Julia Child has had a revival, thanks largely to a recent blog that became a film. Likewise Elizabeth David had a bit of a comeback with new biographies and a telemovie. And despite earlier disgrace, Martha Stewart still manages to hold her own as the domestic guru on craft and interior design as well as the kitchen.
Modern women may be baffled by how much store was once set on the art of flower arranging for the home. Today, no-one would think twice about making up a decorative arrangement that mixes flowers with bits of fruit, grasses, pine cones or feathers, but there was a time when it was frowned upon and considered to be “avant garde” and it was Constance Spry who was instrumental in bringing about that change.
Spry was the Martha Stewart of her day and although she was considered primarily a society florist, she was much more than that.
|The Windsors 1937 (AP image)|
In the 1950s, no conscientious housewife would have been without her recipe book, The Constance Spry Cookery Book which is intermittently in print (latest edition 2004).
This photo from The Australian Women’s Weekly, 23 March 1955 shows a group of society types at a fashion event in London and in which Australian-born Mrs Vyvyan Holland (her husband was the son of Oscar Wilde) is frightfully game to wear a hat of “real white lilac” made by Constance Spry. We trust there were no bees about!
Before dismissing Spry as outdated and inconsequential in this day and age, it is worth considering what she achieved for herself in what was an era of great transition for many women.
In a review of her latest biography by Sue Shepherd, Robert O’Byrne in The Irish Times shows an insight into Spry that has been overlooked.
andSpry’s innovations within her field deserve to be acknowledged, but so too, and more importantly, does her position as a role model for women seeking to take control of their lives.
... But breaking free from the constraints of [her] upbringing, [she] had the foresight to recognise how a natural aptitude could be deployed to generate income and provide employment. Thanks to flower arranging, Spry gained global fame, publishing books and giving lecture tours around the world while running a school where other women could learn the skills that had proven so profitable for her.