The Power of Wearing Flowers

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The Power of Wearing Flowers

At left, a headpiece of aspidistra leaves and lily of the valley by Brooklyn artist and floral designer Joshua Werber (on Instagram at @joshuawerber ) is paired with leis by Maui-based Lauren Liana Shearer ( @hiflorafauna ) made of white crown flowers and scarlet Ixora blossoms. At right, a crown of dracaena leaves and purple clematis accompanies Shearer’s leis strung with octopus tree berries, Sodom’s apple and ice plant, a succulent. Photograph by Gosha Rubchinskiy. Styled by Mel Ottenberg THREE YEARS AGO in China, in an inexplicable trend that swept the country, tiny bean sprouts started rising from people’s heads, their delicate, unsteady stems like green antennae, seemingly borne not from the dirt but from the mind. Little tulips, poppies and chrysanthemums soon followed. For a moment, it looked as if humans had suddenly been given the power to erupt into bloom. But the plants had no roots; they were made of plastic and affixed to hairpins. The fad quickly passed. There was something rebellious about that flora popping up en masse in China’s hyper-cities, wobbling over the heads of crowds like a garden taking to the streets — a protest, however unconscious, against the receding natural world. Some 5,000 miles away, in the wilderness of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, nomadic tribes still string veils of blushing pink buds, twist grass into shaggy wigs and wear single, giant leaves as skullcaps, as they have always done. According to the photographer Hans Silvester, who documented the tribes in his 2008 book, “ Natural Fashion ,” the decorations are swiftly made and are as much practical as pretty, shielding their wearers against the relentless sun. A headpiece of “Monarch Parrot” tulips created by Werber, and, in the foreground, a lei made by Shearer from Norantea guianensis, more commonly known as the red hot poker vine. Photograph by Gosha Rubchinskiy. Styled by Mel Ottenberg A towering mask of lemon, peach and coral-colored poppies by Werber with a succulent ring by the Australian botanical artist Roz Borg (@arozona). Indeed, long before makeup or millinery or jewelry, our first adornments were plants and flowers, and our love for them was — and is — universal. Perhaps we have never known better. But how and why we wear them has shifted over the years, from the laurel wreaths of the ancient world, bestowed on victors (and deemed so necessary to the functioning of a martial culture that Darius III of Persia, in the fourth century B.C., kept 46 men employed just to weave them), to the floral crowns donned by animists in medieval Europe to dance around maypoles and welcome spring. During the eighth-century Tang dynasty, the emperor would ask his concubines to tuck flowers in their hair, then release a butterfly into the crowd; the woman it landed on would share the emperor’s bed that night. No wonder Christians in early modern Europe and colonial America were so suspicious of blossoms’ associations with pagan symbols of fertility. Nevertheless, they soon co-opted them to represent chastity: […]