In Montana, flower farmers and florists who adhere to the Slow Flowers mission have learned to broaden their definition of what’s seasonal. For Carly Jenkins, of Killing Frost Farm, a farmer-florist-forager based in Missoula, Mont., that means viewing every single gift from the forest as a design element.
Carly’s reliance on foraging was inspiration for her wearable botanical creation, which draws from design materials used to create her wildly popular “Game of Thrones” holiday wreath series. Her favorite ingredients are sheets of moss and patches of lichen in many shades from gray to green. When accented by glossy, chestnut- colored scales of deconstructed ponderosa pine cones, the gown represents a botanical palette unique to much of North America’s woodlands – the organic debris found on the forest floor.
Creating a wearable and attractive garment with such humble materials was part of the challenge. “At the same time, I didn’t want it to be too literal. I wanted you to look at this dress from a distance and see a beautiful textile rather than thinking, ‘Oh, that’s lichen in the shape of a dress,’” she says.
Carly began with a floor-length fitted sheath as the first layer and added a three-tiered overskirt to define the shape of her garment. She fashioned elbow-to-wrist “gauntlets” for the forearms and a cropped “shrug” to adorn the shoulders, upper arms and neckline.
“I definitely wanted to create a beautiful gown, but something that also felt strong and fierce,” the designer explains. “I was obsessed with how the gauntlets could look like armor. Rather than having beauty and strength be mutually exclusive, I wanted to see them together. To me, this look is a little ‘Joan of Arc meets Queen of Hearts.’”
In early January, Carly set out from Missoula, her car packed with foraged woodland materials, a six-foot roll of chicken wire, her tool box, glue gun and the completed gauntlets (look closely, and you’ll see how she glued hundreds of scales onto two black tube socks).
She brought along Katherine Sherba, of Missoula-based Mighty Fine Farm, with whom she co-founded the Westside Flower Market, a farmer-to-florist wholesale hub serving Missoula and beyond.
For two days, the women set up shop in space donated by the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, cutting, tearing and gluing pieces of acid green moss and verdigris-toned lichen, forming textural skirts, bodice and shrug. The lichen-adorned sheath fit close to model Berkeley Danysh’s body while the overskirt’s lovely silhouette was formed by chicken wire shaped with deep darts and twig dogwood “boning” to wrap around her hips.
“We had no idea how to tie on the outer skirt until the morning of the photo shoot,” Carly explains. “That’s when I grabbed rustic crown wire and wove it through the chicken wire, cinching it tightly around Berkeley’s waist.”
Embellished in layers of lichen, the shrug-style shoulder piece includes a standing collar that echoes the pine-cone gauntlets and conveys the impression of a female warrior’s “armor.” Carly finished the look with a dramatic, Medievalinspired moss wrap to frame the model’s face.
The setting at Old Goat Farm in Orting, Wash., is as mossy and lichen-clad as Carly’s fanciful woodland gown. As on most days during the Pacific Northwest’s winter months, it was drizzly and overcast. But through the lens of photographer Alex Brooks, the model, garment and setting exude a rich glow, perhaps from the mossy patina unique to time and place.
Floral Palette: Pacific Northwest-foraged moss, lichen and pine cones
Production support: Seattle Wholesale Growers Market (Seattle, Wash.), @seattlewholesalegrowersmarket
Designer: Carly Jenkins, Killing Frost Farm (Missoula, Mont.) @killingfrostfarm
Assistant: Katherine Sherba, Mighty Fine Farm (Missoula, Mont.), @mightyfinefarm
Model: Berkeley Danysh, TCM Models and Talent, tcmmodels.com
Hair/Makeup: Carly Jenkins
Photography: Alex Brooks @alex_brks
Location: Old Goat Farm; Orting, Wash.