PARIS — Everything’s coming up roses for Jeff Leatham.
The artistic director of the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris is having a banner year. This fall alone, the man known as the “Rock ’n’ Roll florist” has published a new book, unveiled a line of limited-edition handbags for Goyard, and received the insignia of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France’s Ministry of Culture.
This story first appeared in the December 16, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
His family flew in from Utah to attend the ceremony, held at the Château de Versailles in early November.
“The second I found out, I was, like, in tears, crying. I was shopping with my partner in Saint-Germain. I got off the phone and he’s like, ‘Oh my God, did someone die?’” Leatham recalls over coffee at La Galerie, the hotel lounge where his sculptural floral arrangements meet Flemish tapestries and 19th-century furniture. “It’s not bestowed on many Americans, so I don’t take that lightly and I’m very, very proud on all levels.”
Straight after, Leatham flew to Brazil to inaugurate his Christmas decorations at the JK Iguatemi shopping center in São Paulo — the perfect excuse to display his new medal.
“I got knighted on Monday, the cocktail was on Thursday night, and I’m like, ‘OK, it’s been less than a week. Hell yeah, I’m going to wear that thing!’” the designer says. For that occasion, he only wore a discreet ribbon on his suit lapel. But he is happy to clip his medal onto a black leather jacket for a photo shoot in the lobby of the George V, where he has erected towering metallic red polar bears for the holidays.
Leatham and his team of nine assistants have arranged 12,000 flowers a week at the Paris hotel for 15 years, turning it into a destination for discerning tourists. “I really do feel that we revolutionized the way that people think of flowers,” he says.
“We’ve experimented with flowers, and I think we’ve been able to do that because we’ve had this budget of over a million euros a year for flowers to work with, and that’s lent me the tools to experiment with putting flowers under water, and leaving flowers out of water and having flowers tilted out of the vase,” he says.
American audiences will be familiar with Leatham from his 2009 reality show “Flowers Uncut” on TLC. More recently, he has been a guest of Oprah Winfrey and Queen Latifah’s daytime show.
His signature look — “clean, simple and chic” — is lavishly illustrated in “Jeff Leatham: Visionary Floral Art and Design,” published by Rizzoli. It features photos of his wedding designs for clients such as Tina Turner and Avril Lavigne, as well as the decors he has created in venues such as the Opéra Garnier in Paris and the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
The designer also has a line of vases with Waterford Crystal and a home collection that includes scented candles.
“It’s important for me as an artist to be a very chic kind of octopus, in a way, and have my tentacles in many different places,” he says. “I need to go out and create ballrooms and tents in the middle of the desert in order to keep inspired to be able to keep doing what I do here. I’m proud to say that we’ve never done the same thing twice after 15 years. We’re still wowing people with our designs and still reinventing ourselves.”
Leatham relocated his office from New York City to Los Angeles, where he launched his career at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. While his New York clients included Alexander Wang, the Manhattan social set proved harder to crack.
“You have these Park Avenue ladies, they’ve used the same florist for, like, 40 years so it’s tough to break in,” he says.
“I was really, really depressed in January because I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m a loser, I don’t have any jobs,’” he says.
“But it’s really been my best year yet. I’ve been doing so many different types of projects and I’ve learned in the last three years that my brand is very strong around the world,” said Leatham, adding that after the collaboration with Goyard — available only in Brazil — he would like to put his flower designs on clothes.
His L.A. business is blooming. Among other projects, Leatham is decorating Kris Jenner’s house for Christmas. “It’s going to be pretty damned chic,” he says.