I often share in my talks on fabric history and printed fabric styles that I’m utterly fickle when it comes to fabric. While I definitely have my preferred styles for decorating at home — mostly Palampores, Indiennes, blockprints, and other grandmillenial styles with origins in the 18th century — still, I love it all.
And here’s the confessional proof.
I even have a soft spot for the various forms of Flower Power design that sprang up in the 1960s, and really went wild in the 1970s. If I had a She Shed it might get the Flower Power treatment (as long as I also had a Mid Century Modern highrise, a naturalistic log cabin/treehouse, and a Scandinavian oceanfront glass masterpiece, too).
A girl can dream!
The Daisy Chain Gang
Flower Power is a style that’s enjoyed several retro throwback nods since the 70s and doesn’t appear to be leaving the scene anytime soon. I’m not sure I can predict that it’ll endure in the way Indiennes have. But no matter. Flower Power endures now.
The surprising thing for most folks is that Flower Power is about a lot more than the groovy caricature of it seen in vintage episodes of The Dating Game or filling out the sets of Austin Powers flicks.
Sure, that BIG DAISY look is part of the flower power aesthetic, including done up in garish neons and other over-the-top color combos. Flower Power is fun and funny in this milieu precisely for how hyper-caricatured it can be.
But Flower Power is so much more than that. So let’s put on our go-go boots and go tripping through this style to see what else it boasts.
Make Love Not War
Obviously florals have played a role since the beginning of any printed textiles as artists sought to depict beautiful aspects of the natural world. People have wanted to bring this into their homes since the first crude vase was fashioned and the first mosaics, paintings, and prints found their way into interior design.
What’s different about Flower Power was that it wasn’t merely a design aesthetic. Its design origins were rooted in a popular and widespread political moment when the notion of nonviolence was on the ascent, spurred in part by Allen Ginsberg’s use of the phrase for anti-war demonstrations.
Perhaps this is best exemplified in the iconic October 1967 photo of Jan Rose Kasmir, then a 17-year-old student, staring past the chrysanthemum in her hands as she faced a line of heavily armed soldiers amassed in response to nationwide Vietnam War protests.
This was a few months after the famous “Summer of Love” that gave wider birth to the brewing hippie movement, the rise of sexual equality and liberation, and the nascent Jesus Revolution, all three phenomena based on understandings of love, freedom, and respect. And all three rife with flowers!
Most things don’t arise out of a vacuum, however, with clear signs and signals before that pivotal year that people were groaning for nature and beauty and love…and flowers!
Against this backdrop, both before and after 1967, we see an increasing meditation among textile artists to produce floral works in both a naturalistic way and a more mod, stylized version that we’ve come to associate more singly with the idea of “Flower Power.”
By the late 1960s we were a good two decades into what has come to be understood as Mid Century Modern, with its bold abstracts, clean lines, and futuristic take. Within this, biomorphic design, or Mid Century designs riffing off of natural elements, were also present. And deep down this rabbit hole is where we find early artistic stirrings toward Flower Power.
The 1950s gave us a presage of the Flower Power to come in a bit of a twee fashion, what I often call “The Sandra Dee” moment of frilly drapes and big floral chintzes, some of which is hinted at in today’s grandmillennial style. Think Betty’s bedroom in Father Knows Best.
It’s fair to include these late 1950s roots in a more comprehensive view of the Flower Power design era because these motifs are revisited in the 1960s and 1970s with a distinctly different but related feel — exaggerated, abstracted, given over to new and often radical color combinations, and infused with the youthful bent that has come to characterize much of American culture since.
Love, Love Me Do
By the time of the Summer of Love the avant-garde, which would include a widespread youth movement of ordinary suburban dwellers among it, was up to its flower crowns and fringed vests in Flower Power of all varieties, not just the Austin Powers look.
Mom was redoing the house in Flower Power, too, steeping kids like myself, born in 1966, in a combination of naturalism, illustration, and psychedelia, as seen not only through mid market brands of the time like Bloomcraft, House N’ Home, Waverly, and Cohama, but also across the high end spectrum like Brunschwig & Fils, Greeff, G P & J Baker, Warner & Sons, Kravet and more. This is to say nothing of the smaller Mid Century boutique brands like David & Dash, Bob Collins & Sons, and S. M. Hexter, who were also churning out interior textiles that expressed this buoyant hope for a more loving future as symbolized in the glorious flower.
So what are we looking at in Flower Power that goes beyond the hyper active multi-layered daisy?
Flowers for Algernon and Everyone Else, Too
Riffs on old Indiennes means classic 18th century style flowers rendered in new and unusual illustrative lines, and often in psychedelic color combos, like this rare Paul Lázsló, titled “Canola,” out of Miami-based boutique firm David and Dash. Here the flowers are less finely detailed but are more muscular, making them more modern and subtly cheeky.
Cohama’s “Taj” goes this route and one better, really bringing the Indienne-meets-psychedelic vibe in a big acid-colored way.
Large-scale floral motifs in classical urns and with Renaissance-like styling such as might be seen in Victorian era pieces give way in the Flower Power moment to something more youthful and irreverent like this neutral mod tulip chintz by prolific 20th century textile designer Gabrielle Cie. In this particular piece there’s a clear nod to Marimekko styling, or the work of Finnish textile artists Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi and Maija Isola. Their playful, graphic, bold designs through Marrimekko influence much of the Flower Power movement.
Also active in the Flower Power era are slightly abstracted yet more naturalistic pieces, like “English Meadow” or “Wildwood,” both by Greeff Fabrics. Here you have the hippie aesthetic toned down to a back to the land feel as if Little House on the Prairie was transported to “The Farm,” where the natural birth movement was…reborn…and along with it, another hue to the nonviolence ethic and thus a more humane flower-filled world.
Yes, Flower Power does include the big daisy, and bold outline designs in its florals. Some examples include:
Then there’s also an abstraction on the defined daisy that’s less literal, more painterly, almost as if the artist dimmed their eyes for a hint at abstraction without going all the way as in this orange and brown floral scrap, this high fashion mid sixties take, or the roses-on-steroids in these 1960s curtains.
Even more micro-trends can be found in the Flower Power aesthetic, and a more comprehensive survey would dig in to far more artists who worked in the major fabric houses to bring the look into Western homes. A whole book could be written on it.
For now, suffice it to say that it’s not only the Laurie Partridge look or the larger-than-life daisy or the more cartoonish versions of flowers that are so often taken as the center of this aesthetic movement.
There’s so much more to Flower Power, in large part driven by the idealized ethos of the peace-seeking post-atomic age especially as realized in the 1960s and 70s and then brought into ready-to-wear fashion, interiors, stationery, typography, household products, and branding.
Given its uniquely expressive shapes, lines, movement, and urgency, Flower Power is an aesthetic that crossed the chasm from mere historic moment to a quasi-emblematic theme of hope and renewal, giving us a presence in the design pantheon that might be with us to stay.
The best of Flower Power is NOT retro re-dos of the style a la Spoonflower offerings, especially given that new manufacturing is not needed and hurts the environment by just creating more fast-fashion fabric destined for the landfill. The best of Flower Power is in the vast riffs on the aesthetic found in sustainable and history-preserving vintage examples that are widely available in the vintage market today.
Peace, love, and flowers, baby!
— Lindsay Curren, Lady Virginia Vintage Fabrics