'Though lovers be lost, love shall not'.
Dylan Thomas, And Death Shall Have No Dominion, 1933.
The connections between our contemporary lives and our heritage lay at the heart of my design inspiration for Agnes Walker. One hundred years have now passed since the ending of the First World War, and momentous change has occurred in all areas of modern life. Yet there is something powerful in looking back to look forward. I wanted to commemorate this moment by incorporating the emblem of the red poppy – a symbol of persistence and renewal – in my Bloom collection. Here's a little preview of the new designs, presented now as we reach the landmark of a hundred years since the first Armistice Day, in a moment of reflection and remembrance.
Our relatively recent history has long fascinated me, with early twentieth-century British History becoming my specialist area of research while an undergraduate at Cambridge University and a doctoral student at the University of London. The culture of this period continues to intrigue me and its imprint on my design aesthetic is clear. I couldn't allow this poignant anniversary to pass without marking it in some small way.
The backdrop is the beautiful Bignor Park in West Sussex, an eleven-hundred-acre Estate situated at the foot of the South Downs. The setting is peaceful and majestic with incredible views of the surrounding countryside. Tucked away down an impressive half mile long drive, it has a majestic but understated style, and the prettiest apricot-hued neo-classical mansion at its heart. Bignor itself played a part in Britain’s Great War story by turning part of its ground floor into a Red Cross hospital, run by its widowed owner, Mrs Josephine Johnstone, and supported by two trained nurses and Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses from local villages. By the end of 1918 there were 55 beds, average occupancy was 34, and 381 patients had been treated. Mrs Johnstone was awarded the OBE in 1918 for her work at Bignor Park Hospital, which closed in January 1919.
Our images are set within the formal Dutch Garden at Bignor Park, with its old box hedges, and perennial flowers, and the nearby greenhouse, with its tunnel of laburnum. Both areas feel intensely private and created the perfect ambience.
One of the first parts of the aesthetic jigsaw of the shoot to fall in place was the attire: the exquisite ‘Edith’ ensemble by Jo Fleming - a French lace and silk organza fitted blouse with an elegant high neck, pleated yoke and covered buttons, paired with a silk/linen damask box pleated skirt, with a lace high-waisted lace detail. Its late Victorian/Edwardian references totally touched a chord with me, chiming with my love of pre-raphaelite art and design, and rooting the shoot in the era of the Great War.
I did not want the shoot to be totally located within a historical framework, however. Remembrance Sunday is a commemoration of lives lost, or forever changed, by conflict from the 1WW to the present. I hope we get a sense of this ‘agelessness’ in the beauty look of our model, the work of hair and makeup artist Carolanne Armstrong. While the deep red lips are evocative of the opening lines of Wilfred Owen’s 1917-18 war poem, Greater Love,
‘Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead’,
we deliberately sought a fresh and modern look. Carolanne captured my moodboard musings perfectly, describing the style as ‘painterly anti-perfection’. Inspired by abstract, conceptual fashion images, combined with her love of watercolour effect makeup, the colour application was designed to look like a wash or stain, ‘with no hard lines for a romantic but contemporary feel.’ This ‘poppy face’ is, for me, one of the reasons why the images are so compelling. Model Lucie’s luxurious red hair was parted in the centre and swept off the face with two twists, which provided the perfect base for the group of red Poppy Bloom hair combs set on either side. As with all our Bloom designs, these flowers are individually handmade from wire mesh, shaped into petals and combined with Swarovski crystal beads and pearls stamens.
The Red Poppy story is just one element of the shoot at Bignor Park. The new Bloom Collection will launch early next Spring, with a broader range of floral and leafy headpiece designs, which I look forward to sharing in due course. But for now, I just wanted to pay my own small tribute to those who fought and lost their lives.
Concept and Art Direction, Abby Gadd
Photography, Photography by Bea
Hair and Makeup. Carolanne Armstrong
Gown, Joanne Fleming
Headpieces, Agnes Walker
Model, Lucie Hartman via Bookings models, @lucie_hartman on Instagram.
Venue, Bignor Park