"Flowers, flowers, always flowers". The creation of our beautiful FLEUR pattern from our Love in the Afternoon collection has been a real labour of love and has consumed our world for over half a year. I say 'our' world because this creation really has been a collaborative process with many trusted people in my life. From my 6 year old daughter modelling the floral fabrics tucked into her school skirt to late night zoom calls to drunken dinner parties being overtaken with fabric sample displays and floral interrogations, the FLEUR pattern has real heart and soul poured into every petal.
I've had the desire to create a floral print for a while but wasn't entirely sure exactly how I envisioned the finished design looking. I had considered the idea of a ditsy floral but I knew instinctively that I wanted to create something much stronger and more impassioned. Something expressive and a real signature of summer romance. I reflected upon my favourite ever floral which was to be found in my beloved vintage floral skirt; the skirt I was wearing the night I met my now husband back in 2004. Though entirely different in tone and palette to the Love in the Afternoon floral, I had loved my skirt pattern for its floral chaos and wildly romantic feel. It was vintage when I bought it in 2003 and it was very bold and unique for the time's fashion. I distinctly remember a taxi driver suggesting it looked "like a pair of old curtains" which I was, of course, delighted with.
And so with this in mind, I set the Olana floral design brief:
"Wild Romance: English country meadow meets charming French jardin"
I am incredibly lucky to be very good friends with a supremely talented artistic duo; The Gentle Sisters. Victoria (Gentle), the co-founder, has been my best friend for almost 2 decades and her sister, Amanda (Gentle), is a celebrated artist and florist in the Wiltshire region of England. An artist and an actress, joined in sisterhood, with a passion for building magical worlds, the Gentle Sisters cultivated their artistry and flair through a childhood filled with forest foraging, handmade theatre sets and endless countryside adventures. Between them they worked harmoniously to realise the artistic vision for Olana's first ever house floral. With her eye for delicacy and artistic elegance, Amanda hand-sketched the most perfect balance of wild and romantic. With her rambling wild roses, blousy peonies and sprinkles of blue blossoms she delivered the most perfect expression of wild romance.
Victoria, who is the digital artist and has the best eye for formations and design I know, crafted a palette and pattern that would translate into print beautifully. Though this sounds quite simple, I was completely surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of work and hours this actually consumed. Endless hours of positioning, repositioning, colour checking, colour re-checking, adding flowers, taking away vines, scrapping and re-creating - often into the dead of night. Once we felt we had mastered our perfect pattern we were then faced with the print sampling process where we discovered that each print run and each fabric presented completely different colour results. Our pretty blush peonies came out bright peach in one sample, red in another.
I have to be honest and say that at times, I felt completely out of my depth and wondered if I'd set myself an impossible mission. Suddenly the ditsy design didn't seem like such a bad idea. I knew this entire collection had a summer deadline and with the way the floral design had evolved, I was incredibly tight on time. I even remember one night having the conversation with my husband that the floral collection may have to be launched in summer 2023 instead. But we persevered and we trusted in the vision we had held onto so tightly for over half a year.
The floral pattern had taken months longer than I had anticipated and so we were in a very tight spot for launching the collection this year. I still hadn't physically put my hands on the perfect sample yet. Though I believed in my gut that we had finally created the perfect composition, we had no time for the 2-3 week fabric sampling process that was required to check and ensure the pattern was perfect. We were faced with a decision; either let go of the idea of the floral for 2022 or take a giant leap of faith and trust that the experience and knowledge we had gathered over the past six months would result in the perfect fabric being achieved. So with butterflies fluttering in my belly, I took the leap of faith and ordered 50 metres of floral fabric to be crafted by express service.
There wasn't a doubt in my mind as to where the Love in the Afternoon collection campaign should be shot. It had to be France. I had considered the sweet village of Saint Paul de Vence in the South of France - steeped in history of art and frequented by artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Chagall in the 20s, it seemed like the perfect backdrop for the floral work of art that the Gentle Sisters had created. But the truth is it was proving incredibly expensive to fly the photographer and my family out there (I planned to shoot the Little Olana range on my girls) at such short notice. My husband then raised the idea of Issigeac - the most charming, fairytale French village we had visited the year before as a family - my entire body covered in goosebumps. That holiday had been our first holiday as a four, our first escape out of lockdown and one of the most treasured memories I had. It was entirely perfect and it felt completely right. C'est bon!
And so with just five days to ensure receipt of the perfect floral fabric, four days for my incredible dressmaker, Emma, to craft nineteen garment samples (I made the decision very late to duplicate all pieces in black too - just because we weren't under quite enough pressure!) and book our location and model, as a team we worked day and night to realise the vision.
After a week of intense planning and sleepless nights, I distinctly remember the feeling I had as I stood in the heart of Issigeac looking at the beautiful vision of Sarah (our French model) wearing the floral Clémence dress. I could see that the photographer, Emily, had realised the vision for Love in the Afternoon to an absolute level, in a way I didn't even think could be translated so precisely. I was completely overwhelmed in that moment.
I hope you feel, as I do, that the journey has been so worth it. For me, this floral print is pure poetry. Unique yet oh so familiar, it evokes feelings of nostalgic romance and old world charm whilst retaining a sense of modernity and freshness. Hand-sketched and as delicate as the flowers themselves, our FLEUR print fuses beauty and artistry together to create something I believe to be truly special.