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Wild & Cultivated: Fashioning the Rose Online Exhibition

The rose and fashion are inextricably entwined. Roses, like fashion, are a luxury and they are ephemeral. They are both ‘shown’ seasonally, their appeal is multi-sensorial, and they each incite passion and obsession. In this online exhibition to accompany Wild & Cultivated: Fashioning the Rose, we explore how roses interact with the dressed body – in fashion, costume, and every-day dress, as well as the ways roses inspired some of the contemporary artists shown in the exhibition.

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Supported by David Austin Roses


Curator Amy de la Haye and designer Simon Costin introduce the exhibition.


Birthday roses. Postcard, colour-tinted photographic portrait, French, 1920s.

Poses with Roses

Ornamenting the body with roses dates back to at least ancient Egypt. In Ancient Rome, a culture that adored roses, it was men who wore perfume, wreaths and garlands made from roses. It was not until the nineteenth-century, that flowers became gendered as feminine.

From the 1860s, studio portrait photography became widely accessible, but remained a special occasion for which people dressed and posed with care. Today, surviving portraits reveal how roses were worn, employed as studio props, highlighted by using coloured inks and painted onto otherwise flowerless portraits. Many of these photographs show women wearing a rose corsage (a flower and foliage composition pinned onto a garment) which would have been made by a specialist florist or artificial flower maker. Button holes, worn by men were simpler to make, comprising one or more roses and buds with some simple foliage, usually fern.

Birthday roses. Postcard, colour-tinted photographic portrait, French, 1920s


Rose Queens

The culture and flowering of roses has been celebrated since at least Ancient Roman times, when the lavish Rosalia (also known as rosatio, meaning rose adornment) carnival was staged. And, rose growing nations have held various themed events ever since. From the 1880s, the rose queen festival, mostly held in June, became a major annual event in towns and villages across the UK, especially in Lancashire – known as the red rose county, following the Wars of the Roses (1455-87).

Rose queen festivals share similarities with May Day, which originally marked the dawning of the Celtic summer and fertility rites, but – like many British ‘traditions’ – was re-presented by the Victorians. Like the May queen, her rosy highness was chosen for her scholarly and/or religious diligence, popularity and/or beauty.

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'Queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls, Come hither, the dances are done, In gloss of satin and glimmer of pearls…’ - Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘Maud’, 1855

Femme Fleur

Acclaimed photographer Tim Walker’s modern rose femme fleur exemplifies the theme of this exhibition – the fashioned rose, wild and cultivated. Roses radiate throughout Walker’s work. Other fantastical compositions encompass romantic, culinary, domestic, fairy-tale, beauty, queer and surreal roses. In this film, Amy picks out a historic example of a femme fleur with an edgy twist.


Anne Tomlin: Roses of Velvet and Silk

Former milliner Anne Tomlin specialises in hand-made flowers crafted in silk and velvet. For Fashioning the Rose, Anne created two roses; one wild, one cultivated:

“It was curator Amy de la Haye who asked if I would make the roses for the exhibition after we had magically found each other on Instagram. I already had the framed dog rose, which was perfect for this, and I set about to make a cultivated rose with prickles to contrast with it.

I used silk velvet for this rose to emphasise the deep rich red colour that, to me, has the appearance of velvet. It took many layers of dye to reach to required tone, leaving brighter pink edges for contrast and refraction of light. The prickles are made from sculpting paper clay and then each one is made smooth with fine sandpaper…”

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Rose Couture: Comme des Garcons and Alexander McQueen

The rose and its savage prickles – a conjunction of opposites – have inspired fashion, textile and accessory designers for centuries.  These exhibits, which date from the 18th-century to the present day, variously communicate the look and feel of roses. Once a fashion mainstay for spring and summer, roses are now shown year-round within an industry, and to a clientele, that has become global in its reach. Since c.2010 the exquisite fragility and paradoxical beauty of the rose, with it’s potential to rupture and draw blood, has been harnessed by an increasingly politicised fashion industry.

RW6XY3 Paris, France. 04th Mar, 2019. Alexander McQueen runway show during Paris Fashion Week, AW19, Autumn Winter 2019 collection - Paris, France 04/03/2019 | usage worldwide Credit: dpa/Alamy Live News

The late Lee Alexander McQueen might be described as fashion’s rosarian and Sarah Burton, the current house designer, shares his passion for roses. This striking garment, with its silk  satin rose peplum, formed part of a rose-themed collection. As it combines elements of tailoring and dressmaking, and was conceived as gender-neutral, it was called ‘Hybrid Rose’. We are exhibiting an example of this model which has been worn and lent by fashion writer Alex Fury.

Alexander McQueen designed by Sarah Burton, wool and silk satin, Autumn/Winter 2019. Photograph © dpa


Simon Costin’s The Nightingale and the Rose Necklace (1989)

Based on the children’s story by Oscar Wilde, the necklace was designed to inflict a considerable amount of pain on the wearer, to mirror the pain suffered by the Nightingale as she sang through the night with her breast pierced by a rose thorn, in order to create a perfect rose for a feckless young poet.


Andrew Groves, painted sheepskin coat, Spring/Summer 1999 & Autumn/Winter 1999-2000

“The coat was originally a plain white sheepskin coat shown as part of the S/S1999 collection ‘Cocaine Nights’. The following season, the coat was spray painted black and hand-painted with roses in various colours. These were intended to resemble faded circus side stalls. The roses embodied the concept of dying love. The coat was then shown again at London Fashion Week in February 1999 as part of the Autumn/Winter 1999-2000 ‘The Diaspora’ collection. The runway presentation drew inspiration from travelling circuses, sideshows, and Romany travellers and was intended to evoke the backstage of a travelling circus somewhere in Eastern Europe. (Simon Costin [exhibition designer] produced the runway set!)” Andrew Groves

Coat borrowed for exhibition from Fashion Museum Bath. Photograph: Bloomsbury Fashion Central


Stephen Jones ‘Museum in a Hat’ (2008)

“My friend Stephen Jones made this stove pipe top hat for my 2009 caravan tour of the UK which publicised my ongoing Museum of British Folklore project. It is a museum in a hat. The painted roses are in the style of Rose and Castle barge painting. Many believe that Romany peoples introduced this to the UK in the 1850s, when they started working on the waterways.”


Phoebe Cummings: Ephemeral Flowers

Ceramic artist Phoebe Cummings uses raw clay to create fragile sculptures of plants and nature that, much like the subjects they are modelled after, will eventually crumble in time. For Fashioning the Rose, Phoebe made a delicate rose study:

“I have always had an interest in nature, but also in design and ornament and the way we adapt, interpret or stylise nature. My work centres around time, I connect deeply with the way a garden is never still; it is always playing with past, present and future, there are cycles and every sense is activated…”

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Women’s Social and Political Union lapel pin (1916)

The rose has long been used as a symbol of political protest. Here the pink flower design contrasts sharply with the stark declaration that marked the hunger strike by suffragettes held in Holloway women’s prison (London). Their crime: protesting for the right for women to vote.


Puff Pastry Apple Roses by Ceri Jones, Food Learning Officer

“Eating roses is not the immediate thing that springs to mind when admiring a bouquet or garden of them, but they have for centuries made their way into cuisines all over the world, offering a sweet, floral note. Best not to eat directly from the garden though, unless you’re certain they are pesticide free. Instead opt for roses and associated products such as rose water or dried rose petals prepared specifically for eating.

As well as desserts and spice mixes my research led me to many ideas for making food to look like a rose, which I think, is a fun way to look at the concept. I discovered a recipe for a traditional Russian rose bread and was happily reminded of the Italian rosette bread rolls we used to eat for breakfast on holiday in Italy with my family. Then, there are these beautiful puff pastry apple roses.”

How to Make Puff Pastry Apple Roses

‘Not all Roses are Romantic’ was performed as part of London Craft Week 2022 at the Garden Museum.

The performance and installation explored the three phases of both a woman and a rose: the bud, bloom and fade. The piece explored empowering women at all stages of their lives and a defiance against ageism, the history of the rose and the environmental implications of our desire for cut roses all year round. Artist Jo Cope in collaboration with Amy de la Haye, Shane Connolly and Xristina Prompona.