Designers nurture penchant for petals

No industry, like no man, is an island. Behind the global luxury sector, valued by Bain & Co at more than €200bn, are a host of smaller specialities that have grown to serve the high fashion world, from feathers to fringe makers to, most recently, florists. They are the latest niche businesses to profit from the transformation of the ready-to-wear shows into pop cultural spectacle.

Simply consider the past week in Paris, where Céline created potted rainforest vignettes along its catwalk, McQueen turned the runway into a wild moor with 10,000 heather plants, and Vionnet filled its set with 20,000 tulips shipped from the Netherlands. The season before, Mulberry set its show in an English country garden designed by British florist McQueens, complete with trailing ivy and scented roses, and at Dior real and artificial wisteria, orchids, roses and lianas hung from the ceiling.

Though fashion has long had a penchant for flowers, from thank you gifts to invitations, industry insiders trace the explosion of the business to Raf Simons’s couture debut for Dior in 2012, when the walls of five interconnected rooms of a Parisian hôtel particulier were adorned with 1m flowers including peonies, goldenrod, dahlias, carnations, orchids, delphiniums and roses.

The Dior display was so big that, says Antwerp-based florist Mark Colle who crafted the spectacle in conjunction with Parisian florist Eric Chauvin, “we actually [influenced] the European orchid market, because we needed so many flowers and we had to search so many different parts of the world that the prices went up extremely. In the end it was almost like a game. We had four or five groups of people hunting for orchids and it was like ‘yeah, I’ve found another 3,000 in Germany’.”

Dior hasn’t revealed the price of its floral fantasia, and Mr Colle says of the cost “I have no idea, honestly”, but one top florist estimated it could be £3m-£5m. Dior was unavailable for comment. For less extravagant statements, dressing a catwalk is likely to start at £10,000 and go up to £40,000 and beyond. A living floral sculpture for a grand event could cost £70,000-£80,000. Nevertheless, says Kally Ellis of McQueen’s, not only is high-end floristry flourishing, but “it’s become a fashion statement”.

As well as Mr Colle of Baltimore Bloemen, other names catering to the fashion community include Rambert Rigaud, who set up Rambert Rigaud Fleuriste en Herbe in Paris last year after working as a studio director for Dior haute couture and Yves Saint Laurent, and Thierry Boutemy, who has his own shop in Brussels and specialises in wild flowers; last year he worked with Hermès and fashion show producer Etienne Russo.

Then there’s Indoor Garden Design, which has a staff of 50 and a turnover of just under £3m. The UK company, which has worked with MaxMara and Paco Rabanne, specialises in living plants, helping brands avoid the negative publicity that surrounded Dior after Mr Simons’s couture show, when it was castigated by some for having sacrificed so many blooms. Creative director Ian Drummond says that, although he noticed a drop off in corporate clients during the recession, horticulture is “considered an essential in the fashion world”.

As Thierry Boutemy notes, “The flower is a luxury product, and, like many luxury businesses today, it is doing well.”

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