People used flowers to decorate their bodies for centuries. They often showed up as garlands or posies. They smelled good and looked beautiful. It is only natural that textile manufacturers incorporated floral designs into their fabrics centuries ago.
The history of floral fabrics.
There isn't one specific place where floral fabrics originated. Instead, different regions found their own ways to integrate floral patterns into their fabrics.
Floral fabrics in China.
Flowers were often depicted on textiles used in China. The images were often bold and bright with intricate details. Peonies was a popular flower to adorn Chinese textiles and represented wealth and honor. The flower would regularly be accompanied by a phoenix. Together these images symbolized the 'king of the birds' and 'the king of the flowers.'
Floral Fabrics in Japan.
Floral patterns often adorned fabric in Japan. Flowers like chrysanthemums were used to embellish kimonos. The long, slender petals resemble the sun's rays, and the flower became a symbol representing the royal family.
Floral fabrics in India.
India is the home to the fabric that we call chintz – plain cotton fabric covered in elaborate floral designs. The designs were often printed onto the plain fabric by use of woodblocks. Images were carved on these blocks to create a stemple – much like the rubber stamps we have today.
The lotus flower was (and still is) a popular image depicted on textiles from the East. This flower is an iconic symbol in Buddhism – representing the enlightenment that one can achieve amidst the muddy and murky water of your life and physical surroundings.
Floral fabrics in Europe.
Floral designs were incorporated into fabrics in the form of lace in the 15th century. Exquisite floral designs were created by the lacemakers in Venice, Italy. These artisans closely guarded the secret of how they created these fabrics, which were exported to other parts of Europe. In the 16th and 17th century textiles decorated with tulips and pomegranates were brought to Europe from Persia by merchants from the Ottoman Empire.
Printed floral fabrics or chintz as we know it today, from the East were introduced to Europe in the 17th century by the East India Companies. Europeans did not know how to produce these beautiful textiles. The import of chintz and fabrics like it was banned in France and England for about seventy years because the popularity of fabrics from the East threatened the local market.
Still, during this time, floral fabric abound. Embroidered images of daisies, carnations, and roses decorated many pieces of clothing. At the same time, both original and reproduced pieces of chintz fabric were smuggled into England and France during the ban. Eventually, around 1759, local manufacturers learned how to manufacture their own versions of printed floral fabric. The 19th century saw a boom in the demand and production for fabrics with flower prints.
Floral fabrics were popular in the 1920s and 1930. It saw a rise in demand with the arrival of 'Flower Power' in the 1960s and early 1970s. Towards the end of the 1970s, floral fabric designs became smaller, more dainty, romantic, and feminine. The 1980s again saw a rise in bolder and brighter floral prints. Floral fabrics is a staple on the runway, with many fashion houses incorporating them into this year's collections. Fun and feminine, and bold and dramatic, it seems as if today's trend in floral prints is paying homage to all that came before it.