In the early 20th century a group of artists and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group was shaking up polite English society. The group was named after the central London district containing the British Museum where its members lived, a scenic area of Georgian terraces and floral squares. Referring to the free loving, gender fluid, hedonistic gatherings the group became known for, American wit Dorothy Parker once said of them, “They lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles.”
The Bloomsbury Group and the art of the collab
Today, collaboration among creatives is common enough to have almost become a cynical business move, at least a means to increase one’s social media following. But the Bloomsbury Group pioneered an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas as spontaneous expressions of art, an end in and of itself. The collective united interests as far-ranging as philosophy, literature, economics, spirituality, criticism, feminism and art, and counted as its regulars economist John Maynard Keynes, novelist E. M. Forster and critic Lytton Strachey.
Like most anti-establishmentarians, the members of the Bloomsbury Group were controversial but, in rejecting bourgeois Victorian conventions, they were ahead of their time. Working from home, to use that most modern term, they could teach us a thing or two about self-realization, setting schedules, motivating ourselves and each other, while over their lifetimes building a legacy of fine art and literary masterpieces. They were pacifists, encouraged freedom from gender binaries, championed the environment, prioritized art and the joy of human company, which a global pandemic might have finally convinced us a century later is essential to a well-spent life. Take Virginia Woolf, a key member, whose relationship with Vita Sackville-West inspired her novel, *Orlando*, which chronicles the adventures of an environment-loving time-traveler who slides along the gender spectrum journeying from the Elizabethan era to the 1990s. The novel, and its 1992 film adaptation starring perennial trendsetter Tilda Swinton, is as timely today as it ever was.
The group’s living spaces were a maximalist’s paradise of stacked books, whimsical china, bold Deco patterned folding screens, eclectic lamps, sooty fireplaces, and eccentric textiles. In April Architectural Digest announced that the the interior of Charleston, the group’s country retreat nestled in a blooming garden in Sussex in the south of England, which the magazine described as having a “painterly, mishmashed aesthetic” was making a comeback. In June during Paris Men’s Fashion Week, Dior showed a Spring 2023 collection inspired by artist member, Duncan Grant, owner of Charleston.
Bloomsbury Group’s aesthetic pushes fashion forward
It will be a Bloomsbury-infused 2023 as the Charleston Museum has revealed plans for a major exhibit of the influential bohemians slated for September. It will include pieces from Dior’s collection which were inspired by creative director Kim Jones’s personal collection of Bloomsbury memorabilia.
Dior’s runway presentation of posh but casual layers in drizzly grey shot through with soft rose and sand evoke an afternoon spent in an English country garden seen through tea-colored glasses. Double layered shorts worn with Wellies, hats, and zippered cagoules were perfect for the temperamental English weather, tramping along damp country lanes. The sun peeked through in a range of sweaters sporting motifs from Grant’s art.
The handcrafted, patchworked and upcycled “mishmash” favored by the Bloomsbury Group is already a staple of the aesthetic of brands such as Bode, Gucci, and Dries Van Noten, But societal attitudes are only beginning to catch up. Expect this fanciful, free-spirited frolic through London’s legendary bohemian quarters to set the standard for some time to come.