This project started in lockdown with the opportunity to create the type of work I have been dreaming of for many years. I had the time and space to think about identity, beauty and really look at the nature around me in the Somerset countryside. I was drawn to the epithet of 'The English Rose'.
English Rose - a naturally beautiful woman of fair complexion from England.
That immediately grated and sent me looking for more ideas around this outdated epithet. As written by Lara Mcleod in her article 'The changing face of the English Rose' this is not relevant to England which enjoys a diverse range of skin tones. This inspired me to look at my idea of the English Rose.
The Rose - The Roses we love in the UK are from all around the world and always have been. There are very few truly wild roses and nearly all have arrived here having been cultivated by cultures across the world starting in China 5000 years ago. Something so synonymous with English identity is in fact international.
As people flowed around the world so did roses with fossils of wild roses which are thought to be 35 million years old found in Mexico and North Africa.
Today, Kenya is the biggest grower of roses and every country and region can claim their own rose important to their culture. Which makes using the world Rose to describe a beautiful woman pretty universal.
Historically words have often been introduced and faded away, the word Pink was only introduced in the mid 17th century as before the word Carnation was used. Which literally meant human flesh.
Similarly the words nude and skin color are irrelevant in our society where we all have different skin tones.
Femininity and skin tone - In historical art and culture, far far less often have Women of Colour been included as classical beauties in the same way white skinned women have. In fairytales yesterday and today the protagonists are blonde, pale skinned and blue eyed.
This time has given me the opportunity to read and learn more from the Black Lives Matter movement and books by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Layla Saad Now more than ever, I see the years of stereotyping of women and beauty according to race. The strong Black amazonian woman, the exotic princess of the Middle East and South Asia, the delicate timid Asian flower and the fiery Hispanic Senorita.
White women are considered raceless being given these and the all encompassing 'feminine' roles.
The style of dresses I love to create are unashamedly pretty and feminine. However, the word 'feminine' is just anther social construct, its a choice of style not to be reserved for a specific gender skin tone or body type.
I took for granted diverse representation in the fashion industry in my seemingly progressive bubble. In reality many BIPOC have shared experiences of exclusion from the mainstream ideal of what is 'feminine'. In ballet specifically just a handful of principle dancers are BIPOC and there has been an apparent laziness when it comes to diversifying a corps de ballet in ballets like swan lake.
This lack of diversity and traditional conformity only serves to regurgitate old ideas and make the classical arts die out.
To me designing overtly beautiful objects are my antidote to the ugliness I see in the real world. I take my visual inspiration from ballet costumes and classical portraits of the so called fairy-tale princess. Dreaming a new version of the English Rose inspired by Lara McLeod's article is what this is about.
Muse - Lockdown also brought with it the ability to afford a professional model of my choice, for the first time ever. I knew exactly who I wanted to work with right from the second I knew I could do some of my own portfolio work.
Sophia aka Velvet Jones was my instant muse, having worked with her before at Deadly I knew not only how stunning she was in real life but her professionalism and skill level was everything I needed. Sophia will be the one to create some beautiful portraits of the dresses with.
What is a simple idea about The English Rose has already lead me to more ideas on identity and culture which I hope to explore with more work.
This is just a start, they will on the surface still be pretty dresses and I am fully aware pretty dresses won't change the world. And maybe they can add one more second of beauty and respite.
'Rose tint my world keep me safe from my trouble and pain' Rocky Horror
Research and reading
Sleeping Beauty - Brothers Grimm
The idea of Beauty Today - National Geographic