The rose has been associated with everything from debauchery to purity. Joobin Bekhrad explores the myths and meanings behind one of fashion’s favourite motifs.
“It might well be said of this beautiful flower, that nature has exhausted herself in trying to lavish on it the freshness of beauty, of form, perfume, brilliancy, and grace.” This is how Charlotte de la Tour describes the rose in her famous book Le Langage des Fleurs (The Language of Flowers). In it, the rose occupies a central and almost hallowed position. Her sentiments were nothing new; before the publication of her book in 1819, the rose had – for millennia – been prized for its beauty, both aesthetic and olfactory. Like de La Tour, the Greek writer Achilles Tatius called the rose the “queen of flowers” in the second century AD, and to Persian poets like Hafez, its loveliness was unrivalled. And the rose continues to be strongly associated with beauty today, as it does with love; but within its folds lie many other connotations, some of which aren’t as rosy. Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion, an exhibition at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, explores the myriad meanings of what is perhaps the most symbolically rich – and controversial – flower, not only in fashion but in everything from mythology and literature to religion and politics.