Risk-taker par excellence, style maven extraordinaire, her most exhilarating legacy is a design archive making waves around the world today. But this is where her legend begins.
Born in 1899 in a remote rural corner of Australia’s Queensland, Florence’s death was a violent murder at the age of 78. In between, she lived a series of vivid, fantastic lives.
Charismatically fearless from word go, she spent the roaring Twenties singing across the Far East’s colonial reaches and ran a finishing school in Shanghai. In London, she became “Madame Pellier”, a French couturier proud to dress the rich and famous. She moved back to Australia as an aristocratic English lady; an entrepreneur, society figurehead and landscape painter.
With every incarnation Florence became somebody new - new hair colour, new accent, new history. Even, on occasion, new name. At the age of 60 she did it again, launching in Sydney her defining venture - an internationally-successful, luxury, hand-print wallpaper business.
She announced she would colour Australia. In so doing she re-drew the world. Everywhere she had been and everything she had seen found voice in a whirlwind of creativity. Florence’s archive grew to over 500 images ranging from tapestries to geometrics, florals, psychedelic, and delightfully eccentric chinoiserie.
Yet however dynamic and diverse her designs became, her personality was more compelling still.
Upon her death, Florence disappeared. Today, thanks to the passion of Sydney’s Signature Prints and Signature Design Archive, she is stepping back on to the international stage with designs that transcend fashion – work so boldly glamorous and versatile it speaks to innovators in every field.
“Her patterns are exceptional. They exist on the cusp of a paradox,” says British designer Ilse Crawford. “Every time you think you can sum them up, you can’t.”
To Deborah Lloyd, creative director of global luxury brand Kate Spade, the Florence Broadhurst archive is quite simply “ground-breaking and sensational” - “one of the most creative things that has come out of Australia.”
And behind each image is the woman herself, an endlessly restless spirit. Her eye was exquisite, her appeal fascinating, and her approach at times very naughty indeed.
Florence has been the subject of a multi award-winning, internationally published biography as well as a documentary directed by acclaimed director Gillian Armstrong!
She is a life, an enigma, a legend and a legacy. Florence Broadhurst – the story is not over yet.
Image: Portrait of Florence Broadhurst, China, 1920s.
Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.