After two plus years without big events, I have to confess I was feeling a bit stale creatively. I needed to do something big, and scary and fun to reconnect with everything I love about floral art. So when I heard about the Femmes exhibition, I knew it was an opportunity I just couldn’t miss.
As a florist, I spend my days using blooms to deliver emotion. Happiness, sadness, gratitude, grief, love, longing, joy…and the emotions have been pretty intense these last few years. Sometimes it can take its toll, and I need to switch off my own emotions to get the work done. And on top of that there has been the stress of running a business through lockdowns, through school holidays, through everything life throws at you. It was time to get out of my studio where I spend way too much time in my own head and push myself to do something new and exciting.
Which is why the idea of immersing myself in some floral fashion design was so appealing. Floral art is about creating an experience that encourages people to indulge in beauty and wonder. It is about telling a story, inviting people to connect with the exhibit on multiple levels – as a piece of art, as an example of nature’s beauty, as a celebration of incredible women. Everyone takes away something different, everyone has their favourite detail or flower. Hopefully everyone enjoys the exhibition and is inspired by it!
The Design Process
Femmes is organised by Fleurs de Villes, who are an international events company creating bespoke, luxury floral experiences. They put out the call to all florists in NSW to be involved in their Femme exhibition, being held at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney 19-28 August.
I was given Edith Cowan as my femme. I won’t lie, part of me wished I got someone glamourous like Kylie Minogue or Nicole Kidman. But the more time I spent getting to know Edith Cowan, the more connected I became to her impact.
Edith Cowan was the first female member of the Australian parliament, a real trailblazer in her day! She led the way for many women, and was an activist for the welfare of women and children. You can see her on our $50 note (if you even carry cash anymore!). I think she really was a remarkable woman whose impact we can see around us every day.
So then the pressure was on to do her justice in my design!
After being allocated my femme, I had to submit a design brief including a sketch and details on which flowers would be used, how I would incorporate a water source to ensure the longevity of the display for the full 10 days of the exhibition and how I planned to assemble it all on the day.
We also had to select a photo of our femme to recreate in our design – down to the intricate details of her jewellery and watch. I picked a traditional portrait photo of Edith because I noticed her lace shawl and really felt inspired to recreate it in flowers. The challenge was that this photo was black and white, and the colour palette for women’s fashion in the 1920s was plain and dark. So, I needed to be creative in how I translated that into a floral representation with depth and interest. I chose a colour palette that featured deep purples, wines and pinks contrasting against the off white of her lace shawl.
Five days before the launch I travelled up to Sydney to pick up my mannequin – one of the extra challenges of being a regionally based exhibitor!
We were given a very specific window of only a few hours when we would be able to assemble our exhibit on the day, so the key was preparing as much as I could in advance. I focused first on her accessories – her necklaces and watch. Then I create her shawl. I chose to make her bodice out of everlasting flowers, which meant dehydrating chrysanthemums for four weeks in advance.
So that left just her skirt to create from fresh blooms on site. Oh, and to add the necklace of fresh hellebores from my own garden – I am so proud I was able to include my own flowers in my creation!
I also had a plan to create a guard of honour around my femme, but on the day I was really content with the design, the arrangement and the colour tones of Edith just as she was. I guess that is also part of the creative process, responding to the piece and knowing when you have done enough to maximise its impact.
The Final Piece
Here are some more pictures of my final design, a celebration of the remarkable Edith Cowan.
I am so grateful to the support I received from the local floral community to bring my design to life. The bulk of the fresh blooms were supplied by the wonderful Thornton Bros, plus succulents from Sweet Pea Succulents. From my own garden came the
Chrysanthemums that made up the bodice and the fresh hellebores in her necklace. Other blooms came from the garden of Bek’s Bloomz delivery driver (thank you!), and the structure that supports Edith’s skirt was generously lent to me.
Being part of the Femmes exhibit has been an incredible experience. It has reinvigorated my love for floral design – especially floral fashion design. And it showed me that I can create something incredible when I have faith in myself and get out of my comfort zone.
I would encourage everyone to go along to the Femme exhibit if you can. It is being held at the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens from 19-28 August 2022.