10 Minutes with: Jeff Leatham - Neiman Marcus
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10 Minutes with: Jeff Leatham

Regina Campbell

November 10, 2014

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Entertaining and decorating are big parts of what the holidays are about, and frankly, helping you make family and friend get-togethers all the more memorable is one of the things we at NM love the most. During the last week of October at the NM flagship, we had the pleasure of hosting Jeff Leatham, artistic director for Paris’ Four Seasons Hotel George V. Our luncheon included a live demonstration by Leatham for the Women’s Counsel of the Dallas Arboretum, with guests who certainly have a taste for flowers and entertaining. Leatham’s primary job might be at the George V, but he’s a world-renowned floral artist who travels from weddings to luxury shopping malls creating exquisite installations.

Leatham recently created the floral arrangements at the Palace of Versailles, has worked with labels like Alexander Wang, Alexander McQueen and Elie Saab in many of their shows, store events and exhibitions, and states that his favorite work so far has been creating the flower designs for his friend Tina Turner’s wedding.

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Now, take a peek inside Jeff Leatham’s event in Dallas and our chat about all things flowers, decorating for the holidays and his collaboration with Waterford.

NM: How did you get started in floral design?

JL: I’ve been working with flowers for about 20 years. I started working with flowers in Los Angeles at the Four Seasons and then I moved to Paris, but I never planned to work with flowers; it was just something that kind of happened. And I think that’s why my designs are so different; it’s because I’ve never been to floral school before. Everything I’ve ever wanted to do, I’ve done it through my designs.

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NM: How did the collaboration with Waterford come about?

JL: The Waterford team contacted me because they had seen my work at the George V. They had launched the ”Fleurology” line, and they wanted us to collaborate – doing my styling of flowers with their vases. That first collaboration was so successful that we decided to have a second and a third line together, in which I was actually designing the vases myself.

Crystal vases are so beautiful, and I think a lot of the time people are afraid to use them. So I really wanted to create a vase with Waterford quality that people would like to use all the time. I traveled to Waterford in Ireland several times and worked with the amazing designers there. We created a line of vases named after my friends.

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NM: Fashion designers create collections every three months, and you seem to be creating these stories with flowers every few weeks.

JL: For sure! Especially at the hotel we change the flowers every three weeks, because that’s usually the time frame of the clients who are always coming back to the hotel. I’m always my worst enemy, so to speak, because I never want someone to see the same thing twice. It’s like fashion designers who never want to create the same collection. The vases are the body, and the flowers are the clothes.

NM: What is the first thing you think about when you are creating a new floral design?

JL: The first thing I think is what color I’m going to use. The second most important aspect is the vase. That’s why working with Waterford is so fun, because for me the vases are so important. And the third thing is the type of flowers.

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NM: Do you have a favorite season for flowers?

JL: Late summer-fall, because the flowers are so hearty and you get better colors. I like to work with hydrangea and orchids. And I do love seasonal flowers. It sounds kind of kitschy, but it’s like a friend you don’t see for a long time. You have a peony, and it’s so beautiful. You work with it for maybe two months, and then it goes out of season.

NM: In fashion some people say “more is more” or “less is more.” How would you characterize your work?

JL: I’m definitely a “more is more” kind of guy, especially at the hotel. In Paris at the George V, we probably go through 14,000 stems of flowers a week, just in the hotel. But I think in floral design, people tend to not know when to stop designing, and it’s so important to know when to stop.

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NM: Give us a few basic rules for designing arrangements.

JL: When you are working with flowers it can get confusing, but there are simple rules that you should always follow: using the same color together, not using too many varieties of flowers together, keeping your flowers in the same length, and keeping things monochromatic and compact is probably the best rule.

NM: What are your favorite holiday flowers?

JL: For Thanksgiving I love to use deep green hydrangeas, orange roses, and orange calla lilies. I think for Christmas it all depends. You can use all white flowers or all red flowers. In the hotel this year I’m using a lot of red – a lot of red berries and a lot of red roses, but never mixing white and red.

NM: Name three types of arrangements that one can create with your Waterford vases.

JL: With the Cleo vase – named after my grandmother – it’s simple and clear, so floating flower heads, like a rose or an orchid, look beautiful on it. It comes in three sizes, so you can do multiple floating flowers.

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The Kylie vase, named after Kylie Minogue is the spikier, rock ’n’ roll vase. You can just group a lot of flowers and put them like a mount of flowers on top. Plus, you can stack the vases on top of each other and create different collections with them. In fact, you can make them as tall as you want as long as you put water on each one of them.

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The Tina vase [named after Tina Turner], the cylinder vase, is the one that we actually created to be my signature with flowers coming out of the side of the vase. You can use larger stem flowers to create that effect.

Shop Jeff Leatham’s vases for Waterford Crystal here and in stores, and find his new book Jeff Leatham: Visionary Floral Art and Design at select Neiman Marcus stores.

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