Floristry's new guard is elevating the botanical medium into an acclaimed métiers d’art.
Floristry is being celebrated as a veritable and genre-bending art form, thanks to a new wave of artisans taking inspiration from a variety of disciplines ranging from haute-couture, to pop culture, to sculpture, to science fiction. “From music videos to fashion shows, fine art to photography, the line between floristry and other art forms has been blurred, creating something not yet classifiable,” wrote Victoria Clarke in the preface to Blooms: Contemporary Floral Design. The botanical tome, which was published in April 2019, showcases the emerging class of visionary florists launching the discipline out of the realm of hobbyists and into the future.
“What we found researching Blooms is that there are actually several new trends that have emerged,” Claire Coulson, a fashion and garden writer and Blooms contributing author, tells JWT Intelligence. “Arrangements have become quite graphic and bold, either in a minimalistic way – very much inspired by Japanese ikebana – or in a more maximal way using vivid, sometimes even synthetic coloring. But the flipside to that is that there’s been a revival for naturalistic arrangements, using wild components and garden grown materials too.”
“There’s a real emphasis on form that has emerged over the past few years,” Coulson explains, “that has inspired a more sculptural, pared-back aesthetic.” These bold and graphic designs take cues from architecture and sculpture with a precise and regimented approach. Each element is considered, with no stem or petal out of place.
Wife NYC and Metaflora create highly-stylized geometric shapes out of leaves and fronds, cutting them into squares or tying them into graphic configurations. Raul Avila created a massive sculpture of violets and roses for the Met Gala 2017. And designers like Melbourne-based Hattie Molloy and Barcelona-based Mataglan Plantae create sparse bouquets featuring species with strikingly exaggerated shapes.
At the other end of the spectrum are wild, freeform designs that mimic the organic and uninhibited growth found in nature. Not overly primped or perfect, these designs call to mind a post-apocalyptic aesthetic where nature reigns. Lewis Miller is one artist leading the charge with extravagant bursts of flowers that spring out of neglected areas like trash cans and shuttered storefronts, appearing to reclaim their urban surroundings. Meanwhile, Michigan-based Pot + Box filled an abandoned house in Detroit with living flowers and plants for a three-day installation and Brazilian Flo atelier botânico suspended an unkempt bouquet in a crumbling and graffitied concrete atrium.
Other designers opt for a more pastoral and bucolic approach. London-based Scarlet & Violet wrapped a townhouse staircase with greenery and blooms for an overgrown look; London-based JamJar cascaded a curtain of flowers down a column; and British Aesme creates unfussy tablescapes featuring wildflowers like forget-me-nots for a rustic, handpicked look.
Sustainability – and the corresponding heightened awareness of our relationship with nature – is a driving force behind these artists’ aesthetic and technique. “Sustainability has been a real catalyst for change in both aesthetics but also in materials and how florists work,” says Coulson. “There are lots of ways that the medium is being transformed. One of the standout elements for me is the way in which some florists – like Lewis Miller in NYC for example – are finding incredibly creative ways to re-use and re-think materials that would otherwise go to waste, with floral happenings on the street for everyone to enjoy.”
Other artists are turning away from naturalistic roots and are instead sending flowers into the stratosphere with dreamlike and otherworldly arrangements. These fantastical creations incorporate unexpected, bizarre elements and vivid palettes, all of which combine to cast a spell of whimsy and absurdity.
Sci-fi botanist Azuma Makoto’s art has the air of a mad science project. His work – conceived in his “botanical laboratory” in Japan – is an exploration of plants in impossible places. He literally launched bouquets into space in his experimental project Exobiotanica and suspended large floral arrangements in ice, “their colors and forms blurred yet amplified and then distorted as the ice melts,” wrote Coulson. “A sense of performance and showmanship pervades his work, which combines ambitious concepts with visual drama and an almost spiritual reverence for the flowers he works with.”
Other less extreme but equally avant-garde examples include Wife NYC’s leaf-kite, a.p. bio’s melting ice cream cone arrangement, Debeaulieu’s crystalline creation and BRRCH’s saturated hues.
All of these styles are finding their way into the consumer space, thanks in large part to the fashion industry. Fashion and florals have long gone hand in hand, but recently, thanks to a groundswell of designers, celebrities, artists and retailers putting fresh blooms front and center, flowers have become a touchpoint in fashion and pop culture – and have grown into a mark of luxury.
At London Fashion Week in February 2019, designer Roberta Einer commissioned “glam rock” floral design duo Rebel Rebel to create the runway set. Both the American and British September 2018 Vogue covers – the most hyped issue of the year among the fashion elite – featured style and pop culture icons Beyoncé and Rihanna in elaborate flower headpieces designed by Rebel Rebel and Azuma Makoto, respectively.
Not even streetwear, haute couture’s hipper, younger cousin, is immune. Artist Mr. Flower Fantastic taps into the obsessive passion of sneaker heads with his floral recreations of Nike high-tops. Similar to infamous graffiti-artist Banksy, he remains anonymous and ‘drops’ his creations in random locations throughout whatever city he’s in.
Florals are also becoming an integral part of brand activations. Seoul-based Oblique Flower Design created flower artwork for Nike using the brand’s React running shoe and cherry blossom. Seed Flora used yellow chrysanthemums and butterfly orchids to create a flower-embellished honeycomb-shaped structure for Pandora’s Shine collection launch event at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. As part of Neiman Marcus’s March 2019 grand-opening of their first New York City location at Hudson Yards, influencer darling PopUp Florist opened a semi-permanent flower cart with stems and bouquets for sale. And luxury consignment retailer The Real Real has a flower stand stocked by Fox Fodder Farm – a top-rated florist by Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar – at the entrance of their Manhattan flagship boutique.
“Together, these floral creatives are reinvigorating the world of floristry,” wrote Clarke, “pushing the boundaries of artistic expression with flowers and plants and having a profound effect on visual culture and design.”