PARIS — On the first day of Giuseppina Callegari’s tenure at Lachaume, back in 1971, both Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent showed up at the historical florist, located at the time on the Rue Royale in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.
“It was quite curious: They came separately, but they bought the same thing,” recalls Stephanie Primet, the granddaughter of the boutique’s famed owner, who runs the florist, which has now moved to the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, alongside her sister Caroline Cnocquaert. Both designers left the boutique with a single long-stemmed white rose, Lachaume’s signature bloom.
Nearly 50 years later, white flowers still reign supreme in the fashion world. Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of Dior, sends thanks in the form of white ranunculus, usually picked at florist Eric Chauvin. At Berluti, Kris Van Assche works in tandem with floral artist Debeaulieu to create pristine bouquets of wild roses, peonies and anemones. Givenchy creative director Clare Waight Keller is careful to craft feminine and romantic bouquets with the help of Bastille-based florist Arôm, mixing peonies, dahlias, hydrangeas and roses in shades of white, nude and light pink, while Alexandre Vauthier likes to play around with carnations, hydrangeas and roses from Lachaume — all in white.
For such a creative bunch, the choice of white for gifted bouquets can seem a bit underwhelming. “I think fashion designers are saturated with color,” says Primet, who at Lachaume counts Chanel, Balenciaga, Gianvito Rossi and Jean Paul Gaultier among her clients. “It’s a classic choice, so as not to stir the senses too much and remain elegant. You can’t predict how people will react to color, so most people choose to play it safe.”
A safety some florists can find a bit boring at times.
“Most designers are quite timid when it comes to flower choices,” says Pierre Banchereau of Debeaulieu, a Pigalle-based florist who works with brands like Chloé, Louis Vuitton, Acne Studios and Dior Men.
Debeaulieu, whose bigger bouquets are priced around 200 euros, is known for its creative streak, crafting delirious tableaus of unexpected flowers in zingy colors. Following Chloé’s fall 2019 ready-to-wear show, Banchereau sent 50 bouquets in signature Chloé tones of nude, brown and pink — some of the colors natural, others painted onto the flowers. “When a brand calls us, they know they are not going to get red roses or white orchids,” says Banchereau. “But fashion designers, despite being very knowledgeable about flowers, are very classic in their choices.”
The indications he receives are often the same: “Louis Vuitton mostly asks for white or pastel hues, a choice I find surprising when I look at Nicolas Ghesquière’s work over the years,” says Banchereau. “As florists, we are here to accompany the designer’s choices and make sure the flowers match the house’s DNA, not to overshadow them.”
The fashion industry is a particularly big consumer of blooms: fashion companies count for 70 percent of both Lachaume and Eric Chauvin’s client list, creeping up to 80 percent for Debeaulieu’s showroom activities and even 90 percent for young floral designer Beaude Studio, based in the Marais.
When he quit working as an art dealer to set up his own floral studio, Louis-Géraud Castor didn’t quite measure how big of a client the fashion industry would be. “Not many people sent flowers in the art world,” says the founder of Castor Fleuriste, who works with Hermès and Lemaire on both showroom displays and gift bouquets.
“I realized how big of a deal flowers were to fashion designers when I witnessed the number of bouquets my partner, a fashion editor, received after fashion week,” recalls Castor. “Most of them white, a lot of them roses.”
Castor, who set up in business a little under two years ago, is part of a new wave of Parisian florists aiming to shake up the tradition of bouquet gifting.
“You can tell straight away which fashion brands choose flowers like they would buy any other commodity, and which others aim to tell a real story,” says the florist. “For Lemaire, I work in tandem with Sarah-Linh Tran: the brand is really thoughtful about what flowers they gift journalists, collaborators, but also the seamstresses.”
This season, it was wild hellebores. “I’m not interested in simple roses or fruit salad-like compositions,” says Castor. “I like strange flowers.”
A huge king protea, a round flower resembling a spiky artichoke, was the centerpiece of Mugler’s gift bouquets this season, crafted by British florist Ashley Boer of Beaude Studio, as well as a couple of saucy red anthuriums.
“These always lead to a discussion, because they are quite phallic,” laughs Boer. Casey Cadwallader, creative director of Mugler, didn’t see it as a problem. Each season, he meets with Boer to show her the label’s collection and discuss textures and colors, so the brand’s flowers can be perfectly in sync.
“This season, red and lilac were the main colors,” says Boer. “The Mugler girl is strong, sexy and doesn’t mess around; so I worked with a harder flower, something slicker, sharper, a bit twisted and weird.”
Gifted flowers are seen as the finishing touch to the designer’s creative vision. “Each house has its own codes,” explains Eric Chauvin, who has been working with Dior for over 15 years. Each fashion week, his team sends out 200 thank you bouquets to Dior’s extensive guest list. “It’s our job to reinterpret the house codes in order to create unique bouquets for each and every brand we work with – which is why no bouquets are the same from one house to another.”
Prior to the presentation of each Dior collection, Chauvin meets with Chiuri and her studio to pick out the season’s themes, which will then be turned into bouquets. “This season was all about softness,” says Chauvin. “So I created bouquets in powdery tones with garden roses and orchids, in keeping with Maria Grazia’s passion for garden flowers.”
Some houses even have a symbolic flower. Every year, in honor of International Workers’ Day on May 1, Chauvin sends out hundreds of bunches of lily of the valley, Christian Dior’s favorite flower, either in bouquets or in potted versions inspired by archival pictures of the designer.
“Flowers, like fashion, are part of a global art de vivre,” says the florist, who has three shops in the Paris area including his atelier in the chic suburb of Neuilly. “Each designer had a signature bloom: Monsieur Saint Laurent, who I worked with personally until his passing, had an obsession for white fragrant flowers, such as lilies and hyacinths.”
But the designer the most dedicated to flowers will always remain Karl Lagerfeld.
“I had him on the phone every day,” remembers Cnocquaert from Lachaume, who worked with the designer during the entire duration of his tenure at Chanel. “He knew exactly what people liked: sometimes he would call or text me to say that this person preferred lighter colors, but other than that he let me run completely free.”
Before each Chanel show, Lachaume sends out 40 to 50 bouquets to international editors traveling to Paris for the show, who find the huge bunches — sometimes Lachaume’s signature long-stemmed roses, others more surprising creations such as giant sunflowers — upon arriving in their hotel room. Up until recently, the blooms came with a handwritten note by Lagerfeld himself.
“He was always the one in charge of flowers, no one else,” says Cnocquaert. “It’s true that he was a perfectionist, but he trusted me. There aren’t a lot of designers like him. He was the dream client.”