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Beyond the Bouquet

L.A. florists put their mettle to the petal in an ongoing contest to create cutting-edge arrangements


A studio head wants to send his big box-office star flowers after her newest movie rakes in $75 million over the weekend. Think a dozen long-stemmed roses will do it? Forget it. You might as well send smiley-face balloons and a Whitman's Sampler.

In a city where appearances count, floral design has become an ultra-competitive, big-bucks (average arrangement $100; no upper limit), high-stakes business with constant pressure to come up with traffic-stopping, cutting-edge designs. While sending the snapdragon and carnation bouquet from Page 7 of the generic flower arrangement catalog may work for some, others consider nothing but flora in the highest possible style.

For one man's 40th birthday party lavender-blue hydrangeas and velvety chocolate cosmos were placed in containers wrapped with faux fur. Centerpieces for the 2000 Academy Award Governors Ball included cymbidium orchids submerged in a glass bowl filled with broken glass, water and a 2-inch layer of red oil. At the recent gala opening for the Andy Warhol retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, vibrant gerbera daisies were placed in glass vases that had been painted on the inside in similar hot colors, mimicking Warhol hues.

A simple candelabrum went haute couture for one party when it was covered with moss and decorated with a spiral of artichokes, protea, oranges, apples, succulents and silver beads. For another, rows of white hyacinths were placed in a square steel planter lined with broken glass.

Rose aficionados who turn their noses up at contrived bouquets with baby's breath and ferns can opt for 100 roses standing straight up in a low box, tied together with crisscrossed branches and accented with more roses and greenery at the bottom. If congratulations are in order, how about a bottle of champagne placed in a cylindrical glass vase topped with a lush bouquet--an effect that makes the flowers look as though they're floating? Or, for a more modern, minimalist look, perhaps a submerged single orchid, roots exposed, in a pebble-filled glass vase framed with bamboo stalks and curly willow?

National Attention

These arrangements are not only decorating glitzy Hollywood parties, million-dollar weddings, chic restaurants and elaborate bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, but are also getting national attention by showing up in splashy spreads in magazines and on television shows. With florists turning out 100 to 200 arrangements in one day and booking events months in advance, there is no such thing as down time. Some shops employ as many as 16 full-time designers with backgrounds in everything from fine art to fashion.

"In L.A. everyone is always looking for the newest restaurant, the newest thing," says Mark Held, co-owner of Mark's Garden in Sherman Oaks. "It's true for flowers, too. You have to be creating something new every day to stay ahead; otherwise you're not in the swim of it."

Whatever a client wants a client will get, from spare, Asian-influenced designs to ceiling-high creations bursting with dramatic sprays of flowers and foliage. Some florists even do table settings and lighting and construct elaborate props for parties and other events.

Those on the receiving end of amazing bouquets don't easily forget them. Amanda Selby, a 25-year-old Los Angeles student, was sent arrangements from Mark's Garden of lavender and pink roses and white tulips in cylindrical glass vases for a wedding shower she threw for a friend. "They were so beautiful," she says. "We were thrilled. They were the first thing people noticed when they came into the house. And they were a little different than I had seen before, with the tulips taller than the roses. It was sort of a modern take on a traditional look."

Floral displays "make this a better workplace," says Michael Jacobson, manager of Neil Lane Jewelry in L.A., which often orders arrangements from Casabella Florist in Beverly Hills.

Clients often come up with their own ideas, which floral designers build upon. Hostess Lucy Billett wanted flowers to play a minimal role in the centerpieces for her son's recent wedding rehearsal dinner. Mark's Garden obliged by taking fruit such as kumquats and pears and lightly bronzing them, then adding one or two roses to the arrangements. For the wedding they created cufflinks and a dickey out of rosebuds for Billet's suit.

"Flowers," she says, "bring life. They set a mood."

Floral Trends

As there are trends in fashion and home decor, so there are in floral arrangements, colors of flowers and kinds of flowers. On the "in" list now, according to Held, are "crazy" mixtures of hot pinks, oranges and acid greens as well as autumnal tones of burgundy and rust; huge dahlias the size of dinner plates; unusual bicolor roses in dusty shades of terra cotta or bright citrus; fragrant herbs such as rosemary used as accents in arrangements; bright chartreuse foliage; and swirly, fuzzy cockscomb. Held and partner Richard David predict that ballerina pink will see a big comeback soon.

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