“The fact that I got to represent my country is such an honor, and something I never would have imagined possible when I started in this world of flowers!” Exclaims Dallas designer Jenny Thomasson, AIFD, AAF, PFCI, EMC. Jenny represented USA in the 2023 Interflora World Cup in Manchester, England where she placed in the Top 10. How did she accomplish this feat? This was not the talented Texan’s first rodeo! Jenny enjoys expanding her career with lessons learned through competition. In 2018, Jenny took second in the Gateway to America's Cup competition. She was the USA representative in the 2019 World Floral Art Contest in China. In 2022, she was awarded first place at the FTD America's Cup competition. Smithers-Oasis participated in the sponsorship of this international event. Jenny shared a few details. How rewarding does it feel to work hard and see your efforts succeed? “It's all encompassing,” says Jenny. “I put up this big vision of what I wanted to accomplish.I feel really proud.”
Taking the first step
If someone is dreaming of competition, but they don’t quite have the level of skill needed, what would Jenny suggest as a first step?
“Your first step is to do something every single day. Study. Practice. Even five or 10 minutes, or an hour,” Jenny suggests “make something that isn't on a ticket sheet or somebody else's agenda, every day. Study with designers, take workshops, go to symposium, go to conferences, buy books, subscribe to international magazines. Completely absorb everything possible. Expose yourself to a wider range of floristry.”
Jenny loves that buzzing feeling of adrenaline she gets in design zone. “Few things in this world give you that natural rush. When you can get that with nature, with flowers, it only makes it more powerful.”
During competition you feel the presence of the audience and other competitors. If you only practice solo in your studio you can’t replicate that sense of urgency. Prepare for that undercurrent of energy by having designers join you in timed design while sharing a workbench.
Practice in advance for the surprise package. Ask someone to randomly pull flowers from the cooler, select containers, offer a theme and set a timer. Approach this like a true competition and design with the evaluator in mind. “Not the ‘Oh, this is pretty.’ No, this has to be competition pretty, which is a completely different thing,” offers Jenny. Learn to trust your talent and be decisive when you have an idea.
World Cup Prep
“We got the brief in January. I sketched ideas for two months. I knew I needed focus. I went to Sweden and stayed with Per Benjamin for a few days. It was really great to sit down with somebody who has competed before and brainstorm ideas.”
During a competition, you develop a connection to people that you may not have met before and may never see again. In that space of time, you feel interconnected. Sharing a passion. There is a lot of emotion, talent, and time invested psychologically, mentally, and physically. “We were cheering each other on for what we knew took six to eight months or sometimes a year to put together.” Showing the world their interpretation of the task.
One country’s flowers didn't show up. All the competitors began pulling together flower extras and gifting them to that country. “We wanted each other to do well.”
There was also a sense of separation. Walls created individual work cubbies. Jenny purposely avoided seeing anyone's work until the first four tasks were done. “I was on the end. I walked behind all of the booths because I wanted to stay in my zone,” she explains. She remained intentional with her own ideas. When she did finally investigate the other designs, she was blown away by seeing so much talent in one place.
Our Natural World
The 2023 World Cup theme was "Our Natural World." Designers were encouraged to focus on sustainability and Mother Earth as much as possible. The three divisions were Forest Canopies, Ocean Waves, and a Wedding Above the Clouds. Jenny chose to take a fantasy approach.
For her canopy, Jenny experimented with raffia. Making massive tendrils up to nine feet long, made from spun raffia with hidden water tubes. The frame was also spun with raffia. Everything was 100% organic, bright green, with a childish, playful, almost Suessical look. “Once I figured it out, I was like, fantastic. One took me 45 minutes. Now I need to make like 27!” She hired a welder to build the frame. The finished canopy was 6'x6'x8' tall and took 60 hours to construct. You could walk into its open front. Jenny added a fragrance - the smell of the forest to the floor to heighten the senses.
Ocean wave was number two - a table for two that was 6'x3'x8' tall. Jenny wanted a fantasy idea of what a wave could look like using aquamarine, peach, coral, pink, lavender and blue colors. It took about 80 hours to make from deconstructed Manzanita taped with white tape on a metal frame.” It was shipped it with 80 or 90 water tubes attached. There wouldn’t be time for that at the competition.
The two designs had to be placed on pallets and shipped over a month before. Not one water tube broke during shipping. Then Jenny decided how to flower them. “I was really blessed. Hilverda was my flower sponsor and I ordered my full procurement to be delivered to Dallas four times before I went to Manchester.”
Her final task was Wedding Above the Clouds. Something to be carried by the arm, wrist, or hand. “I decided to make a handmade ring from resin with what looks like drops of water condensation. She made the ring the week she left without practice. “It was one of a kind made from cold adhesive just for this event. It wasn’t something that could be taken apart. It visually floated; very ethereal.”
Jenny realized things were going well for her when she had completed the two surprise packages.
They give you surprise tasks because that's when the true art form of a florist comes out. You have to rely on everything that's in your toolbox, every skill, practice, things you're good at. Be intentional. Stay focused.
The first surprise was a table for each competitor. “They had 15 minutes to view and decide what to do. You're not allowed to have power tools older than a year. I bought a drill when I got there. I wanted to cut holes through this table so I could shoot materials through to create tension. I put my drill bit on, decided to change so I could add a water tube. I couldn't get the drill bit out. After 30 seconds of trying I said “It’s not meant to be.” Move on. “As soon as I finished the design, it felt right.”
The other surprise package, a spiral hand-tied bouquet, was designed on stage by each of the 10 semi-final competitors. “The Interflora World Cup is a European design competition and a spiral hand-tied bouquet is indicative of European design. Of course, I knew that was coming,” laughs Jenny.“ I thought, I know exactly what I'm going to do and was comfortable with it because I do it all the time,” Jenny explains.
“With the bouquet finished, I said ‘I made it.’ It felt so good. After finishing my ring, I threw my hands up in victory.” It's interesting how you know intuitively when it feels right.
Ready to compete
I definitely want to do this again. I really do enjoy this idea of competitive floristry at a really high level. It's a different game, forcing me to become an even deeper floral artist. These people are creating pre-planned sculptural pieces that we really don't see in the states yet. In China, I walked in and thought, “Oh, I'm not playing at this level yet. I talked to one man that spent $60,000 on his sculpture for the competition” Often there are sponsorships and some countries have support teams because they want their country to win.
We don't have that opportunity here in the States. We’ve seen that team concept at AIFD when internationals arrive with an entourage. It’s amazing to think of the potential expense.
Jenny saw a few emerging trends at World Cup.
• A bouquet fusing the idea of science with flowers. Tiny magnets were placed on the back of the flowers and popped together.
• One booth that focused a nocturnal color palette as opposed to daytime brights.
• Gourds or barnacles used as water vessels.
• The colored parts of bromeliad leave cut across the bottom, rolled and sealed (wax? glue?) to be used as water tubes.
Top 10 is quite an accomplishment. “This was a great opportunity and I was so blessed to have the chance. The final tally was eighth, and I believe that's the highest any American has gotten. If not, it has been a really long time,” Jenny confides.
If you're interested in where flowers can take you, open up your mind, and expand your floral art - then competition might be a valuable option for you to explore. “You just have to get out there and do it,” Jenny says encouragingly. “Little by little, dip your toe in and see if you like the temperature. If you do. Be brave. Jump right in and swim.”