When you have occasion to tuck up your shirt-sleeves, recollect that the way of doing so is, not to begin by turning the cuffs inside-out, but outside-in—the sleeves must be rolled up inwards, towards the arm, and not the reverse way. In the one case, the sleeves will remain tucked up for hours without being touched; in the other, they become loose every five minutes.
- The Art of Travel: or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries by Francis Galton, 1855, p. 134
It was obviously hard work being a Victorian era E-X-P-L-O-R-E-R. (To his credit, Galton also addressed savages, management of and bones as fuel.) Bitten by the bug of curiosity about distant lands and facilitated by telegraph technology and the ability to travel by snazzy new steamship, a "golden age of inland travel" flourished during the reign of the English monarch Queen Victoria (1837–1901).
All things abroad were enthusiastically embraced by adventure-loving souls desirous of shaking off the shackles of "an increasingly ordered, regulated, and unmysterious way of life." And in their place: fiery fever, partial blindness and paralysis, hallucinations, swollen tongues that made it impossible to eat. If you were lucky. Unlike the unfortunate French naval officer who was captured by tribal warriors in Zanzibar, tied to a tree and his limbs hacked off, one by one. Followed, finally, by his head.
For the siren call of travel also beckoned to many women.
Marianne North of Hastings, an aristocrat born to a member of parliament in late 1830, was a devoted painter of flowers. After her father died in 1869 leaving her independently wealthy, she began to pursue a long-held ambition: to head to distant countries and paint the flora.
In 1871, she journeyed to Canada, the U.S. and Jamaica, followed by a year in a Brazilian forest. After some months in Tenerife in 1875, she spent two years painting in California, Japan, Borneo, Java and Ceylon. 1878 was spent in India. Charles Darwin suggested she visit Australia, which she did, along with New Zealand. 1884-85 was spent in the Seychelles and in Chile. She passed away in 1890 in Gloucestershire, where she was buried.
After exhibiting her work in London, she offered it the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. They were so thrilled, they erected a new gallery to house her work in what is still "the only permanent solo exhibition by a female artist in Britain." Because of the scientific accuracy with which she documented such diversity of plant life before photography became practical, her work is considered particularly valuable. (photo of Marianne North)
(Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens via source)
Her intrepid spirit, too - having inspired fashion designer Erdem Moralioglu for Spring 2015. He channeled North with quilting, demure high necks and mid-calf hems, elaborate broderie anglaise and for more "casual" looks, what could once have been a crocheted tablecloth. And of course, florals, florals and more florals.
"Trapping something wild," the designer worked his magic with raw-edged tweeds, sandals by Nicholas Kirkwood that snaked up the leg, chiffon pieces into camo'esque patterns, a riot of embroidery sprouting cockerel feathers and dense thickets of fronds. "The effect was lavish, but eerie," observes fashion writer Tim Blanks who focused on the "incipient chaos" of the collection. "Like fashion voodoo. With Erdem as high priest."
Lush greens, feathery texture and architectural greenhouse lines completed this gorgeous collection which makes the memory of Marianne a fresh treasure for new millenium explorers to discover. Keeping vital memories of the past alive and making them relevant for the future is a key characteristic of the Folkspun Fashion Tribe. For more of my posts and podcasts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.
- Lesley Scott