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Jeff Leatham and the Artistry of Flowers


Life & Style

Christian Dior once said, “After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.” The French fashion designer often sought to recreate the poetry and magic of his childhood garden in Granville and was known for celebrating the concept of the “flower-woman” in his collections.

The ultimate luxury is to have flowers in a home on a weekly basis.Jeff Leatham

Florist-to-the-stars Jeff Leatham may or may not assign florals such divinity, but he certainly believes they bring happiness to his clients — including Oprah, Kylie Minogue, Tina Turner, the Kardashians and Hillary Clinton. Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been on the receiving end of his beautiful buds.

“Everyone loves flowers,” says Leatham, who was knighted Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by France’s Ministry of Culture — a rare honor for an American, much less a floral designer. “People have an emotional connection to flowers. When people receive flowers, there is a smile on their face.”


In Leatham’s world, smiles are a sort of currency. His avant-garde arrangements — which first appeared at Paris’ George V Four Seasons Hotel in 1999 — are living works of art. His style is unorthodox and original, flamboyant and surprising. It could be a tunnel of red roses or a bundle of peonies tilted diagonally at the top of tall glass vases or orchids turned upside down, submerged in water. The effect of his floral artistry is almost universal.


“Jeff’s exuberant flower arrangements reflect his vivacious personality,” wrote Nadja Swarovski in the 2014 monograph celebrating his work. “His creations possess a unique magic and never fail to bring a feeling of joy to anyone who comes into their orbit.”

Fresh off the June 1 opening of his new flower studio at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, Leatham shares his inspirations and secrets for bringing out the timeless beauty of blooms inside and outside the home.

Previews Inside Out We’re seeing this term everywhere now: “floral couture design.” What does it mean?  

Jeff Leatham [Laughing] I think it stems from florists seeking out more respect for the profession. There’s a little bit of a stigma attached to it, like you’re just a florist. When you hear the word “florist,” you usually picture the guy who mixes red roses and baby’s breath in your hometown. I’m guilty of falling into the mindset, too. Instead of calling it a flower shop, I am calling it “flower studio.” The truth is, it’s always been floral couture design, because a client tells a florist what he or she wants for an event or space. Each arrangement is original and special, and we’ve been doing this all along.

Previews Inside Out Speaking of Gucci and other fashion houses, you have worked with many luxury brands, including Swarovski, Givenchy, Tiffany, Alexander Wang and Balenciaga. Where do you see the parallels between fashion and flowers?

Jeff Leatham Historically speaking, designers have always been inspired by nature and flowers, regardless of the industry. Flowers are always sneaking their way into fashion. Even when you look at the Met Ball, there’s always this giant floral sculpture. Look at the collections of Yves St. Laurent. There is always a floral element. In the home décor segment, flowers find their way into all kinds of accessories, too. For example, I designed a chandelier for Swarovski called the “Crystal Palace” project, which had 660 replica orchids studded with tiny crystals that hung from the ceiling. I enjoy collaborating with different artists and brands to create something that’s different and unique. Working with Ellie Saab has been particularly wonderful, because his designs are so floral-based.

Previews Inside Out What’s your design process?

Jeff Leatham Typically, I start with color. After the color, it’s the character of my clients or the space.


Previews Inside Out How much attention do you pay to color, the scale of petals or seasonality when you are designing?

Jeff Leatham For me, I usually work off the space. I was the first floral artist to work in the Palace of Versailles, in the famous Hall of Mirrors. I will confess that walking into that space for the first time, with all of the chandeliers and its history, was intimidating! Because of the mirrors, I couldn’t use candles, which I love to use in my work. Instead, I ended up using a lot of glass for the table settings. For Tina Turner’s wedding, I had to create a floral arrangement in her garden for the reception and dinner. She had these giant red rose bushes around her house, but we had a hard time getting those to grow. So instead, we built a giant red rose wall made of over 140,000 roses and a Tree of Life sculpture for her ceremony. It was very “Alice in Wonderland.” Because we used so many flowers for the reception and ceremony, we didn’t do any flowers on the tables themselves. Instead, we set out these beautiful Baccarat crystal candleholders. Sometimes there is such a thing as “too much.”

Previews Inside Out How did you first get into flowers?

Jeff Leatham I was modeling for years in Europe in my early 20s. When I came back to L.A., I didn’t have a job. I began to put my feelers out. I received a call from a friend: there was a wedding at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, and the flower shop needed extra help. I walked into that hotel, and a woman named Paige was doing the flowers. I was blown away by their beauty. It was the first time I saw flowers as art. That weekend led to working part time at the shop, and then eventually to full time.

Previews Inside Out What inspires you most about flowers?

Jeff Leatham I’m inspired most by the fact that I’m a dream maker. Whenever I start working with clients, I start the conversation by asking them to close their eyes and picture how they want their event to look. I know what I’m doing will stay in people’s minds for a long time. People have an emotional connection to flowers. Right now, there are so many peonies, and I often hear people say, “Peonies are my favorite flower.” You can see the joy on their faces. I have a big responsibility as a florist. I’m making memories for my clients. We touch people’s lives.

Previews Inside Out What is absolutely essential to a beautiful floral design?

Jeff Leatham The most important thing for me is that I must be in a good mood!

Previews Inside Out For novice floral arrangers, what’s your best piece of advice?

Jeff Leatham It’s called the “Leatham Threes.” Keep things clean, simple and chic. Never use more than three types of flowers, and never mix three types of monochromatic flowers together.

Previews Inside Out Any trends you’re seeing in floral design right now?

Jeff Leatham People are being more daring with color. Traditionally, we would use a lot of white in weddings. But people are viewing it as a celebration, and they’re using more color. They’re also mixing colors.

Previews Inside Out Which flowers are in your house right now?

Jeff Leatham I don’t always have fresh flowers in my house, unless they are leftovers from a job. But if you were going to walk into my house right now, you would see white orchid plants and beautiful white and pink peonies.

Previews Inside Out How do you keep the orchids alive?

Jeff Leatham Put about five ice cubes in the pot once a week. They like humidity, not a lot of bright light.

Previews Inside Out What conveys instant luxury when it comes to flowers?

Jeff Leatham Creating a sense of luxury in floral arrangements always starts with the quality of the flowers. A lot of florists use recycled flowers, but the quality of flowers is so important. I have amazing suppliers directly from Holland and in Paris. I look at everything: the length of the stems, the color of the petals. People will often say of my creations, “We’ve never seen a flower with that color before.” That’s why you buy a beautiful Gucci jacket. It’s about the way it is made.

When I was on “Oprah,” she said the ultimate luxury for her was to have flowers in her home on a weekly basis.

Previews Inside Out We can’t say we disagree.


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Jeff Leatham and the Artistry of Flowers

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