At the New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show, Female Designers Take Root


Like Olivia Rodrigo and Bella Ramsey, the annual New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show is turning 21 this year, which means it’s time to party. But orchids don’t thrive on shots of Casamigos (don’t ask how I know…), so a different kind of celebration is in order: an over-the-top exhibition at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory called “Florals in Fashion” with installations from designers Hillary Taymour of Collina Strada and Olivia Cheng of Dauphinette, plus late night dance moves with the International House of Miyake Mugler, and sponsorship from storied Parisian perfumer Guerlain.

“Orchids are the divas of the flower kingdom,” says FLWR PSTL (Kristen Alpaugh), an artist and botanical expert whose work is also featured in the show. “Orchids refuse to perform on demand, which makes some people afraid of them. But what’s unique about them is that they have perfect symmetry. I have a very refined eye when it comes to flowers, and the way their petals mirror each other is truly amazing.”

FLW PSTL a.k.a. Kristen Alpaugh

NYBG

How did the creators make magic without falling into the “florals for spring” trap that’s anything but groundbreaking? “I realized, going into it, that orchids get a lot of acknowledgement for being sensual and dangerous, but not too much for being strong,” says Taymour, who created a series of living, blooming outfits for the show. “Orchids are incredibly willful. They know how they want to grow.” For the exhibit, Taymour built giant pastel creatures (“Not one specific animal—they’re more nuanced than that”) with wide-leg pants made of succulents, and a spiraling gown crafted with fuchsia blooms. Look closely and you’ll notice a bio-silk purse with a toothy clasp that resembles Audrey Two from Little Shop of Horrors.

Collina Strada by Hillary Taymour

NYBG

“I used to wear orchids in my hair for photo shoots,” adds Cheng, “and we used one in the Dauphinette perfume campaign shoot, so they’ve always been integral to the brand. But I didn’t want to go the whole ‘superbloom’ route with my designs, because that felt too obvious,” she explains. “Instead, I was like, ‘What can we do with very arid plants and grasses? That pushed me to think differently about how we use gardens as inspiration. It doesn’t just have to be blossoms everywhere.’” Instead, Cheng wove a series of tillandsias, or air plants, into a bikini top and let her signature lampshade corsets get literally bugged. “Jewel beetles are symbiotic with orchids, and they’re often part of Dauphinette designs,” she says. “It’s the idea of taking something a little creepy and turning it into the most gorgeous thing. Nature does that a lot.”

Dauphinette by Olivia Cheng

Dauphinette by Olivia Cheng

NYBG

Dauphinette by Olivia Cheng

NYBG

Orchids have long been fashion fuel—remember when Halston spent a reported $4k per month on his pots? But this current moment feels particularly heavy on the Georgia O’Keeffe of it all. Alexander McQueen’s most recent collection boasts orchid intarsia knits and beadwork; Lady Gaga wore one of the brand’s orchid-embroidered gowns to the Maestro premiere in December. Versace’s resort collection is orchid-themed, and Carolina Herrera’s new jewelry offerings are gold-dipped orchid blossoms. (Gild the lily, but make it fashion?) Skims’ latest limited-edition colorway is a vivid pink called Neon Orchid, and of course, Tom Ford’s famous Black Orchid scent continues to dominate Sephora searches. For $16.50, shoppers can score a pair of teal orchid-print socks at the Botanical Gardens themselves.

FLWR PSTL a.k.a. Kristen Alpaugh

NYBG

As for the real deal, FLWR PSTL says they’re not as hard to keep as you’d think. “They’re good without a water source for a minute. The blossoms last a long time. You can take the roots out of the moss, and they’ll be super happy for a whole week and you won’t have to touch them,” she says. The artist describes her piece as a queen called “The Regina” who contains both male and female parts, much like orchids themselves. “The Regina symbolizes prosperity, good luck, and the conclusion of a chapter. I spent my childhood on the East Coast, but I’m not a child anymore…These orchids hold the colors and the joy that I want to take with me into my next chapter.”

“There’s definitely something magical about them,” says Taymour, when asked why fashion keeps coming back to the fussy-but-stunning flower. “I walked into the Botanical Garden space, and it was so warm and quiet, like the orchids had their own planet.” Her designs, she notes, are meant to tell us that we’re on Earth’s turf, and not the other way around. “The orchids remind us that we’re the aliens here,” she says, “and the orchids make the rules.” And also, the dresses.

The Orchid Show: Florals in Fashion runs through April 21 at the New York Botanical Garden. Tickets and information are available at NYBG.org.





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