Florence Broadhurst’s iconic designs are timeless and distinctive. We delve a little deeper into her inspirations and aspirational life.
Artist, couturier, socialite, designer, flamboyant entrepreneur, Florence Broadhurst is something of an enigma. A charismatic woman years ahead of her time, she believed in the power of self-determination. Her life was characterised by flair and courage. She appears to have lived by the adage – A life lived in fear is a life half lived.
Today Florence has become an institution. Her luxury handprinted wallpaper and fabric designs have redrawn the boundaries of decorative art and design. She was recognised by Time Magazine as one of the world’s most influential post-war designers, and renowned for her enchanting tapestries, floral and geometric designs as well as her charmingly eccentric psychedelia and chinoiserie.
Her designs adorn palaces, high-end bars and hotels across the globe. She is revered by celebrities, contemporary designers and royal persons alike. Akira Isogawa describes her style as “unrestricted in regard to time and space. She fused Australian bold sensitivity with Eastern aesthetic.” As though to prove this her designs were featured in Kate Spade’s 2012 Campaign.
Kate Spade Show featuring Florence Broadhurst designs. Image sourced: deversondesign.com.au.
Deborah Lloyd creative director of Kate Spade described them as “ground-breaking and sensational”. (High praise from the powers that be Spade!)
From L to R: Kate Spade Show featuring Florence Broadhurst designs (image sourced: deversondesign.com.au) and Florence in her studio (image sourced: katespade.com).
And yet these designs were the fruit of Florence’s twilight years. She would enjoy several decades og globetrotting (and a series of disparate identities) before she would take on the role of iconic Australian designer.
Florence was a woman of many secret and extraordinary lives. Born in outback Queensland on a remote rural property in 1899, the young Florence was destined for big things. She won a singing competition at 16 and began touring the state’s towns and cities. “She was born a star,” friend Diana Richardson remembers. “That was her personality.”
A talented dancer and entertainer, Florence quit Australia for a singing career that took her from India to South East Asia, landing her in exotic hotbed of Shanghai in the Roaring 20s. When the allure of this vagrant lifestyle wore thin, she opened an academy of arts (more a kind of finishing school) for girls in Shanghai.
Next, she transformed herself into a Parisian couturier, christening herself Madame Pellier, and opening a salon on Bond Street in 1930s’ London. As style maven, Madame Pellier proved a favourite amongst the rich and famous.
Florence presented herself to the media and the world in myriad ways throughout her life. She felt no loyalty to the truth, refusing to let it hinder her from fully realising each new incarnation. She changed her hair, her accent, her heritage to suit herself. When she returned to Australia in the 50s, she swept into society as an aristocratic Englishwoman and prolific landscape painter.
She launched Florence Broadhurst at 60 years old. The high-end handprinted wallpaper and fabric design venture was a dynamic celebration of colour and style, expressed through tapestries, geometrics, chinoiserie and florals…
“Australian women need colours on their walls and fabrics to match even if they don’t know it yet!” she announced, plying them with her playful designs. She had a daring, radical approach to colour and a keen eye. Her designs epitomise dynamic and buoyant spirit. Their elegance and majesty transcend time.
Tragically Florence was murdered on 15 October 1977 in a case that remains unsolved to this day. It seems a sordid end for such a ravishing and fearless character.
“Her patterns are exceptional,” British designer Ilse Crawford says. “They exist on the cusp of a paradox. Every time you think you can sum them up, you can’t.” Not dissimilar to the woman herself.
Thanks, Florence. We adore your mystique. Such a renegade. You played by your own rules.
What a legend. What a legacy.