Credit Joe Leavenworth
Spiked Bismarck palm fronds, dramatic clusters of flamingo-pink anthuriums, flowering quince branches — MetaFlora’s bold arrangements are unexpected and irreverent, marrying ikebana-inflected minimalism with a dash of kitsch. Founder Marisa Competello, a former fashion stylist, constructs her sculptural compositions — which she often coats in layers of spray paint — from her Chinatown studio in Manhattan. ‘‘My work is an overdose of the ’80s,’’ she says.
Competello is one of the highly individual, personality-driven floral designers who are pushing the craft in new directions. Rather than fetishizing a particular flower or color, their focus is on composition — the more distinctive, the better — a clear departure from the tidy, symmetrical centerpieces that defined the early 2000s floral aesthetic. Their styles may differ wildly — spare and undone, Pop Arty and daring, or wild and painterly — but along with form, the thing that unites these young designers is the depth of inspiration they find in the palette, mood and proportions of work by painters and graphic artists.
Competello’s arrangements, for example, recall the loud, neon-pastel prints of Patrick Nagel — an era-of-excess maximalist who created racy illustrations for Playboy, new-wave Duran Duran album covers and winking Budweiser ads. Like Nagel’s cartoonish, color-blocked illustrations, the 40-year-old’s work has a defiantly unnatural quality: Monstera leaves are snipped into blunt geometric shapes with scissors and palms are spotted with purple polka dots; entire bouquets are painted cornflower blue or chalk white. ‘‘I am into things that don’t look like flowers — hardy, tropical, sexy plants,’’ she says.
Innovative Floral Designers to Know
Sophia Moreno-Bunge’s designs exist in an entirely different world than Competello’s: They are deceptively simple and soulful, as if swept up from a field of wildflowers and dropped into a vase. ‘‘I think it’s challenging to see what you can evoke with a small amount of materials,’’ says the 30-year-old, who worked with New York City florist Emily Thompson for more than two years before returning to her native Los Angeles in 2015 to start her Santa Monica studio, Isa Isa. Indeed, air and space play as prominent a role as flora in Moreno-Bunge’s bouquets, which often consist of a spare amount of willowy blooms: Queen Anne’s lace, love-in-a-mist and pampas grass, all precisely anchored in a flower frog concealed by a squat vase, their needle-thin stems largely exposed. She looks to the abstract, highly saturated work of nonagenarian Lebanon-born painter and poet Etel Adnan. ‘‘I relate to her use of color, but I’m most inspired by her devotion. She painted the same mountain in Northern California for almost 20 years,’’ says Moreno-Bunge, who discovered Adnan’s work last year during an artist residency in Sicily.
Ariel Dearie’s arrangements, on the other hand, appear to be avant-garde, but actually find their origins in the still lifes of the French 19th-century painter Henri Fantin-Latour. Working between her barn in Germantown, N.Y., and her Manhattan studio, Dearie doesn’t simply arrange flowers, she sets scenes — a meticulously composed bouquet of fire-colored dahlias and verdant oak-leaf branches bristling with acorns is accompanied by a stray nut placed a few inches away. The result feels organic but also powerfully cinematic. ‘‘The Dutch were incredible, but I favor Fantin-Latour’s floral still lifes because of the subtlety of their palettes,’’ says the 34-year-old Dearie, who is known for creating multifloral arrangements in a single shade and incorporating elements such as pheasant feathers or pomegranates into her work for added drama. ‘‘I like my pieces to extend well beyond the vase, like stray buds and vines that seemed to have grown or fallen to the floor,’’ she says. ‘‘I have always imagined my arrangements occupying a canvas.’’
Source: New York Times