Couture goes green at conservatory fashion show

Surrounded by exotic flowers and willowy palm trees,  guests at Friday's "Fleurotica Botanical Fashion Show" sipped cocktails to the sounds of crickets and a jazz band.

Outside the air was cold and bitter. Inside, at the Garfield Park Conservatory at 300 N. Central Park Ave, tropical humidity was in the air as 400 guests previewed the latest in fresh-cut fashion.

Fresh picked evening wear. / Photo by Matt Whitmire

On the runway, entire outfits, including wraps and hats, were not only inspired by, but in most cases completely constructed from flowers, plants and leaves.

The show was part of the Conservatory's year-long centennial celebration.

A series of events, called "Chicagoasis," is designed to get Chicago residents involved in the Conservatory, a revolutionary structure when it was built in 1908.

"It was one of the first places to have the displays set up as a landscape," explains Melanie Harding, an Andersonville resident who serves as program developer for the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. The Alliance works to raise awareness and appreciation of plant life.

Proceeds from the $75-$150 per ticket fashion show will go to fund future events at the Conservatory, which are usually free.

A reception preceded the show, and guests wandered through the conservatory's themed halls.

At 8 p.m,. the doors opened to Horticulture Hall, where lush floral arrays served as the runway backdrop.

A model struts in fashion created by Chicago-area florists. / Photo by Matt Whitmire

When the show began, all eyes turned to the stage as models moved down the runway in one-of-a-kind living fashions.

The Alliance worked with Chicago-area florists and students from the School of the Art Institute's millinery department to create the show.

Eia Radosavljevic, the Art Institute's headware instructor,  oversaw the work of 12 students, who used plant materials supplied by the Conservatory to create the show's unique headwear.

The ensembles ranged from dresses made of moss, orchids, tea leaves, lilies and ivy, to cascading and oversize headpieces inspired by plant life.

An evening gown leaves an impression. / Photo by Matt Whitmire

An elegant evening gown called "Going Green," made entirely of green flowers, drew enthusiastic applause. Also popular was a 1950s-style skirt made of tea leaves.

Elizabeth Gabel, an Old Town resident and a Ford model,  strolled the runway in a dress made by florists from "Hello Darling," a Chicago-based floral and event styling company.

"It's really high-end floral couture," Gabel said.

Micaeh Johnson, a public relations representative for the event, says the hope is that such events will help draw visitors back to the Conservatory. "This is something on the West Side that is so untapped," she says. "It's important for the culture of the city."

Other upcoming events include a historical "Conserve-a-Story" exhibit which opens April 10 and a  centennial birthday celebration April 13. 

Both events are free. Visit for more information.