Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Today, in a rhapsody of enthusiasm for Florence + the Machine's new album Ceremonials, I thought I'd take a look at her style and what makes her so great, to me at least.

First, a disclaimer, I'm a redhead: so it may not be a surprise that I find Florence Welch to be an inspiring creative modern woman. I grew up in the 90's, on the coast in Australia, where, culturally, the only thing worse than being a redhead was being....inbred? Albino? Of racially ambiguous hertiage? It was best if you were blonde and preferred homogenous surf-wear. Ginger Spice was a red as it got, in a sea of blondness.

So I love the revival of varied fashion that has a real preference for individual styling and expression. This has allowed red hair to get a bit of air time, with the resurgence of redheaded iconic women: from La Roux, Christina Hendricks, Amy Adams, Isla Fisher, Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, to Tilda Swinton, and even Lindsay Lohan has given red hair a whirl. These looks often hark back (except La Roux) to the glamour of early 20th C cinema: Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers et al. 

What I love about Florence is her redhead style. Its a bit vintagey: Rolling Stone's - style floppy hats, manly jackets, velvet, chiffon, pretty prints and corduroy. We all wear that stuff, but she rocks it. And her hair is essential to pulling it off. Its her signature.
I like especially, that she is not pretty about it. Beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder and those who rant about her manliness confuse me because she is so goddamn stunning. No, she's not frilly, not pretty, not girl-next door and thats why she sounds powerful, and writes powerful music, and has something to say.

 The best development by far, I think,  is what I'm calling her Pre-Raphaelite look. 
This is perhaps the look which is generating confusion in those who cannot process women who look anything other than cute.

Her look for Ceremonials promotional material is stunning: mature, strong, metallic and dark. These images are so reminiscent to me, of the Pre-Raphaelite works by artists like John Waterhouse, (Lord) Frederic Leighton, and Rossetti. These masters painted figurative compositions combining elements like water, armour and diaphanous fabrics with mythological subjects, to create the over-blown beauty that was the classic Romanticism of the Victorian period, at its best.

Beata Beatrx (1864-1870) Gabrielle Dante Rossetti

Mermaid, 1900. John William Waterhouse. 

Flaming June, 1895. Lord Leighton.

The Lady Of Shallot, 1888. John William Waterhouse

The overwhelming difference is that all the pre-Raphaelite women are subjects, in the most passive sense of the word: Florence Welch is definitely not. She possesses each image she is in, and is not there for the viewer's sake, thank you post-modern, post-feminist world.

Below are some of the excellent, pre-Raphaelite, images from Florence's facebook, and websites. 

Her hair and make-up is key to creating this look, it's capturing this neo-Romantic mood perfectly: pale, flawless skin, grape-stained lips, and deep, brown- shadowed eyes. The look verges on illness, but it's tragic-heroine potential is mitigated by the luminous shade of her hair and the lusciousness of her costumes. These garments reference the shapeless, glittering, clinging, often sheer shifts of the pre-Raphaelites, which in turn are imitating the classical style of the Greeks and ancient myths they were illustrating. 

The other part of her appeal in theses images, and what makes them arresting, is the androgyny of face: She is clearly a beautiful woman, but there is a gender paradox in the planes of her face that create edginess: a sharpness that stops her from looking like an old-fashioned damsel in distress. This modernises her styling. She makes something that would look fussy on a pretty woman, look bold and exciting, because she is not predictably feminine.

Florence's ability to carry this look and make it contemporary is essential: she is an icon for me because she walks the line between referencing and copying. She takes the reference she connects with (1970's rock and roll, vintage, drapery, Romanticism), and makes it modern and her own. She is not scraping off her nose and bleaching her hair and dressing in Gucci, in order to sell her music. She is trading on her unique looks, not homogenising them. 
Whilst a strong look is an essential marketing tool, I think the enigmatic nature of Florence's face and styling, which plays off her androgyny, is a beautiful reflection of her music: it is lofty and theatrical pop music on grand scale. How can that be?! The historical references in her music (arrangements and use of evocative instruments like the harp), are mirrored perfectly in her styling (Romantic make-up, heavily embellished costumes, armour, drapery, candlelight) for this album, and emphasise her unique-ness as an artist. 

As a sucker for anything vaguely nostalgic, I just am thrilled to see the pre-Raphealites re-surface in this most modern of interpretations. I hope more people will look out for style references that compliment their own looks, instead of just following the dictates of broad fashions.
Flo is the perfect example, and she makes pretty awesome music too.


  1. This is a perfect article for me, as a massive fan of Pre-Raphaelite imagery and Florence's music and look. Beautifully written too.

  2. I am glad to see someone else making this connection. I was beginning to think my admiration for the Pre-Raphaelites was getting out of hand. Nice Post.