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May 9, 2013 Volume 34, No. 30

Student models and designers ring in spring and raise awareness of Mizzou Botanic Garden with plant-themed fashion show

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FLOWERS AND MYSTERY MU senior Molly Akin modeled a magnolia-themed dress inspired by the long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote at the April 18 Plant Fashion Show. Photo by Rachel Coward.


The counterintuitive combination of plants and mystery stories sparks design creativity

Rose is headed down the runway.

“Despite thorns, roses have been man’s favorite flower since the beginning of time,” Bill Ruppert announces into the microphone. “Roses need at least six hours of sun each day and plenty of water, but nothing is more glorious than a bush in full bloom, as they are especially fragrant.”

The model carrying the potted rose in front of her dress pauses at the end of the runway. The crowd admires her outfit and the way its sunny yellow hue complements the rose’s pink. She twirls and struts off. 

The rest of the flower fashion models parade out after her and take a bow.

This was the Plant Fashion Show on April 18 in Memorial Union. Eight textile and apparel management students in the College of Human Environmental Sciences designed garments using flowers as inspiration for the show, which was attended by about 80. 

To ring in spring, the flower fashion show paired each plant with a television, movie or book series characters to fit the year’s theme, “Taking the Mystery Out of Plants.” 

The viguiera, or goldeneye, suggested the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye. Senior Sara Kahrs designed a tight black pinstripe dress to fit any Bond girl.

“Like Mr. Bond, the viguiera sometimes goes undercover for parts of the year, like many plants can,” Ruppert announced after the model left the stage.

With each plant and design, Ruppert, an MU landscape coordinator, offered plant knowledge, trivia facts and tips for helping the flowers grow. For instance, tomatoes and potatoes are both considered nightshades, in addition to the purple and yellow flower, and blue anemone provides a nice contrast in gardens bursting with pink, red and purple.

Taking part in the event was Elaine Viets, BJ ’72, writer of the bestselling mystery series Josie Marcus: Mystery Shopper. Viets provided comic relief and fashion commentary before Ruppert’s horticulture-heavy material. 

“I was hoping to come to Missouri and see spring,” said Viets, referring to Columbia's string of rainy days. “But I missed it.”
The Mizzou Botanic Garden exists year round, even in winter when most plants are dormant. The fashion show aims to inform and remind the community that although they might not always be aware, they are surrounded by strategically placed flowers and unique plants.
“It’s an awareness effort to let students and the community know that when they are on campus, they are on a botanic garden,” said Karlan Seville, communications manager of Campus Facilities and the event’s organizer.

Although educating the community is the show’s principal goal, the original concept wasn’t to promote the botanic garden. 

Landscape Services’ staff attended an annual trade show last year that featured a plant fashion show to flaunt new flowers. In that show, the models wore only black. But it planted a seed in the minds of Campus Facilities staff.

“We took their idea and decided, well, we’ll do the plant fashion show theme, but we want to work with Textile & Apparel Management students,” Seville said.

For the first show in January 2013, students chose among 40 plants and then structured their designs around their selections. For this show, the pop culture characters and flowers were already paired together, and students could pick their inspiration. 

Junior Nathan Roberts paired the birds of paradise flower and the 1980s TV show Miami Vice, starring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. The tropical flower complemented Miami Vice’s luxurious Florida lifestyle and chic clothing. “I obviously really wanted to do something really bright,” Roberts said. 

He ended up with an orange and purple blazer dress with shoulder pads. “It’s a take on the power suit,” he said, “in a more sexy kind of way.”  

In addition to the Florida power suits, Roberts made a clear vinyl jacket and satin cocktail dress — inspired by Mulder and Scully of the X-Files TV series and the nightshade flower. 

The jacket idea came from the stars’ signature trench coats and the dress’s purple and yellow color scheme from the nightshade. He’s most proud of the vinyl jacket. After getting used to sewing the stiff vinyl, Roberts said the jacket was his favorite creation. “It ended up coming out really chic and good,” he said. “Even though it put me through hell, I’m happy with it."

Seville hopes to make the flower fashion show an annual one. The awareness it raises and the opportunity it provides to students fits with the garden’s education mission.

Much like the budding student designers, the show is only beginning to blossom.

— Ashley Carman