In my past life, I worked in luxury goods, not the first choice for someone who loves plants, but needs must. One company I worked for, though, told of a particular relationship between designer and flower which really stood out to me: that of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel and the camellia.
Despite my love of plants, I had never thought twice about the signature white flower on the fashion house’s carrier bags or the brooches worn by their sales assistants, thinking it was little more than an empty symbol. It was only when I dug a little deeper I found out the real history behind Chanel’s favourite flower.
The young Coco Chanel was an unconventional woman of the time, headstrong and confident, charming and artistic. She admired the heroine of the book La Dame aux Camelias and, much like the lead character, she took to wearing the white flower, a symbol of purity and longevity in Eastern cultures, demonstrating a pure heart.
Conveniently, the camellia flower also lacks any scent, perfect for the woman who created the most famous fragrance of all time, Chanel No. 5. She could marry the flower and her signature scent perfectly.
Interestingly, when it came to creating a new fragrance a few years later, Chanel chose to use the gardenia for inspiration.
It’s hardly surprising, considering the plants’ similarities: both have stunning white flowers, glossy foliage and work perfectly as a buttonhole, yet the gardenia makes up for what the camellia lacks – an intoxicating fragrance. The scent is still available today, almost 100 years after its creation.
Fashion is not everyone’s favourite thing. Neither is gardening (they’re missing out!). What is fascinating, though, is seeing the enduring popularity of a woman’s love for her favourite flower and how, a century later, that passion lives on.