The Return of Decadent ’80s Flowers
Styles from Manhattan’s age of excess — from explosive more-is-more arrangements to humble baby’s breath and tacky tropicals — are relevant again, nearly four decades later.
2018 is shaping up to be the year of the anthurium, formerly a lead contender for world’s most despised flower. Should you need reminding, the anthurium is that plastic-y looking plant with a fingerlike spadix rising out of a flat shiny red bract, which has been referred to, for reasons that require no explanation, as “penis on a platter.” This controversial flower is just one of a host of formerly derided flora being reclaimed from the slush pile of floristry.
Plants long forbidden in tasteful circles — tropicals like birds of paradise, protea, palm fronds and monstera leaves; cheap romance-and-restaurant stalwarts like tea roses, carnations and baby’s breath; and even that overused signifier of banal good taste, the orchid — are all being lovingly and brazenly revived.
As diverse as they are, they have something in common. The last time they were fashionable was in the 1980s — specifically in Manhattan, the city where countless floral trends are born, and perish.
In his studio, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe turned tropical blooms into icons of sexuality. Isolating specimens against similar backdrops to the ones he used for his nude portraiture, he regarded the smooth skin of a calla lily or the hard veins of an anthurium with the same deliberate attention as he would the flesh of a well-sculpted male body. Likewise, these sculptural blooms could also be found springing from glossy black vessels at party spots like Mr. Chow and nightclubs like Studio 54, signaling a similar sexual decadence. Uptown, flowers were mostly used to convey a different kind of excess — that of money and all the glamour it could buy. At competitively lavish weddings and charity events, and at restaurants like Le Cirque or La Goulue, the arrangements were epically overscale, not unlike the hair, shoulder pads and spending habits of the women who populated this “Bonfire of the Vanities” version of New York. These floral extravaganzas were joyous, Easter-hued creations loaded with whatever was showiest: Stargazer lilies, lilacs, hothouse roses, birds of paradise, explosive yellow forsythia, fragrant eucalyptus shoots and skyscraping, arthritic-seeming branches, often all at once. “Excess piled on top of opulence,” recalls Charles Masson, whose elegant large-scale odes to the seasons for his family’s uptown restaurant, La Grenouille (which he now creates at Majorelle), likely inspired this look. “Trends,” says Masson, “are always signs of the times.”
But times change, bubbles burst and eventually the creative center of New York shifted from Manhattan lofts to the psychic farmscape of Brooklyn. In turn, the floral style began to mirror the food movement: homespun fantasies of nature’s seasonal delicacies. At wildflower-strewn weddings and in Dutch-still-life-inspired bouquets, the flowers were always exquisite, but also always very polite, chaste even.
Some of the most forward-thinking florists right now — Brrch and Metaflora in New York, Fjura in London and Muse in Paris — are channeling the unabashedly sexy and even vulgar brashness of the ’80s, albeit with an anarchic, surreal and even unsettling edge. They are turning the limiting ideals of good taste on its head to embrace the variety flowers can offer, and how they can make us feel and see in new ways. Consider arrangements such as flesh-pink anthurium bedazzled with fake pearls splayed around orchids dyed in a rainbow of spun-sugar pastels or gold spray-painted palm leaves paired with great arches of mauve-colored ostrich feathers. “Why do flowers always have to be pretty?” says Brittany Asch of Brrch, who designed the arrangements shown here. “I want to elevate things that disgust people, so that they have to look again and reconsider them. Nature is so much bigger than pretty.”
These powerful floral riffs make provocative partners of nature and artifice, irony and earnestness, politics and escapism, even utter simplicity and vulgar excess. Why make binary choices when you can turn these distinctions on their head? These are ephemeral creations challenging us to open our minds to new definitions of beauty, and in turn to love more tolerantly, freely and diversely. As Masson says, it’s a sign of the times.
Original post from The New York Times
Publication date: April-16-2018