The Language of Flowers
By Adrienne Roman
The beauty, elegance, and intoxicating nature of flowers has enticed civilizations since the beginning of time.
It seems an impossibility to think that Victorian society once prohibited public displays of affection. To combat this oppressive conservative dogma, demonstrations of love were cleverly concealed beneath the veil of a secret code called floriography, or The Language of Flowers. It emerged as a covert system of symbolic communication where each flower or herb existed to express a particular message.
The true beauty of art lies at the heart of this communication: the connection between creator and observer. This “coming together“ of artist and audience is precisely the reason co-founders Karen Marshall and Tina Barkley envisioned building Fleurs de Villes in 2016, with the aim of offering the public the opportunity to experience luxury floral displays in dynamic new environments: one-of-a-kind installations that would connect brands and highlight inspirational historical events, a merging of artistic networks, all vested in the pursuit of creative exploration.
This spring, just in time for Mother’s Day, Fleurs de Villes will partner with Bloor-Yorkville to bring “FEMMES – A Floral Celebration of Remarkable Women” to Toronto, May 4th-8th, 2022. The free event will transform Toronto’s midtown into several blocks bursting with beautiful blooms.
Reminiscent of the “happenings” that challenged traditional forms of artistic expression in the ’60s and ’70s, Fleurs de Villes’ creations echo a style of bold, colourful visual art that existed outside of traditional gallery walls. It wasn’t viewed as a commodity to purchase, but instead existed purely as an invitation for active conversation, often only admired in the moment and appreciated in situ.
Similarly, self-navigated floral trails around the Yorkville neighbourhood will provide the chance to experience a series of magical interior and exterior works of art designed around the geography of the community.
“We’re really all about connecting great content to consumers, supported by interesting brands. We tell the stories of the cities,” says Marshall.
Fleurs de Villes’ unique works of art are carefully curated and supported by alliances of sponsors, international entertainment venues, and popular shopping destinations. Since its inception, the concept has grown to become a global celebration of art, architecture, fashion, and flora showcased in over 20 cities.
Fleurs de Villes shines a spotlight on the intricate nature of the art form itself, the city’s cultural attractions, and the unmistakable multi-sensory experiences that flowers provide. Floral artists also get the opportunity to increase their visibility and network with other artists, something that can often take a backseat in the floral industry. Floral designers, or fleuristes, seamlessly fuse fashion and flowers to design and mount masterpieces of technical engineering using an eclectic array of both fresh and dried plant materials.
The Chelsea Flower Show in London was the original inspiration behind the desire to grow the Fleurs de Villes brand. Marshall felt the pulse of her positive experience there, among fellow flower enthusiasts celebrating their mutual appreciation. She wanted to break the traditional flower show mould to find a progressive model, one with the potential for a much greater outreach. This would in turn create a forum for artistic dialogue and social engagement.
The New York show at Hudson Yards in 2019 featured a curated collection of iconic New York-themed subject matter. In one instance, Juan Villanueva of Villanueva Designs spent 200 hours with his assistant Svetlana preparing a breathtaking figure representing Cyndi Lauper, made from 100% natural flowers and foliage.
“She was required to stay fresh for ten days, which for cut flowers is a heroic feat even in the most ideal conditions,” Villanueva says. His Cyndi was a nostalgic and playful ode to the ’80s, made with two-tone carnations, Song of India, and pink baby’s breath. Her corset was created with individual conifer needles; her fishnet stockings were carefully cut slivers of ti leaf foliage, and her hair was woven from live perennial grass. The display also featured a rainbow of oranges, pinks, and greens, complete with a boom box crafted from kalanchoe and South American dianthus.
Working closely with Tony Award-winning costume designer Paul Tazewell from Broadway’s “Hamilton,” Damselfly Designs showcased an incredible floral tribute to the hit musical’s three Schuyler sisters. “Paul and his team provided us with actual costume samples, photos, Pantone swatches and a variety of textiles to ensure the designs were as authentic and true to his vision as possible,” says Damselfly Designs founder Brenda LaManna.
The sisters’ shimmering gowns were fashioned with over 1,500 blooms in each skirt, including bold anthurium juxtaposed with the calmer tones of jade, wasabi, and green tea roses. The dedication to detail was meticulous. Handmade agonis-foliage wigs and lunaria layered over eucalyptus created a shimmering effect for their dresses. Hypericum berries and golden verboom formed the lace that framed the bodices, with shoes made from straw flowers, topped off with belt buckles modelled from the actual ones worn on stage.
“Cultural representation is important to us,” Marshall explains. “We work closely with the brand vision, and the florist helps to guide that along. But we’re always open to follow the imagination of the artist as well.”
Last year, the German consulate in Toronto sponsored a breathtaking commemorative representation of Sophie Scholl, a young resistance fighter who was executed by the Nazis when she was only 21. Joezel Yumul of Vogue Weddings and Decor individually glued nearly 40,000 sunflower seeds to create her dress, accented by a bag made from small pinecones trimmed with abaca rope. He chose to present her standing in a field of white roses, to honour the work she did for The White Rose Movement. Her public was brought to tears.
Fleurs de Villes also worked with The National Portrait Gallery in London to create a Ditchley portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in Covent Garden, a stunning floral representation of the monarch complete with extravagant ruff and lavish farthingale skirt.
“They have the exceptional ability to translate their bespoke flower events into an absolute work of art,” says Damselfly’s LaManna.
Just like Jackson Pollock’s paintings, Fleurs de Villes’ message is clear: often, the act of creation is just as precious as the final product. A corset built from birch tree bark; a bolero wood-chip jacket draped over a succulent dress; a cameo created from a Scabiosa bloom. It’s all in the details.
“There is a language, little known
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak,
Of life and joy to those who seek.
For Love Divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers.”
– The Language of Flowers 1875