YOUR SHOPPING BAG
After 17 spectacular years as Paris’ favorite floral designer, Jeff Leatham is putting down new roots right here where it all started.
Standing in the spacious floral studio at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, Jeff Leatham has officially come full circle. “The first time I ever touched a flower was right here,” says Leatham, who creates the jaw-dropping floral installations for the lobby of the five-star George V hotel in Paris. Tourists and French locals stop in just to ogle the George V design director’s latest creations, which change every three weeks and are often likened to contemporary art. In 2014, France’s minister of culture knighted Leatham for his contribution to French culture.
Leatham discovered his creative calling mostly by chance. Born and raised in Ogden, Utah, he spent his first years after college in Los Angeles, working in retail management and modeling. In 1994, after a summer spent in Europe, Leatham returned to Los Angeles in need of a job, any job. A friend referred him to the Four Seasons, where the hotel’s floral designer needed help with a big wedding.
“I walked into this hotel and looked at the beautiful flowers in the lobby and said to myself, ‘Wow, they’re creating art with flowers,’” says Leatham. He nailed his interview and learned floral design on the job, all the while cultivating the bold aesthetic that would land him the George V job in 1999, when the hotel was relaunched as a Four Seasons property.
“The Leatham mantra is clean, simple, chic. We never use more than three types of flowers and three colors. And we try to keep everything monochromatic,” Leatham says of his signature style. Floral color blocking is another major theme. “It’s about grouping,” he explains. “Sometimes people will do one hyacinth here and another hyacinth there…but I feel it’s doing a disservice to the flower when you’re putting them all in crazy different places.” By grouping like with like, Leatham’s arrangements deliver a major orchid moment here, a rose moment there, and so on.
THE LEATHAM TILT
“I tilt flowers in the vases because I like people to see the face of the flower. A lot of times when the flowers are up, you don’t see the beauty of the face of the flower. When I started the whole kind of Leatham tilt, with all the flowers leaning to the side of the vase, it was just so you could see the beauty of the head of the flower. And you see the vase and it’s just a modern way to do flowers.”
While he keeps flower varieties and colors to a tight edit, Leatham believes more is more when it comes to the sheer volume of flowers. For Tina Turner’s 2013 garden wedding at her home in Zurich, he used 163,000 roses to construct a wall of red roses around the backyard—an homage to Turner’s red lips. For the same event, he built a floral mural of the tree of life: “We wanted to create an experience that was like a sunrise, so it was yellows, it was oranges, it was whites,” he says.
His lavish designs have made clients out of Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Sofía Vergara, and the Kardashian clan, as well as fashion brands including Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga. Leatham did the flowers for Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and Eva Longoria’s wedding. He starred in the 2008 docu-series Flowers Uncut for TLC/Discovery, and he’s documented his work in three coffee table books. But the biggest move yet may be his return to Los Angeles this year to tend to his new baby, the Jeff Leatham design studio and event office, situated in the spot where it all began: the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.
Leatham is not giving up Paris altogether. He’ll still spend five days a month there keeping the George V floral-fabulous. “In Paris it’s really artwork—I go in and create and I get paid just to do a kind of orchestra of flowers,” Leatham explains. “It’s different out here [in Los Angeles] because it’s my own business and it’s exciting to have my first flower shop ever. Here I have this experience of back-and-forth with my clients, I see them in their homes, and I’m able to start a relationship, actually.”
The newly decorated Beverly Hills space is well appointed not just for consulting with clients and building epic floral creations, but also for teaching flower-arranging classes. A cozy sitting area claims one end of the studio, and on the other end sits an office and a vault-like door that leads to the treasure trove that is the Leatham flower cooler. Long steel worktables form a huge rectangle in the center of the space. On either side, warm gray walls are lined with steel-wire shelving stacked high with black, white, crystal, and glass vases in sleek shapes and every imaginable size.
ESSENTIAL VASE SHAPES
“There are three. Always have a cylinder shape. A cylinder shape is very important because that’s where you can do something very simple, that’s where you can get your flowers to lean to the side of the vase. A bubble bowl vase, which is like a fishbowl, is very important. In the Cleo collection for Waterford, we have a round bubble bowl vase—that’s where you can take the roses and just float them. And then I use cube vases a lot. Because with the square corners you’re able to design the corner of the vase and then you can stack them on top of each other. Those are the three vases I always use—cubes, cylinders, and rounded shapes.”
Vases from Leatham’s Fleurology collection for Waterford Crystal stand ready for service. “What I do, in a weird way, is like what a fashion designer does,” Leatham says. “I always choose the vase first because that’s really like choosing the body.” He designed the Fleurology vases to be functional and not too precious—something people wouldn’t be afraid to use. “They’re fun because you can actually turn them around and play with them and stack them up, and they all go well together,” he says. “Really the most important thing to do in floral design is to have fun.”