality, and were interested in showing off their homes. This season's take on Morris's prints calls forth a similar sentiment - the opulence and sense of grandeur is what makes the clothing that much more appealing.



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