At Palava HQ we are celebrating a two-week floral extravaganza! Join me for a look at the inspiration behind our designs, as I discuss florals with our founder and lead designer Bryony.
Flowers and botanicals are so often at the heart of everyday life; from the food and drink we consume and the beauty products we use, to the way we decorate our homes and fill our wardrobes. Flowers are also symbolic of many aspects of human relationships and the way we express ourselves creatively - we give and receive flowers to mark anniversaries and celebrations; and produce poetry, music and art that attempts to capture their natural beauty.
At Palava, floral inspiration comes in several forms. We make a point of decorating our studio with fresh flowers and have a rather impressive collection of house plants that add a natural splash of colour alongside our fabric swatches, notebooks and computers. This week, we chose shocking red gladioli.
In addition to surrounding ourselves with floral inspiration in the studio, our designs themselves frequently pay homage to the vibrancy of nature. Bryony initially sketches our prints with pencil, paper and watercolour. These are then transformed into detailed, colourful illustrations which are carefully printed on to cotton and linen, ready to be cut into dresses and skirts.
I sat down with Bryony over a cup of tea and asked her to tell us more about her creative process, hints of what she's working on next - and inside tips of where to visit to enjoy florals and green spaces throughout the seasons.
To start, can you talk us through why flowers and nature interests you as a designer? Are there certain flowers or places you return to for inspiration?
"Flowers offer such a wide variety of colour and texture, there’s so much to work with. I always seem to go back to my childhood as a starting point. Growing up in north Yorkshire I was very lucky to live very close to an amazing bluebells wood. When the bluebells are in season the ground is completely covered in beautiful, luminous lilac."
"Photographs never completely do it justice – but they offer a glimpse into the colour and the effect this has on the light and feel of the wood. When it came to designing our Bluebells print, I wanted to capture the stillness of the woods: the feeling of being completely surrounded by nature, lost in thought – perhaps the freedom you feel as a child."
"I’m also often drawn to wild flowers, growing in places they are not meant to - out of place with their surroundings. Foxgloves always seem to pop up on their own, often against quite bleak or homogenous backgrounds. The contrast and colour they offer is eye-catching and amplified. We tried to capture this in the Foxgloves print by choosing the stone-coloured natural linen. "
I’ve also been very inspired by herbaceous borders and some of the ingenious designs at places like the Chelsea Flower Show. As a design concept it’s the perfect match for one of our Palava specialities - the border print dress."
How you get from the idea itself to the print we see on the dresses?
"It can be a long time until something comes to fruition. I have a huge folder of photos and inspiration I work from. I’m always keeping my eyes open, always snapping away. I’m constantly thinking of where our Palava characters Poppy and Fred’s next adventure might be happening. When I have time I enjoy taking a little sketchpad into somewhere like the bluebells wood and begin the illustration in person; really trying to soak up the atmosphere of the place. I think that makes for better designs. Saying that, the bulk of the work happens of course in the studio, where I pin hundreds of floral pictures to my noticeboard for inspiration."
Floral prints are central to one of our latest collections - Chelsea Flower Show. Where else do you visit in London for your floral inspiration, and why?
“In summer, Regent’s Park - especially the rose gardens. I love learning the names of all the different varieties. It’s also a time to stroll and explore new green spaces – there’s always a new little square or garden I stumble across and discover. That’s the joy of living in a big city!
In autumn, Curve Garden in Dalston. It’s involved with various community projects, festivals and music nights, which make it a great space to meet new people in a unique, outdoors venue. At Halloween they do an amazing themed evening with pumpkin lanterns that I would recommend!
In winter, a walk on Hampstead Heath; the unparalleled views of London from Parliament Hill, the woodland, iced over ponds…I’ve walked there in the snow and watched all the trees and greenery cloaked in white. I love the way the snow changes the sound the place, muffling everything – it creates a beautiful quietness all around. The heath is probably the closest I can feel in London to the countryside where I grew up, because it’s so big you can almost get lost in it.
In spring, nothing beats the flowers at Kew Gardens. I am always inspired by their tropical greenhouses and the exotic plants - the inspiration to our Kew Gardens dress. There’s then the history of the place itself. Kew Palace was a favourite residence of King George III – the house serves as a kind of museum, documenting the time his family spent there. I also admire the scientific research that Kew produces and its commitment to protecting species of plants and flowers. It’s a gorgeous, picture perfect park but education and research are at its heart."
At Palava HQ we recently enjoyed some of your delicious homemade elderflower cordial. What are your other favourite floral flavours?
"Jasmine green tea is delicious and very soothing. In terms of home-made recipes, I recently grew some borage in my garden and have discovered its magical secret…drop it in your gin and tonic and see what happens! Food-wise, rose flavoured Turkish delight always hits the spot."
Which of the Palava floral designs from the Chelsea Flower Show collection is your personal favourite?
“The Chelsea Flower Show design itself. It’s really the essence of our company; the border print, and this was the perfect design to showcase that. I create a storybook for each collection and particularly enjoyed painting the illustrations and writing the story of Poppy and Fred getting up to all kinds of mischief. It's playful, colourful and fun - which is what Palava is all about. Plus, it features a topiary elephant!"
What’s next for Palava florals?
"We have so much in the pipeline! We’re quite floral obsessed and have designed three completely new prints for Summer 18 to add to our Chelsea Flower Show range. This includes a bold tulips print that we’re very excited about.
For Autumn/Winter 17, our popular Hungarian Flowers print will be released in a new colourway, giving it a very different feel - perfect for autumnal adventures!"
We hope you've enjoyed a little insight into the background of our floral designs and the ideas that spark our interest. As part of our floral celebration, we are offering 30% off our top five floral dresses of the week - for both women and girls. This includes the beautiful Irene dress in our Flower Garden print. Enjoy!