The Garfield Park Conservatory is a glass-paned palace nestled in Chicago’s West Side neighborhood, 10 minutes from downtown. It’s a place to seek warmth on cold winter days. It’s a portal to peer into the habitats of foreign worlds, a laboratory for the inquisitive mind, a pantone library for the artistic eye.
Above all, it is a powerful, living reminder of what you can achieve when you care for your environment: Herbs and fruits abound. The serenity of a flower’s beauty. The sweet aroma of a lilac bush. Clean air generated from robust trees. The conservatory gives visitors, young and old, a conscientiousness toward nature that they are able to take with them into their own communities and the ones they travel through.
Because the conservatory is a both a living ecosystem and a symbol of an ethos we should aspire to, it’s important that it continues to exist. Many people don’t know that the 106-year-old conservatory was badly damaged in a hailstorm in 2011. The effort to repair and rebuild has been lead by the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance and the Chicago Park District. These organizations teamed to produce a fashion show on June 21, called Fleurotica, held at the nearly-restored conservatory for the first time since the storm.
Fleurotica is an annual runway show featuring models wearing plants and flowers fashioned into clothing. No thread, button or cloth here – instead petals, leaves, twigs and buds. Each model’s outfit was a submission by a different Chicago-based florist. The show was a stunning conveyor belt of floral artistry and innovation. There were peplums, trains, collars and corsets. The headpieces were particularly unusual. A flower pinned to a hat is a normal sighting; a hat entirely composed of flowers is a visual marvel. The show was technically a competition, but this felt ancillary to me and I largely ignored the competitive aspect of it. Each outfit was a creature all it’s own, with it’s own unique personality and distinctions, belonging to it’s own strange, fantasy society that your imagination could run off and invent.
Clothing-based fashion designers often do play with floral fantasies: Alexander McQueen, Rochas, and Giambattista Vali instantly come to mind. But borrowing motifs from nature for high fashion (or fast fashion) only works if the real-world blooms are protected, cherished and admired. This show was a gentle and useful reminder of where all that inspiration comes from. I recommend a trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory. You and your imagination won’t regret it.