Floral Invasion: Jeff Leatham’s passion survives daring transatlantic transplant.
“I’m a well respected artist all throughout Europe. You come to New York, and no one cares,” bemoans Jeff Leatham, whose unconventional, architectural approach to fl oral design began pivoting heads at the George V Paris a decade ago. The Utah-born designer accidentally discovered an affi nity for fl owers when he sought employment at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons’ fl ower shop in 1995. “I really needed a job; I started with no idea of what I was doing,” admits Leatham. Now, the Four Seasons Hotels’ energetic Artistic Director regularly turns down requests in Europe, but since opening a Manhattan studio in 2009, he concedes: “We need work here.”
“It keeps you grounded; it’s a good struggle,” Leatham says of sharing the plight of any artist trying to make it in New York. Of course, few get a boost from TLC. “Flowers Uncut with Jeff Leatham” reveals the stress inherent in bringing high-profile clients’ dreams to life. Leatham hopes the show will captivate, inspire and elevate his profession. “I don’t think there’s a respect level out there for beautiful flowers—as an artistic medium,” he explains. Executing major installations is “really intense, and it’s really crazy, and it takes months of planning.”
Cameras followed Leatham and collaborator Mathieu Miljavac as they undertook two dozen lavish events. Weddings, which Leatham deems “a big responsibility,” are featured prominently in several episodes. When Grace Ormonde challenged Leatham to devise an environmentally friendly table, he took to a rooftop. “She wanted a destination wedding. New York City is such a character, I wanted to keep the destination here,” he divulges. Leatham’s thoughtful design incorporated tulip bulbs, lily of the valley with intact roots, hand-harvested organic hydrangea and recyclable chairs. “We didn’t just choose things that were beautiful: Everything made sense,” says Leatham, who acknowledges: “It’s hard work to be green—even in the flower business.” But there are fringe benefits: “When the tulips bloom in the springtime that will remind [guests] of the event.”
While Leatham’s work is admittedly aimed at evoking “that gasp,” he also strivesto demystify his craft. “I love to have fun when I’m working. A lot of people take flowers very seriously, and they shouldn’t,” he insists. “You should just have fun with them. Do what you want with them.” Leatham wants viewers to realize: “There is no bad way to do flowers. It’s all about simplicity. Just stick with the same color.” Leatham hopes to fi lm future seasons and is committed to creating never-before-seen floral experiences. “If I’m hired for a job, I actually do it myself,” he says. And while he’s on a mission to “take over New York,” he’s also branching out into other artistic endeavors and developing eponymous product lines, from vases to fragrances. He’s inspired by art, photography, music, movement, moods, color, but “everything I do will always have an underlying theme of flowers: You never forget what got you started in your business,” he assures. “Flowers are so important in every aspect of design. That’s nature’s art itself, the art of the world. I’ll always love flowers.”
> Written by Kim Knox Beckius
GRACE ORMONDE WEDDING STYLE