Paper flowers that make the cut
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The columbine is a flower that Livia Cetti has yet to master. The artist has been making paper flowers from her basement in The Bronx for nearly 15 years, and it’s a challenge like this that keeps her on her toes. “The more complex the petal, the harder it is to create,” she explains. Cetti, who has a background in floristry, starts by handling the real bloom and observing its gesture, though botanical accuracy is not her aim. “I am trying to capture the feeling I get from it; it’s impressionistic. Paper flowers have a similar psychological effect to real flowers. They are beautiful! You light up.”
Cetti’s company, The Green Vase, arguably kickstarted the trend for paper florals that has put traditional silk flowers in the shade. Découpage artist John Derian was the first to place an order; when Cetti tentatively presented her earliest designs to him he immediately wanted them for his shop. A leap across the Atlantic followed, to Cutter Brooks in the Cotswolds and Astier de Villatte in Paris, where Cetti was commissioned to produce a bespoke installation for its atelier. The resulting bouquet offers the best of all seasons with paper delphiniums, dahlias, anemones, iris and spring blossom all leaping out of a vase.
Fashion designer Lulu Guinness was an early Green Vase customer and began her collection by bringing back a single stem in her suitcase every time she visited New York. “In the winter I miss my flowers so much,” she says. “Fake flowers are difficult, but paper flowers are not pretending to be real: they are a thing in their own right.”
Of course, styling comes into it, and Guinness has a knack for that. Her Instagram feed (@itsmeluluguinness) is filled with pictures of her paper flowers – buttercups running along a windowsill at the Gloucestershire folly she calls home, and roses given a fairytale quality beneath a Victorian bell jar.
These roses are part of her own line in paper flowers that will be released this month. Influenced by the pastiche pink roses in the botanical classic Album de Redouté, as well as Andy Warhol’s fashion illustrations in bright colour and black ink, Guinness worked with the artist Annabel Pearl to design her cut-out roses and ferns that will be printed in Wales on sturdy card. True to form, they are witty and original – “they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously!” – and could be placed in a pair on a mantelpiece or run along a table for a party.
When Emmeli Kimhi found herself out of a job after Henry Holland’s fashion line went into administration, she began making paper flowers with a playful flair in order to relax. Her pink tulips and lilac poppies soon caught the eye of HTSI’s contributing editor Fiona Golfar, who sought them out for her summer shop at Fowey Hall in Cornwall. They’re now available at The Courtauld, Jam Jar Edit and Folka in Stoke Newington.
Miranda Sinclair has also taken up paper work in the past two years. An esteemed interiors stylist, she was used to seeing a steady stream of perfect things, “but it’s a real joy when you can see the hand that has made those things – it’s unpredictable”. That her work leans towards pot plants rather than arranged bouquets of flowers goes to emphasise this sense of organic unpredictability. Nasturtium flowers grow out at odd angles as if reaching towards the sun, and geranium leaves drape softly over the edge of a flowerpot. It’s not difficult to see the connection between Sinclair’s shapes and forms and the sources she cites as inspiration: Matisse’s paper cut-outs, Josef Frank’s fabrics for Svenskt Tenn and Sonia Delaunay’s film Les Oranges.
Of course, paper flowers don’t die. There’s an environmental appeal to this, given that many real flowers bought in the UK during the winter might have come all the way from Colombia or Kenya with air miles attached. And while the life expectancy of paper flowers is not infinite, they can run into decades. Sinclair’s mother-in-law has a treasured flower that’s now 30 years old. “Time takes its toll but with paper things – and this counts for books too – it’s not unattractive or decaying. It can actually add to it and be quite beautiful. Maybe it’s been touched by the sun, and I love that.”
One need only look at the 18th-century “paper mosaiks” of Mary Delany – invented when the artist was in her 70s and now preserved at the British Museum – to understand their powers of endurance. Contemporary paper-cut artist Jessica Pemberton was inspired by Delany’s work, while Susan Beech of A Petal Unfolds began her business on the back of finding a vintage paper-flower book on eBay.
Beech brings age-old techniques into the 21st century by constantly refining her process, sharing her skills via workshops and with her community on Instagram. A collaboration with Host Home sold out in a matter of days. The flower in question was a Japanese anemone, pink and fluttery as a real one can be, but not quite real either. It’s in this space between that each maker asserts their own unique style.