Dress Code: Flora


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.

Anna Held Floral Studio Design

Anna Held Floral Studio Design

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.


About Anne Langbein

As a former Manhattan-based women's apparel buyer for companies like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, Anne Langbein brings industry insight and styling experience to her fashion writing for TCW blog “Chic Chicago.” She has consulted as a stylist for individuals and corporations and is the creator of the popular fashion and beauty website Defining Delphine, a blog that seeks to inspire women as they define their personal style.