Words and Photography by Yael Cohen
My favorite floral dress was an accidental buy. It was purchased many summers ago and still, it holds. It holds the memories of that summer we drove cross country with your car barely making those steep hills, when we huddled around a bonfire and it took two washes to get rid of that small smoke. It traveled with me to different continents, to the two countries I call home. It has a thin fabric, soft to the touch. Adorned with an all-over floral pattern, pale slate and red roses to be exact, it has a fit and flare cut, wavy at the bottom, sleeveless at the top. That floral dress imparts, this is June to September, this is warmth, this is my favorite memory of you. I haven’t worn it since last spring, but there is a certain comfort in knowing it’s a door away, in my bedroom closet filled still with winter coats, because who here in New York City has extra closet space. Tucked away between a kimono and a jumper my sister gave me, sits comfortably an idea indebted to humid pillowy air: A floral pattern saying, ‘Here, this’ll put some color in your cheeks,’ here is summer in fabric form. It’s the closest I’ll get to that fleeting feeling of endless sun. I’m jonesing for more.
“That floral dress imparts, this is June to September, this is warmth, this is my favorite memory of you.”
That a camouflaged summer went on for what felt like a span of years, the beat of the day shifting from weeks to months in a constant bustle of attention directed everywhere, I noticed a continued shift to the subject of mobility; confusion, canceled trips and plans became part of the jargon. I called upon the web of former summers where the sweet hum of cicadas, the clinking of wine glasses, and long lavender nights with friends, cooking together in tiny kitchens in soft dim lights, were the norm. When the lone solace of staying indoors is the AC working tirelessly to offer some kind of reprieve (which kind, I am not entirely sure) it’s that spirit of the floral dress I miss most. Its palpable, itinerant presence tearing down the wall of the unattainable and desirable, in turn making everything appear hazy and nostalgic. How can summer be over when there are still moments to be had?
In the many attempts for summer escapism, I picked up William Eggelston’s book of portraits, the warm hues of the south, burning reds and yellows, signifying quintessential summer. I flipped through and came across a photograph of a long-haired girl laying on her back on the grass. Her dress takes over the majority of the picture plane, and there it is again — the gleaming, the cotton candy, and the plodding of the floral; the print on the dress seems as though actual roses are making their way out of the ground. Bright and mauvish-crimson. The unfading colors in the photo are mesmerizing, a trait that goes hand in hand with an Eggleston image (partly due to his unique color developing method, the dye transfer.
“Eggleston color” is a familiar phrase often used by directors when instructing cinematographers — think Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides). The photo has a magenta undertone, a color accent of a thin violet layer that saturates the entire frame. The girl’s lips, her strawberry blond hair, shimmer with a rosette hue. Dividing the frame in half, the buttons on her dress create a straight line down, a symmetrical X-shape is formed by the tilt of her head to the right and the stretch of her arms to infinity. The camera’s soft focus on her resting head across the fitted dress distills the sultry feeling of summer of time suspended. Framed from overhead, it is an evocation of lazing away, in the taint of placidity, a crystallization of an abstract idea of carefreeness that is accessible through the deployment of an aesthetic, that of a dress and its powerful appeal. It is almost too much to look at.
“How can summer be over when there are still moments to be had?”
In some sort of magical realism moment of a rather ineffable situation, in which the plot of our lives does not follow a typical narrative arc with a clear beginning, middle, and end, the idea that a floral dress in its beguilement can provide access to respite has a strong and effective pull. A powerful and delighted escape, gamboling in meadows and grass and flowers, it’s a notion of emancipation, to indulge in fantasy dressing up and, hey, acting out. It could be that my mind is just clouded, that the perpetually of-the-moment idea of the dress seems that more romanticized simply because it is distant. I try to conclude what it says about this particular summer — its limitations — its inertia, seems currently unfitting.
My intention was not the weaving of sartorial vocabulary imbued with spark and elan, but rather the delving into the allure of the floral dress as it has always carved a space in the summer wardrobe, its spirit as light as air. To expand on the dress’s established motifs is to locate newfound meaning between fantasy and escapism, the link between mobility and possibility, and the tension between who we are at this moment, where we are heading, and who we want to be as we choose what we wear and face the world. When there is so much convulsion and change in the air, the compulsion to think about space, the possibility of occupying it freely — no mask, just sun — the floral dress stands in as a commitment to providing a morale boost, an insouciance sensibility, an optimistic, laid-back attitude, perhaps? So if I say summer to you, I make a conscious effort to stare down at this illusion, trying to decide whether it is the window or the mirror. Above all, I try to decipher the carefree feeling this fabric — this dress, this season — is unwaveringly trying to emit, compared to the uncertainty of the future, compared to dissonant continuous living.
“When there is so much convulsion and change in the air, — the floral dress stands in as a commitment to providing a morale boost, an insouciance sensibility, an optimistic, laid-back attitude, perhaps?”