How to Create Wearable Floral Haute Couture

Creating floral couture for mannequins and creating fresh flowers designs someone can actually wear? Two very different things. Wearable floral couture has to be light. There’s no water source. And the attachment mechanics are far more demanding so flowers and sleeves don’t fall off! Last week’s IDEA Weekly blog discussed techniques for designing flower dresses for stationary display. Mechanics included thoroughly soaked blocks of foam garland—the boa might have weighed 40 pounds! This week, we explore tips for designing wearable fresh flower haute couture: which fabrics work and which don’t, which glues to use and which to avoid, whether to start with a pre-made garment or make your own and more. Our guide? Smithers-Oasis Design Director Laura Daluga AIFD.

Why become a fashionista of wearable floral art?

While most trend-setting fresh flower dresses are created for public exhibitions or fashion runways, designing wearable floral couture can promote your daily business. Place floral couture designs in your store windows, display coolers or social media posts to catch the eye of potential customers. Teach in-store DIY wearable flower art design classes and offer the necessary materials to bring new clientele into your store. Use petal-wear to challenge your own creativity! “To create wearable floral art, you have to think like a craftsman, a sculptor, a seamstress; not just like a florist,” says Laura, adding, “you also need a backup plan.”

Start with the fabric foundation

Laura shared her technique for creating the petal-perfect dress she once designed for the Garfield Park Conservatory’s Fleurotica. She offered practical advice you can use to create your own flower fashions. When constructing walkable couture from fresh flowers or foliage, your first step should be to form a sturdy fabric foundation. Many designers prefer working with a pre-made garment. The lines of the design are established and the materials are simply glued, stitched or stapled into place. Simply choose a garment made from a fabric sturdy enough to hold its form under the weight of the flowers. Laura likes to sew the dress foundation of her runway designs from a simple dress pattern using felt in the same color as the finished garment. Why felt? “It's easy to sew, it takes just a few layers to build up to a sturdy form and Oasis floral adhesive loves it!”

Determine applicable materials and design techniques

In this design, Laura developed a pattern of horizontal lines by layering (placing like materials on top of each other) the rows of rose, hybrid delphinium, lisianthus, Ranunculus, dusty miller, stachys and silverleaf Leucadendron petals in gradient color. Laura learned by experience the necessity of overlapping materials to allow for shrinkage as the flower petals dehydrate. She selected materials that could dry and hold their shape since the design was to be displayed after the event. “It dried beautifully and I'm happy to say it's still on display at the Anna Held Floral Studio in Chicago,” says Laura. Using zippers, not snaps or Velcro, to construct the garment helps give strength to the design and support the weight of the materials. “Always bring a stapler,” she suggests. “Mine has saved me more than once.”

Glue petals in place

[rev_slider alias="create-wearable-floral-couture-1"] “Now that we've got several floral ensembles under our belt, I can say that I've used lots of different adhesives: spray glue, UGLU, E6000 craft adhesive and floral adhesive,” says Laura. When gluing fresh product with floral adhesive in the studio she uses cans. Onsite she uses tubes. “We will typically work all day on the gluing the day before the show, store the dress in a walk-in cooler, working in a humid space the whole time and finally spraying it overall with a fine mist of Crowning Glory.” “Give yourself plenty of time,” advises Laura. “We have shortened the process of applying fresh product down to under 25 hours, but it has taken us a while to get here.” These dresses are heavy, cumbersome and sometimes itchy. “Wait as long as you can before putting your model into the dress so they will look fresher on the runway,” she advises. Laura suggests misting the dress with finishing, preservative and anti-desiccant sprays after the show, to prevent shattering of the piece as it dries.

UGLU is another alternative

Flowers can be glued into place with floral adhesive or UGLU can be applied to the dress fabric and fresh flowers pressed into it. When I was incoming president of the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD), I wore a dress to the Leadership Gala with a bodice covered in fresh orchids held in place by UGLU. Caution ladies! I came to the humorous realization that the extra depth of flowers added several unexpected inches to the waist. LOL. Choose your fabrics carefully. UGLU is unlikely to adhere properly to a fabric with a slick nylon or shiny finish. Another problem is that a flimsy fabric will not support the weight of adhesive and flowers. Select fabrics that offer a firm foundation with the combination of a good fit, sturdy composition and textural surface qualities to support a UGLU or floral adhesive. And test early so you have time to make changes if needed.

Many options

The inability to sit down in an all-floral dress may restrain its use for practical wear, but there are less limiting options. Fresh flowers can be applied in increments to bridal gowns or fashionable wear for special occasions. Consider flowers on dress sleeves, hemline or a dramatic neckline. Add delicate blooms inside the deep pleats of a skirt or down the train of a dress. A fresh flower belt might be the perfect accessory for an haute couture outfit. The options are limited only by our imagination. Floral enhancements can also accessorize personal jewelry, shoes, purses, or headwear.

Top it off with a great hat!

[rev_slider alias="create-wearable-floral-couture-2"] “I created the hat the model is wearing from Midollino,” says Laura. She soaked the sticks of Midollino in the sink with warm water. Working atop a glass head form, she knotted and looped the wet noodle-y Midollino around itself. She started at the crown and worked in clockwise loops until she had the desired size and shape. When the Midollino was dry and set in its form, she attached the fresh material with bind wire and floral adhesive. “This was a total experiment for me, made on a lazy Sunday afternoon while I got caught up on my favorite anime,” she says.

Her best advice?

“Leave the hot-melt glue at home!” Laura says. “We once saw a designer applying flowers to a model dressed in a bodysuit. Needless to say, she can count the burns.” The big reason to avoid hot glue is that it doesn’t hold well to fabrics. During one runway show, a model’s dress had cap sleeves made with aspidistra leaves. At the end of the runway, she put her hands on her hips and her sleeves popped right off! Hilarious for the audience, but the dress designers were beside themselves! 'What’s going to pop off next!?” they worried.

Laura’s biggest challenge—and favorite response?

Laura’s biggest challenge is to bridge the gap between concept and reality to bring her idea to life. “I have so many impossible dresses I want to construct,” she shares. “Finding out which ones are feasible and then how to make it functional and wearable is a huge part of the design process.” “My favorite response to a flower dress was the one I made with the Ohio State University ATI first- and second-year students,” remembers Laura. “We worked all day as a group on a long-skirted red-rose-petaled dress, a dusty miller bateau top, wide-brimmed sun hat and floral flip-flops.” The student designers were focused and their hands made light work of the floral fashion. “During the inevitable photo shoot, students from all parts of the ATI building viewed the design and were enthralled,” she recalls. “Suddenly, the floristry department was the coolest place to be,” says Laura. “It was fantastic!” Design and display wearable floral art to make your floral business the coolest place to be!


Mechanics, mechanics, mechanics! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. This is a wonderful, instructional blog.
Kim O'Brien Jones AIFD December 18, 2019
Very beautiful, Laura, as always. Very informative blog. I may try my hand at a floral couture dress for a window display….
Lori December 18, 2019

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