Hot off the heels of hosting our flower-pressing event at The Edition Hotel, floral-focused set designer Gemma Hayden Blest took the time to tell us about her work, travels and just what makes flowers such an alluring gift all over the world.
How would you describe your practice? Could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to work with botanicals specifically?
I originally studied Fashion Design, followed by stints at Alexander McQueen then Burberry. I quickly realized that what I loved about fashion was not the product development of garments. I now work somewhere between set design and floristry. Instead of fabrics and trims, I now create with petals and stems - but most of the jobs I do have fashion related briefs.
You've travelled, lived and worked in some pretty far flung places, from Hong Kong to LA to London. How has each place had an impact on your practice?
I find a lot of inspiration in exploring new places. Flowers have deep roots in society and the way countries use them. I enjoy the challenge of working to varied social needs and tastes. Hong Kong is an extremely fast paced working environment with deeply superstitious values. White is often a colour associated with death so needs to be avoided, as is the number 4 which must be considered during arranging.
Do you have any particular methods/rules/habits for approaching a new project/collaboration?
I do a lot of initial research. Understanding the brand or client is as important as the flower selection for the design. I firstly work out the message the client is trying to send out then develop a colour palette and put together mood pages. I then develop the designs to fit the location, whether that’s a bouquet to work with a dress, an arch to fit a chapel entrance or a flower wall backdrop.
Do you have any particular favourite projects that you've worked on to date, and anything that you're particularly excited about in the near future?
One of my favourites this year was a collaboration with Willow Smith for Stance Punks&Poets. We used flowers to create a beautiful kaleidoscopic dreamscape to support the floral prints in the collection. I’m most excited at the moment with jobs that let me experiment with paint and flowers.
Why do you think there is such a strong relationship between the arts/creative industries and flowers?
Flowers are one of the nature’s strongest expressions. Looking at their natural curation of colour, shape and texture is an easy source of inspiration. We've adorned our houses and clothes with floral prints and doused our bodies in their scent since the beginning of history. The general meaning of a flower across the globe is linked to health, vitality, the birth of a fruit, nourishment.
Do you think there has been a change in the way people appreciate flowers in recent times? Why?
I think there’s been a conscious shift in people’s interest in produce as a whole. There is a much broader understanding of fair-trade, organic produce and buying locally. I’ve definitely noticed a shift to clients having an appreciation for foraged and locally grown flowers. We somewhat lost seasonal produce with the development of air travel but it’s coming back as people want to embrace regional and seasonal goods. Working in many places, I have a great appreciation for regional goods.
You recently hosted a flower pressing event for us at the Edition Hotel in London. How do you think the craft of flower pressing enhances our relationship with flowers?
It’s the purest form of recording. There’s no elaboration through pen, embellishment from paint brushes or flattening from photography. With its DNA still intact, it’s a way of preserving a moment in time – a stem from a loved one, a daisy picked during a picnic, a flower from your holiday. A fleeting moment can become something to keep.
Why do you think flowers make such great gifts? How do you avoid the common clichés and pitfalls that occasionally come with ordering flowers?
Flowers make beautiful gifts because they touch our senses. Their scent, beauty, and feel are all a pleasure. Try and make connections with the person you are ordering for. If you know their favourite colour or something more personal, try and use that. I recently was asked to help with sending a bouquet to a girl that has an apothecary line – we used delicate scented flowers and mixed in some garden herbs like rosemary and sage because we knew how important scent and plants’ medicinal qualities were to her. Flowers should be used to provoke the senses or trigger memories. Maybe it's Mimosa bringing back memories from a holiday in the south of France, wild garden roses from an old family house or just a large bundle of eucalyptus because the receiver has a cold.
Do you have a favourite flower?
Wild flowers bring me the most joy- flowers that are too delicate to be farmed. At the moment gardens in London are filled with beautiful blue forget-me-nots that melt me. As a year long obsession though I’d have to say wild garden roses.
Find out more about Gemma Hayden Blest and her work here.
Photography by Anton Rodriguez.
Download The Ultimate Guide To Flower Pressing by Gemma Hayden Blessed x Floom