Canned close-ups of floral arrangements would never cut it with Olivier Giugni.
A floral artist, “not a florist,” designed his new book “Living Art: Style Your Home with Flowers,” as if he were walking readers through 18 homes he has adorned with displays. Soprano Renée Fleming, acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud and “French Women Don’t Get Fat” author Mireille Guiliano are a few who opened their doors to the Frenchman, who styled each individual shot and prides himself in taking into consideration a room’s art, architecture and furniture. Several even let him dip into their closets, as was the case with Fleming, whose black evening gown and Manolo Blahniks are splayed in her music room near a piano bench covered with a bouquet of red roses for a dramatic post-performance homage.
Another grande dame who knows how to hold a room, Catherine Deneuve, provided a handwritten note for the foreward. “At home, nothing is impossible with flowers, Freedom and Power!” she wrote. “Nature is all yours — volume and textures are the major challenges. You must be audacious and tame the extraordinary perfection of vegetables and that is exactly what the book of Olivier’s has given to me — dreams!”
During an interview, the charismatic Giugni said he first met Deneuve through friends, but reminded her of previous encounters. He first laid eyes on her as a 20-year-old working in a rare plants store in Paris. The actress was in search of a specific plant Giugni had never heard of, so he ducked into the back room and frantically phoned his boss to urge him to return as soon as possible. Years later, their paths crossed again when Giugni was more established and working for Pierre Cardin as his floral designer at Les Fleurs de Maxim’s. He routinely saw Deneuve park her Porsche out front on Place de Concorde and walk incognito beneath an Hermès scarf en route to the Carita salon. “When I told her, she said, ‘That’s right. I did have a Porsche. Wow, you really do know me,’” Giugni said.
“Living Art” is dedicated to René Clément, the director of Les Fleurs de Maxim’s, whom Giugni first went to see in an electric blue Yves Saint Laurent suit he bought on sale all those years ago. There, he handled flowers for Maxim’s, the popular Belle Epoque eatery next door. The shop was also the go-to place for Barbra Streisand’s enormous gardenia trees for her stays at the Ritz and the white phalaenopsis orchids that cascaded from the ceiling at Christina Onassis’ wedding to Thierry Roussel.
“Fashion still inspires my work, and in my creations, floral artistry and fashion design are closely related,” Giugni writes in the preface.
Fashion types also appear in his new book — at least their homes do. Images of Michael Vollbracht’s compact ground-floor railroad apartment feature a few unexpected combinations, such as a wooden African ram perched on an antique file cabinet within range of wheatgrass, and forestlike ginger plants meant to accent the hues of a Robert Motherwell lithograph Vollbracht rescued from a garbage truck burial. A Cardin-inspired display in Jean Claude Huon’s Cold Spring, N.Y., country house features globelike vases and different-sized mirrors under plants and candle holders.
Stylist Freddie Leiba’s duplex is also featured and J. Crew fans will like the looks of The Carlyle Hotel’s Empire Suite. The wood-paneled, three-bedroom space was decorated by Thierry Despont and was once home to Mickey Drexler. More recently, notables like Nicolas Sarkozy and Mick Jagger have each booked the two-floor spread, where Giugni has selected Roaring ’20s-type colors for the flowers that accent the French and American decor.
His career would have been decidedly different had his parents’ plans for him to take over the family plumbing business panned out. “I was not too keen on school, or skilled with a wrench for that matter,” he said.
“Living Art” came together in part through his friend Micky Palmer Boulud, who helped teach him the ropes based on her experience of helping her husband with his cookbooks. In 1992, Giugni styled the first one, “Cooking with Daniel Boulud,” by displaying a smorgasbord on a 16-foot-long table that was eight-feet deep. All along, the chef’s wife vowed to one day help Giugni with a book of his own and now she has.
With two Manhattan stores and a loyal following, Giugni is all about the greener things in life. “Flowers mean life,” he said.