The first thing that comes to mind when we think of William Morris is his trademark wallpaper that adorned the houses of grand Victorian townhouses. The English textile designer was the proponent of the English Arts and Crafts Movement in the 1880s, and has in fact proven to have brought much more to the design world than simply decorating the walls of our dining rooms.
Many of Morris’ designs enjoy a beautiful medieval touch, however his primary inspiration was nature. His sources were plants themselves, observed on country walks as well as in 16th-century woodcuts and textiles. Yet his designs did not stay true to the natural forms he found in his gardens. Instead, he created his own, beautifully stylised variations, winding vine and flora embroidery into fine ornamental illustrations.
Sure, floral prints are nothing new in fashion, but Morris’ distinct take on the traditional patterning has steadily crept onto the catwalk. Drawn to his unique vision, we’ve seen the fashion world adapt Morris’ rich colours and textures into bold and dramatic designs that we clearly just can’t get enough of.
The fascination began in the 1960s, with the rediscovery of Victorian artists such as Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris. The dandy-esque boutique “Granny Takes a Trip” swiftly opened its doors to reveal an eclectic blend of the vintage with the psychedelic. One of their most iconic garments was the William Morris chrysanthemum print jacket designed by John Pearse in 1967. It was flaunted by the fashionable likes of John Lennon and George Harrison as well as rock bassist Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Things were quiet on the Morris front for a while, until the 80s exploded into a melange of prints and patterns. The decade brought new bold takes on the look with a distinctly Club Tropicana feel, as seen in Norma Kamali 1980’s tropical print rayon jumpsuit.
Prada explored Morris’ spikier, more dramatic fern and willow designs in 2003 with a gorgeous autumn winter collection. Then in 2008, Marios Schwarb introduced the artist into his designs with an unusually dark spin that left many of us pondering it all in awe. His Fall collection featured skin tight dresses with fabric that seemed to peel off the models’ bodies, revealing fragments of, what on close inspection, were William Morris prints mixed with pornographic prints underneath.
The National Portrait Gallery opened a new exhibition in 2012 dedicated entirely to William Morris, instantly renewing, and escalating, the Morris trend. Since then, designers have turned frequently and without hesitation to the archive of Morris textiles. The Jigsaw design team were first in line. Picking out the Brother Rabbit print, one of his lesser known designs, they transformed it into an elegant capsule collection of pieces of bomber jackets, tailored trousers and opera coats.
A year later, designers were hot on the growing trend. Ostwald Helgason’s Fall 2013 collection was ripe with Morris influences; green and golden fabrics floated along the catwalk like lush winter thickets, infused with a subtle tint of medieval-inspired, regal glimmer. Valentino too embraced the look for their Fall collection, welcoming a range of capes and dresses that blended wintry brambles with sweet fairtytale charm.
As the blustery winds of the next autumn season arrived, a lingering appreciation for Morris’ designs followed in its midst. Mother of Pearl introduced a Fall 2014 collection that made us fantasise about ancient castles from a time gone by, while Louis Vuitton turned to nature with an array of trousers and skirts adorned with Morris’ more playful illustrations.
Thankfully, this year isn’t letting go of the hold on the trend, as Harper’s Bazaar brought out a special William Morris March Edition just in time for spring. But we can still look forward to some gorgeous autumnal looks thanks to the Marc Jacobs Fall 2015 collection. And although the influence couldn’t be clearer, it’s a truly unique and innovate take, intertwining Morris’ designs with funky boy blazers, punkish plaid and spiky, studded finishes.