Ariella Chezar is a master floral designer whose work has graced the covers and pages of Martha Stewart Living, O Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Town and Country, and many more. She is author of “Flowers for the table” and “The Flower Workshop.” A sought after teacher and lecturer she has designed flower arrangements for the Obama White House and is a leader in the “farm-to-flower” movement. Ariella has a flower farm in Ghent, N.Y. where she grows flowers for herself and leading N.Y. floral designers. While often compared to the designs of Dutch Masters, her work is distinct because of her use of subtle tonal contrasts within a single color, rather than the riot of colors often depicted in the Dutch historical paintings. It is this, Ariella’s exquisite approach to color and her loose, wild, organic aesthetic that distinguishes her work from any other designer in the world. I met Ariella in Amsterdam during an exclusive workshop and was lucky to sit with her afterwards for a little chat.
I would like to dedicate this interview to Rick Lightstone. May his memory be a blessing.
On Being in the Netherlands
“ I have a special connection with the Netherlands. My mother Famke Zonneveld was Dutch and an artist. She sewed and knitted, created stained glass windows, gardened, stitched intricate wall hangings, carved wooden murals, illustrated and painted. She could create anything she wanted. Everything she did was an extension of her creative self. I named my flower farm in the US after her.”
The Human Attraction to Flowers
“ It has do with life force. Life coupled with beauty. Place flowers in a room and they are able to immediately transform the space and I think this is because of the life force that is in them- granted that they are cut and it is on the decline, but I believe that it is that energy, coupled with colour.”
On Flowers in Fashion
“ I don’t know much about fashion, but I love what Raf Simons did on the runway of Dior. He covered the entire venue with flowers up and down and then that meadow of 300.000 delphiniums in the middle of the Louvre was absolutely fab. The flowers transformed the runway in to a magical, fairy tale dimension. I guess the link between fashion and flowers can be found in elegance and transformation.”
About Sustainable Flowers
“Sustainable flowers are first and foremost, flowers that have been grown without pesticides. The dark underbelly of this beautiful industry are the growing practices and the fact that most of everything is shipped. So it’s a conflict that I always have, because you want to have beautiful blooms, but at what cost? People don’t think about this as much as they do today with food. In the States, much of all my friends only consume organic foods. It’s a bit of a jump with flowers, but it’s kind of the same thing. In growing my own flowers and working with seasonal flowers, I feel I am doing a small contribution to change this.”
Purchasing Sustainable Flowers
“I don’t know how this is done here in Europe, but in the US they are marketed as that, you’ll find either regular or organic flowers. There is a lot of bureaucratic stuff behind the term organic. So most flower farmers I know are not organic, but they may be sustainable, meaning that they don’t use pesticides or any kind of insecticides in their production. And those who are doing it this way are the ones who are very happy to shout it to the world.”
The Secret to a fabulous flower arrangement
“A really incredible juicy selection of flowers and color-play. The results are directly connected to the quality of the flowers and how beautiful the flowers are. I love playing with colour and texture. I usually use a palette of three colours, building towards a theme. You can make tonal arrangements, though sometimes opposite colours can deliver a very attractive end result too.”
Flower Art is Flower Torture
“I have a theory that in Holland, the arts are very well funded and that flowers are so common in daily life, that they are sort of passé. So for example this style of flower arrangements I do is very ‘Ouderwets’ as you would say in Dutch (old fashion) and is not very common in here. What you do see a lot here, is flower sculpture or flower art to the example of the Belgian School of Flower Design, which I often snarkle and call ‘flower torture’, because they are twisting and peeling and there’s always a twig sticking out here or there. I mean it’s interesting, sculptural and creative, but I don’t know if it’s actually beautiful, or that that’s necessarily the point of it all. So that’s my theory, that the Belgians and the Dutch are sort of bored with flowers, so much that they want to do something more interesting and different with it.”
“You don’t need a formal education to be successful in flowers. Passion and creativity will get you far enough. Go to workshops instead, there are so many awesome workshops available these days, from artists that are willing to share their knowledge. Ask tips, ask your local favourite florist if you can volunteer or apply for an assistant-florist job and learn.”
“I once had a challenging mother & daughter wedding- often the mothers of the brides are impossible- and this one was really impossible- I kept trying to find middle-ground between the two in a creative way, so that they would both be happy- which proved to be evenmore impossible! The mother wanted the reception in a tent (this was in Californian wine country) and the daughter desperately wanted to be dancing under the stars. At the end I came up with a design of a tent that was open in the middle at the dance floor- so it was still ‘a tent’ just open in the middle(!)- this way I was able to make them both happy (Peace!) and that made me very happy.”
The White House
“I was approached by the florist of the Obama- White House and she asked if I wanted be her assistant, which was wildly exciting until I realized that it would mean that I’d have to relocate, move there with my family, and I would not be able to do my own work anymore. And as much as I like her very much, I am not a fan of her work, so that wouldn’t have worked so well. I think that if you work for someone, you really have to love what they are doing, otherwise you’re never going to do what is expected of you and it’s just never going to work. So instead she would have me come over every now and then to design for various events. I designed flowers for the White House Christmas for a year and a few diplomatic dinners including the Mexican state dinner. There is an in-house flower shop in the basement of the White House, sort of next to the kitchen. That was very thrilling!”
“That’s not possible. So my answer to that would be, give me a season and I might be able to give you three, at best! Cause I cannot narrow it down to one, not even in a single season!”
The Future of Flowers
“I’m not very concerned with trends, but one thing that has been a growing trend in the states, is this farmer-florist model. There are many flower designers that grow their own flowers and have started to work with seasons. They are literally or only using flowers that either come from their farm or within 50 or 100 miles from them. So that is the way that they are trying to make a difference with the environment and everything that is going on. And it’s silly, but everything has been exported to South America, and now there’s this huge rose farming trend where Dutch companies base their farms in Africa- which really can’t be right. Cause there’s just simply not enough water to begin with, so the fact that there is floral culture happening while there isn’t enough drink water to begin with, seems very troublesome to me. So, my hope is that there is a growing awareness on these practices, I mean, we all know about the South American Rose farms and the pesticides, and the women and children that are ingesting. So, Hopefully the future will bring more consciousness and awareness.”
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