A colourful vibrant styled photo shoot featuring Pre Raphaelite inspired wedding dresses, a medieval banquet, and a fairytale theme…
I’ve always loved the lush beauty of the art produced by the Pre-Raphaelites, and Edward Burne Jones, often called the last of the Pre-Raphaelites, has a particular resonance for me as he was based for much of his working life in the village of Rottingdean, on the outskirts of my hometown of Brighton. There are even a couple of his stained glass window designs in the church just around the corner from where I live…..he was a prolific designer as well as a painter, and created many beautiful stained glass windows and tapestries for his friend William Morris’s company.
When I heard there was to be a major exhibition of Burne Jones’s work opening at the Tate this autumn I thought it could provide a wonderful source of inspiration for a styled shoot….fortunately when I contacted cake designer Elizabeth Solaru of Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium she agreed, and we decided to get to work together on a collaboration. We chose to take one of the key attractions of the exhibition, the cycle of paintings known as ‘The Legend of Briar Rose’ (created between 1885 and 1890), as our focal point….. using the colours and atmosphere of this magical series to infuse our shoot with a similar fairytale aesthetic. The Legend of Briar Rose will be familiar to all as the Sleeping Beauty myth….but in a world before Disney of course, Burne Jones was entranced by the darker and more complicated version told by The Brothers Grimm, who in turn were gathering and retelling older tales from middle European folklore.
In the Burne Jones paintings, he captures a moment when Briar Rose and all the castle inhabitants are asleep, but are nearly at the point of being awoken. We decided we’d like to create that scene for ourselves, so we see Rose asleep, the chaise and floor covered with beautiful tapestries and William Morris prints and the posts dressed with trailing ivy. The embroidery hoop and the spindle on which she pricked her finger are cast aside, and her courtiers asleep around her. We also see the banquet that was just about to take place as the castle fell under the sleeping spell, and the dreaming of the sleeping maidens as they remember the hours before the curse took hold. Finally, a figure in a gilded gown is glimpsed at the castle gates…
Elizabeth and I were so thrilled when photographer Jo Bradbury agreed to capture our fairy tale….I had worked ‘remotely’ with her on a couple of projects previously, so was extra glad to finally get to meet her in person….and when she told us she had studied the Pre-Raphaelites for her dissertation we knew her in depth knowledge of the aesthetic would be hugely helpful.
Our venue was Michelham Priory, one of three historic sites owned and administered by charitable organisation The Sussex Archaeological Society … all three venues are available to hire for weddings, via Hannah and her team who welcomed us so warmly on shoot day. Michelham Priory nestles in the heart of the Sussex countryside, encircled by its moat (the longest filled moat in England) like a gem in a medieval crown. The original Priory was established in 1229 as a rare fortified monastery of the Augustinian order, and the original vaulted undercroft can still be seen as the ground floor of the later tudor manor house built after the dissolution of the monasteries. The extensive grounds include both Physic and Cloistered gardens, a working water mill and forge, and a gate tower.
The adjacent listed Elizabethan barn (which doubles as the Priory’s wedding and event space) , dating back to the late 16th C, with its timber frame clad with tarred weatherboards and the arched queen post roof covered with pegtiles was perfect as the principal location for the shoot…..
Elizabeth’s styling ideas for the magnificent medieval table laden with flowers and fruit, using bold colours with the addition of luxurious metallic touches of gold, rose gold and copper were wonderfully brought to life by florist Alice Calcasola of All In One Season and her team.
Alice created a full blown medieval inspired banquet table using a combination of bold and soft coloured flowers including red and yellow roses, orange ranunculi, and pink tulips. Assorted berries, delicate foliage, trailing ivy and fruit also featured in the design. She fashioned the flowers and foliage into a tumbling floral cascade over one side of the table for a contemporary asymmetric look. The table was set with gorgeous crockery and crystal, with ornate candelabras, coloured glass votives and gilded ornaments from Wedding Day Hire…..brass candlesticks and pink Ester and Erik candles finished off the look.
Alice also created the vibrant asymmetrical trailing bouquet.
No banquet is complete without an opulent and luxurious centrepiece of sweet confectionery, and Elizabeth’s stunning cakes were truly regal…
In addition to the cakesicles, cookies, cupcakes and chocolates, Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium created a cakescape of five beautiful cakes. The main cake, a 4 tiered black bas relief confection with gold leaf, was adorned with the most delicately realistic sugar flowers in a painterly style. The other cakes also had matching sugar flowers and were made in bold jewel colours including royal blue, emerald and ruby – a nod to the colours of the Burne-Jones paintings.
Each place setting had the prettiest cakesicle ‘bottle’ of ‘Briar Rose’….the signature scent of our medieval maiden.
A gorgeous suite of hand lettered exquisitely imagined gilded wedding stationery was created especially for the shoot by artist and calligrapher Rubana of Crimson Letters, who also provided hand painted floral menu covers and place cards inspired by medieval illuminated manuscripts. Rubana also kindly transcribed in her beautiful flowing hand the lines of verse that Burne Jones had written under the Rose Bower painting.
For the gowns I really wanted to reference both the medieval period and style of the subject matter of the painting, and the aesthetic movement style of dress championed by the Pre-Raphaelites themselves, a looser less constricting flowing design than the heavily corseted look the mid Victorian period generally dictated. Both Briar Rose’s celestial blue silk chiffon gown with starry beaded tulle over layer and the rich blue and gold silk velvet gown of her red haired attendant are inspired by the medieval bliaut, a garment with flowing skirts, pleated bodice front and sleeves that are tightly fitted to the elbow before flaring into funnel cuffs. The red silk velvet gown with devore detailing is a nod to the artistic dress styles of the Cult of Beauty, a way of thinking that emphasised beauty for beauty’s sake rather than insisting that it have a moral subtext.
My go-to hair and make-up team, who I’ve been fortunate to work with on several other creative collaborations, and who always bring their A game to the party, joined us on shoot day….Harriet of Harriet Rainbow, and Liz of Simply Beautiful Wedding Hair. Harriet’s translucent dewy make-up looks and Liz’s textured up-dos and lustrous waves epitomised those Pre-Raphaelite muses perfectly. With the addition of specially coloured extensions Liz even managed to transform our redhead’s chin length bob into the Rossetti-like loosely woven braided style that worked so well for this look.
As soon as I spotted the delicious jewelled leather and silk babouches of South African shoe designer Coast and Koi on Instagram it was love at first sight….and I knew they would be amazing for the look of this collaboration. I got in touch and Caryn was kind enough to send a few pairs over…..as soon as they arrived in the studio I knew it was absolutely the right choice (I loved them so much I ordered a pair for myself), and I’m convinced they would make the most gorgeous shoes for the bohemian bride who does not want to wear heels, or wants a pair of unique flats to change into for the dancing!
Jane at HF Couture Accessories is a long time collaborator, and at the early planning stages I contacted her to see if we could incorporate some of her lovely Art Nouveau inspired beauties. A richly jewelled cuff and gilded and enamelled floral headpieces were the ideal finishing touches to the overall look.
The three Victorian and Edwardian inspired rings lent by the London Victorian Ring Company perfectly exemplify the wonderful craftsmanship of this venerable Hatton Garden jewellers established in 1890, who use only conflict free diamonds.
Parisian jeweller Lotta Djossou’s intricately wrought rings take themes from nature, seen through an Art Nouveau lens, and are both bold and detailed. His designs are personal favourites of mine (I have a silver butterfly ring that I wear daily).
I hope that you enjoy this collaboration inspired by the Edward Burne Jones exhibition at Tate Britain, and that it inspires you in turn to visit the exhibition yourself (it’s wonderful and is open until February 24th 2019)…and perhaps even incorporate some of these lushly romantic elements in your own celebration.
Planning, Styling and Props; Joanne Fleming and Elizabeth Solaru
Venue; Michelham Priory @weddings_sussexpast
Photography ; Jo Bradbury @jobradburyphotography
Original concept, Dress design; Joanne Fleming Design @joflemingdesign
Cakes; Elizabeth Solaru @elizabethscakeemporium
Floral Design; Alice Calcasola @alice_calcasola
Candelabras, gold glass bowls, votives and cherub holders; Wedding Day Hire @weddingdayhire
Hair; Liz Bower @simplybeautifulweddinghair
Make Up; Harriet Rainbow @harrietrainbow
Stationery; Crimson Letters @crimson_letters
Shoes; Coast & Koi @coast_and_koi
Accessories; HF Couture @hfcoutureaccessories
Gemstone Rings; London Victorian Ring Company @london_victorian_ring_co
Gold rings; Lotta Djossou @lottadjossou
Tablecloths; OTT Rentals @ott_rentals
Models Emily, Isabella, Selina; MK Model Management @mkmodelmanagement