Tropical flora has long been a recurring motif in Spring/Summer and Resort apparel collections, though it’s certainly had its moments of being cracked down on by the fashion police. (The Hawaiian shirt, after all – especially when worn in concert with a big camera, big belly and big mouth – has become synonymous with the obnoxious American tourist abroad.)
And yet tropical prints do suggest the heaven on earth that awaits us as we get in the vacation spirit, donning the (precious few) adornments that naturally accompany an equatorial getaway. On the S/S 2012 runways, from New York to London to Milan to Paris, designers were positively obsessed with tropical plant life. And in a season of rampant florals, many of the most interesting of these let the flowers take a backseat and focused instead on the palm fronds.
The obsession began in New York, with Altuzarra, Proenza Schouler and Jill Stuart each carving out a little slice of tropical paradise. It continued in London with Basso & Brooke, Willow, Issa, and Peter Pilotto. In Milan, the motif thrived with all of the heated luxuriance of the late Italian summer – Alberta Ferretti, Blumarine, Missoni, No. 21 and Salvatore Ferragamo all threw down, and you could practically smell the sensuality steaming off those dresses. And finally, in Paris, Tsumori Chisato brought her customary irreverent humor to the trend while Dries Van Noten gave it a dose of intellectual esteem.
What drove these designers to go all South Pacific on us? Is there really something more to palms than vacay? Certainly there are all of the references of antiquity – the Roman tradition of laying palm fronds at the feet of victorious returning warriors, mirrored in the return of Jesus to Jerusalem marking Palm Sunday; the palm carvings that marked Solomon’s Temple; the belief that Muhammad built his home of palm. But was it the intention of these designers to evoke the religious or the spiritually victorious through these tropical prints? I found it unlikely – there was not much sense of sacred gravity in most of these riotous jungles, though there was some serenity to be found in Van Noten, No. 21, and Willow.
Struggling with the meaning behind the palm craze, I packed up and shipped off to Treasure Island, the man-made island poised halfway between SF and Oakland in the San Francisco Bay, to vacation (f0r a day) at the Treasure Island Music Festival. Little did I know that I would find myself suddenly (and strangely) surrounded by palms. It was as if the universe took pity on me, recalling that it had been a number of years since I had visited Tulum or Hawaii or any other tropical place. Give that poor deprived San Francisco girl some real live palms to look at, for god’s sake!
So while Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand yowled hauntingly from the stage, my eyes fastened upon a single David Lynch-like palm, lit from behind by the West Coast sunset, looking for all the world exactly like the image on the Willow tee above. And all of a sudden it was like I was there dancing in my own little beach house with my own little palm that reached up so high to the heavens, and I was smiling to myself because I remembered why palm trees are so freaking cool – they’re just not afraid to reach as high as they possibly can and then explode into a comically muppet-like jumble of fruit and flower and leaf – an unlikely spiritual warrior if ever there was one. Would that we were all so brave…