Romance and botany: two words rarely found in the same sentence, but there was once a time when the science of botany was so risqué that it was censored for women. Gardens and greenhouses became the enlightened woman's secret haven of discovery and temptation.
Messy Nessy Chic, an online magazine about nostalgic stories and surprising urban discoveries looks at how Alessandro Michele is bringing back the romance of botany in the Gucci Garden capsule collection.
What could possibly be so sensual about botany? A new wave of Enlightenment botanists were spicing up the study of plants in the 18th century, going as far as to juxtapose our own reproductive systems with plant anatomy, even comparing flower petals to bridal beds and leaves to bedroom curtains. Carl Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist described female plants as either virginal or promiscuous flowers that exuded a seductive scent, triggering birds, bees and butterflies to join in on celebrating her nuptial rites. Such lustful ideas were denounced by conservative society as “loathsome harlotry” and a perversion of the innocence of botany. The rest of society however, was fascinated.
Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, wrote The Loves of the Plants, a poem inspired by Linnaean’s teachings that would bring botany to the masses and serve as many a lady’s guide to discovering her own sensuality. While simultaneously raising anxiety surrounding female modesty, botany emerged as one of the most intriguing topics of the Enlightenment. Queens and Princesses were instructed in botanical illustration and plant collecting was encouraged by fashionable ladies’ magazines. Women’s clothing began reflecting the romantic science and flowers dominated silk fabrics of the 18th century. The greenhouse even became her beauty boudoir where she could pick out accessories for a growing hair fad incorporating anything from fruits, shells and artificial birds into her coiffure.
A new stereotype of the liberated bad girl botanist was born in the revolutionary climate of the 1790s. An innocent pastime for genteel ladies had suddenly become an indulgent and dangerous feminist movement that was making religious and conservative figures very uncomfortable. By the 19th century, botanical textbooks for women had been censored and sanitised, effectively silencing their voice on the subject. Botany, as it was known in the enlightenment, became a lost and repressed passion. In his Gucci Garden capsule collection, Alessandro Michele has dreamt of this forgotten garden, locked away inside a glass forest where something mysterious slithers through the ferns, wings are fluttering inside rose petals and there’s magic in the air.
1 ."Cupid Inspiring Plants with Love”, a plate from Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (1807), Wellcome Library
2. "Flora at play with Cupid "– frontispiece to The Loves of Plants, the second part of Erasmus Darwin’s The Botanic Garden (1789), Wellcome Library
3. A weekly journal for botany (1885)
4. Greenhouse, pictured in a weekly periodical on gardening (1888), Internet Archive Book Images
5. Fauna illustration (1806), “The British Miscellany: or, coloured figures of new, rare, or little known animal subjects, etc. vol. I., vol. II” by James Sowerby, The British Library
6. Extract from the book “Te Ika a Maui, or, New Zealand and its inhabitants” (1855) London
7. Girl at a greenhouse in the park of Trädgårdsföreningen, The Garden Society of Gothenburg, Swedish National Heritage Board
8. Fashion plate of French court dress (1778), Galerie des Modes
9. Parisian Ladies in their Full Winter Dress for 1800, exaggerated satirical caricature print by Isaac Cruikshank, 1799
10. Female botanist, Ruth Colvin Starrett McGuire (1893-1950), Smithsonian Institution
11. Botanic Gardens laboratory, State Records NSW
12. Greenhouse in New York, Library of Congress