How the Daisy Came to Represent Optimism In Fashion
From youthful innocence to countercultural ideals, to anti-capitalism, the flower has seen, and represented, it all.
“Fresh as a daisy,” jokes Rachael Getner, a print and graphics trend editor at Fashion Snoops, when I ask her about the return of the playful flower I’ve been seeing everywhere lately. In September, variations of the loopy petaled plants appeared on sustainably-minded brand Collina Strada’s farmer’s market turned spring/summer 2020 runway show while Sandy Liang sent models down the runway wearing nude mesh pieces stamped with her signature black flower symbol.
Marc Jacobs, whose famous “Daisy” perfume remains a best seller since it launched in 2007, closed out New York Fashion Week with an optimistic collection that included a happy red dress with a white collar and daisy flower applique. Then there’s stylist and designer Emily Dawn Long who airbrushes the loopy flower onto cargo pants while designer Alexa Stark has been drawing a version onto tights and white athletic socks. The floral icon has also been spotted on beaded purses by brands like Pura Utz and Susan Alexandra. Plus, outside of the fashion world, newcomer Squish Beauty has been making fun blemish patches in the shape of flowers with rhinestones at the center. For today’s beauty-obsessed youth, it wouldn’t be at all strange to wear the colorful patches out of the house. But why all the daisies all of a sudden?
“The flower has long been associated with a new beginning and the naive innocence of youth,” Getner says. “Shakespeare described Ophelia’s purity in Hamlet as he used a daisy to represent her sweet morality, making the florals synonymous with a pure, wholesome quality.”
Beyond this, flowers in fashion go way back, originating in China in the 12th century when costumes were embroidered with elaborate florals, spreading to Japan and other countries in the East. Floral fabrics were later seen during the Middle Ages when fabrics from the East arrived in Europe. From there, Italian weavers figured out how to make their own floral fabrics while different kinds of floral prints came in and out of fashion across Europe.
It was in the 1960s that French designer André Courrèges chose a daisy as his motif. “The flower is associated with the creations of Courrèges and it became the symbol of the takeover of youth,” says fashion historian Audrey Millet. “When [English designer] Mary Quant and her husband bought a shop on King’s Road in London, she chose a black daisy as her logo, which would become her emblem.”
According to Getner, it was during this time that the daisy became a symbol for “the soft stepping counterculture” as viewpoints were clashing and a radical revolution was happening. In those days, flower children—young adults who were also called hippies—promoted peace and love through their fashion, music, and anti-war protests, all while the Vietnam War raged on. A single photograph captures this sentiment perfectly. Taken by Marc Riboud in 1967, “The Ultimate Confrontation: The Flower and the Bayonet”, the image features then high school student Jan Rose Kasmir who comes face-to-face with a group of armed troops during a protest at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Holding up a flower while the soldiers prepare their weaponry to shoot, Getner believes the picture “poetically captured the peace sign in a new form as the flower became the symbol for the anti-war movement.”
In those days, flowers, more specifically, the daisy came to represent a non-violent resistance, which is an attitude that strongly resonates with our current circumstances as the potentiality of the United States going to war with Iran is unfortunately not very far-flung. “The daisy returned in the 90’s with a mod revival and has again swung back into recent designs as we continue to feel a deep nostalgia for the familiar,” Getner confirms. “As we slip back and regress into anger-fueled wars brought on by a global unrest of unfocused agendas, the symbolic daisy sparks a peaceful hope for a new generation.” A crop of emerging designers are tapping into these ideas by referencing the daisy in their work.
“Gifting flowers is historically understood as the ultimate expression of love and appreciation,” explains artist Joey Scher, who makes resin daisy earrings under the name Joey Shares. According to her, flowers have been a part of gift-giving since the 19th century. “Because of the ephemerality of enjoying a bouquet of flowers, I want my earrings to be something permanent that holds the same warmth and specialness.” She also thinks that people are drawn to wearing flowers like the daisy not just because it makes them feel nostalgic, but because it makes them feel cherished, happy, and beautiful. “For me wearing flowers makes me feel like I am part of a bouquet or feel like I am the bouquet! There is something so pure and delightful about it…it brings me the same comfort in the experience of picking flowers in a garden or drawing flowers with crayons on paper.”
With an Instagram account filled with nods to the daisy including layered daisy scribbles, daisy sequins, and even a random bottle of soap she discovered with the flower on it, womenswear designer Grace Ok’s agrees that the plant represents a child-like spirit and also points out its connection to femininity. “Femininity doesn’t have to be defined by one definition…I believe everyone has a special daisy in themselves,” she says, remembering the daisy crowns she made from her grandparents’ garden as a child. Creative Brooke Callahan agrees that daisies symbolize innocence and nostalgia, but she believes the daisy is “a classic shape” that is “truly genderless”. Making daisies charms out of glass and uses them to make bolo ties, hoops, and beaded necklaces, Callahan says that although flowers are often considered symbols for femininity, she doesn’t think this is the case with the daisy. And this is a fact she considers when designing her collection. “I want my pieces to resonate universally.”
Melly Lym, a ceramicist who goes by the name “Malang Malang”, makes cheeky vases, mirrors, mugs, and more that feature doodled bugs, cherries, hearts, and daisies. Lym, who incorporates colorful plastic beads and chains into her designs almost as if she’s giving her ceramic pieces their own jewelry, says it was her grandmother’s childhood adoration for the flower that inspired her to use it in her creations. “My ceramic work focuses on bringing back the playfulness from people’s childhood,” she says. “It means a lot to me to include my grandmother’s childhood in my pieces and seeing people enjoy my work makes me happy.”
Noa Rennert, who makes bright, collage-like t-shirts and sweatshirts that all encompass the daisy, believes it represents freedom, sexuality, and nature. “It brings hope and escapism for more honest and positive eras.” Then there’s designer Bonnie Robbins, whose brand is called “Daisy Chains”. Melting different colored beads into daisy designs and turning them into chokers and earrings, Robbins says our universal feelings of anxiety have inspired the rise of the daisy. According to her, “it has evolved to represent the added values of the time; sustainability in living, harmony with nature, and equitable distribution of wealth so we can truly live together and manifest peace.”
Ultimately, it’s really no wonder daisy-like designs have returned. “Daisies tend to represent childlike simplicity and nostalgia, especially when presented in cartoon-like icons as seen on conversational prints and as a fashion emblem,” offers Hallie Spradlin, accessories director at Fashion Snoops. The symbol fits perfectly with the bigger wave of nostalgic, joy-infused, child-like fashions we’ve been seeing returning as of late, including charm bracelets, scrunchies, jelly sandals, and outfits that resemble looks a kindergartener might put together (think lots of layers of colorful, mismatched pieces all in one look). “The bright colors and simple lines are easy to visually digest and are always associated with optimism.”
There’s also the fact that the flower’s name means ‘day’s eye’ because it opens to the sunlight while Millet calls the daisy the “anti-capitalist” flower. In this way, the daisy simultaneously represents nature as the opposite of capitalism and yet, it is capitalism that has caused nature to suffer by over-consuming its resources. In this way, these designers, whether intentional or not, are also speaking to the complicated emotions we collectively feel for our dying planet.
Still, the fashion historian believes the daisy retains highly symbolic value and this will only continue with time. “Simple, white and young, they grow easily and require no special care. It emphasizes youth, freshness, and even frivolity.” As the flower signifies much more than it’s sweet petals, in fashion, it’s a warm, lighthearted antidote to the growing sense of dread and unrest, giving us a temporary sense of positivity and whimsy. While the daisy can’t save us from the climate crisis or anxiety we feel about the state of the world, wearing one on our chests or our sleeves might make us feel a little better, even if just for a few minutes.
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