Designing amazing fresh flower couture for display or to wear?
In addition to creating captivating floral couture looks, challenges can include weight, size, placement, water source, secure mechanics and flower choices.
To help with the solutions, two Vancouver designers share their tips and lessons designing for the Fleurs de Ville Spring 2018 Mannequin Series Cross Canada Tour floral couture exhibition at the Metropolis at Metrotown, the third largest shopping mall in Canada with more than 400 stores.
Paul Jaras AIFD and Brenna Quan AIFD also had to figure out how to keep their designs fresh every day for five days.
One payoff for these fresh flower couture designers? Watching amazed crowds wander through an exhibition of fresh flower skirts and dresses, hats, hoods, bathing suits and boas they helped create.
Country-wide series focused on local talent
Fleurs de Villes
(flowers of the cities) is a series of bespoke flower events staged across Canada. Its mission? Connecting with each city they launch in and working with top local florists, designers, growers and nurseries to showcase that city’s world-class talent and create stunning displays of art.
15 designers are chosen to participate in each Fleur de Villes event and each given a $1,000 honorarium to cover floral mechanics and materials. Proposals include descriptions and drawings of design concepts.
Paul’s floral fashionista featured a 16-foot long fresh flower boa. Brenna dressed her mannequin as Arabian Princess Jasmine floating on a magic carpet. Both designs featured a mix of flowers and foliages. Their life-sized flower designs must remain fresh and beautiful for the five days of public display. The flowers are checked and misted daily and blooms replaced when necessary.
Paul began with a dress pattern
Paul began constructing his design by purchasing a dress pattern from a sewing shop. He cut the pattern pieces from a sturdy black fabric and fit them onto the mannequin with plunging necklines in front and back, lapels and a slit on the right side of the skirt.
He applied full-sized Ti leaves to the fabric using extra-strength adhesive spray. He then secured uneven areas with UGLU dashes
Paul felt he needed more foam space for stems and a larger water source than the Oasis garland
. He cut blocks of floral foam
into thirds and wrapped them in clear wrap to create his own mechanic.
He placed the blocks end to end in a tube of OASIS™ Florist Netting
. This green rubberized version of chicken wire is pliable, strong and easy to work with.
“I sewed the tube shut with green bind wire
—this worked well," says Paul. “It avoided sharp points that could have scratched the mannequin’s surface.”
In areas like the shoulder, where the boa-tube needed to change directions or be supported, the mesh tube was twisted like a sausage link.
In the end, Paul learned “it was not necessary to have one-third size blocks of foam along the full length of the boa. I should have created more links by twisting the chicken wire tube to reduce the overall size and weight of the boa.”
Paul’s chose his flowers strategically
Paul chose the 705 stems of flowers and foliage he used for strategic reasons:
- Ecuadorian Pink Floyd rose for its intense hot pink color and large bloom that readily opens and holds well.
- Local British Columbia cymbidium orchids freshly cut to be used the next day.
- White carnations and football mums for their long-lasting quality and relatively low cost.
- Extra-long stems of Hawaiian purple dendrobium orchids cut into clusters to add depth.
Paul’s design application
All flowers were supported by the wet floral foam except for the cymbidium orchids, which were placed in water picks
The flowers were quick-dipped
and held in properly mixed flower food
“Cymbidium orchid blooms were cut, misted and laid on damp paper towel-lined plastic storage bins and cooled overnight in a floral cooler to harden off. They were sealed with Crowning Glory
on installation day,” says Paul.
Orchids were positioned right side up in the design. “When turned upside down, water flows to the top of the tube leaving orchid stem ends out of water inside the tube,” he adds.
At the end of each exhibition day, the display was covered with plastic after misting. The replacement blooms not on display were kept humid as well.
Paul’s biggest challenge
“Achieving the couture look was my biggest challenge,” shares Paul. “I learned that when fitting Ti leaves to the mannequin form, I should cut away the edges to prevent curling for a smooth flat surface.”
He also found the heavy combination of wet foam and fresh flowers to be challenging. “The platform was two plastic tables placed side by side. Even though the load for each table was 200 lbs, the weight of the boa made re-enforcement necessary because the mannequin straddled the juncture of table ends.”
Distributing the weight to achieve balance was essential for preventing the design from falling over.
Paul added a four-foot square plywood base beneath his design on the five-foot-square platform for support. A black plastic tarp was placed beneath each mannequin. Its one-inch upturned edge created a shallow pool for dripping water.
“My assistant Tiffany is much shorter than I,” says Paul, “so she worked mostly on the lower portions of the boa while I worked on the top. At the end of the day, it was Tiffany who applied the Ti leaf choker over the engineering that secured the boa to the mannequin’s neck.”
“The boa was heavy and slid off the mannequin’s shoulder twice,” he continues. “The first time, she secured it with fishing line. The second time, Tiffany moved the boa closer and secured it directly to the neck with several strands of bind wire. Poor girl!”
Brenna’s design began with her skirt
Brenna began by creating a full skirt of fresh flowers and foliage that tapered to the waist of her mannequin. “I used floral foam
zip-tied onto a layer of floral netting that rested on the surface,” explains Brenna. She used the same technique for creating Jasmine’s hood ruffle.
“I strategically placed 4" clear water tubes
in staggered rows up the inside of the design, cutting small holes in the layers of dusty miller about an inch or two above to create a lightweight water source for stem insertions,” she continues.
“I cut UGLU dashes in half and adhered them vertically to help hold the tubes securely in place. The inside surface was still slightly tacky from the spray adhesive used to create the “fabric” and that added extra security.”
Brenna used plastic film wrap and parchment paper in her design. “I first used the plastic film to protect the borrowed mannequin by wrapping any body parts that would not be exposed,” says Brenna. “Next, I cut my floral foam to the size needed and wrapped it with the plastic film to retain as much moisture as possible.
Brenna’s tips for live fabric and flying carpet
“The parchment paper made a fantastic non-stick backing for a live dusty miller fabric I created,” says Brenna. She layered a light silvery tulle textile over the sheet of parchment paper. Using a spray adhesive, she misted the materials and pressed the dusty miller leaves onto the fabric.
“Once the glue dries the parchment paper just peels away effortlessly,” she explains. “I use this technique when creating hot glue appliqués for other design projects.”
Brenna used rustic wire
to weave mostera and banyan roots securely into a magic carpet mat and floral adhesive
for gluing flowers into place.
Brenna’s advice for installation
Brenna considered water source needs the flowers and foliages she selected.
“Proper hydration of the blooms certainly helps to make maintenance a breeze,” shares Brenna. “I simply brought extra pre-cut and tubed blooms to the venue and inserted them wherever I snipped out any dehydrated flowers.” No treatment was necessary for the foliages.
“For this particular design, it was the foliage that gave me the most joy!” says Brenna. “The dusty miller creates such a luxurious and supple material, quite similar to a velvety, wavy fabric!”
Brenna enjoyed the playful textures of her design. “I absolutely love the silvery, greenish-gray shades that make the Senecio cineraria (dusty miller), Tradescantia zebrina (Wandering Jew) and Tillandsia xerographica (air plant) so attractive to me,” she shared. “Even though they slightly transitioned in color, they were able to hold their own and maintain their beauty throughout the show.”
The event challenged Brenna as a designer
The lasting quality of the flowers, the short timeframe for execution and economy of means were the biggest challenges Brenna overcame for this event.
“I wanted to stay within the budget provided by the hosts, but it’s hard to know how much product you're going to need,” explains Brenna. “I actually had a type of halter top planned for the outfit but ran out of dusty miller and the time to acquire more. Rather than exceed my budget, I adapted and made my materials work!” says Brenna.
“This challenged me as a designer to let things go and incorporate the details that weren't realized here into a future project."
Floral artists like Brenna often find their desire and effort to bring attention to flowers and design is rewarded by public exposure and acknowledgment.
“It was wonderful to mingle within the crowd and experience the moment they see the designs,” says Brenna. “When someone utters the words, ‘This made my day,’ the satisfaction of hearing that is more than enough to make it all worthwhile!”