A Florist’s Guide to Fragrance: How trends in floral design mimic those in perfumery.
Attention fragrance trend spotters: If you want to get a jump on future trends in perfumery, spend some time with a talented floral designer. Even watching a skilled florist create an arrangement for 30 minutes will give you insight on where the art of fine fragrance is heading. Take Michael Merritt for example. As one of America’s most accomplished florists (and a distinguished laureate member of the American Institute of Floral Desigers), he creates spectacular arrangements that pair unexpected elements such as figs, geranium leaves, mint and dried ivy vine with artisan roses, hydrangea and even sunflowers in sprawling shapes. What’s interesting about his creations is they change and evolve over the course of two or three days revealing a distinct personality – much like a really good perfume will. One flower will fade but another one will open up. This is all done by design.
Michael is owner of the Twigery (twigery.com), a tiny jewel of store hidden behind the Cypress Inn in the California seaside resort town of Carmel. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Clint Eastwood’s ranch and yes, he has created arrangements for both Eastwood and Doris Day but prefers to be discreet about his high profile clientele.
Step into the Harry Potter-esque shop and you’re greeted with vases and vases of David Austin roses in shades of champagne, blush, pink and mandarin. The central tiered table boasts dozens and dozens of these flowers. They smell like peonies but offer more compact ruffled petals.
To the right are pails of purple-themed flowers, grasses and stems. Along the street-window you’ll see lime hydrangea edged in red, mammoth dried artichokes and unique blooms you won’t find in a conventional floral store.
“I like to combine unexpected and unusual blooms and plants in my arrangements,” he tells me giving me a tour of the tiny shop. “I look for plants and blooms that really speak to me such as these green figs or sprigs of fresh mint. Then I pair them with a David Austin rose or a hydrangea. It’s the unexpected that makes you take notice of an arrangement.” This approach is exactly the same that the world’s top perfumers are taking for the next generation of perfumes.
“We call it ‘tension’ in perfumery,” explains Firmenich fragrance expert Roman Poquet. “It’s the art of combining ingredients that typically clash or oppose each other. When you do this with skill, it creates this character and tension in a scent. You smell it and it is instantly intriguing.” A good example is combining energizing ginger with pink pepper and smooth woods. The spiciness is balanced by the soft woods.
Merritt instinctively knows this even though he’s never studied perfume blending. “I also incorporate fragrance into my designs. You’ll notice here that I have a stalk of rosemary, some mint and even chamomile. Fragrance is very important in floral art.” To find the most interesting blooms and greenery, Merritt shuns traditional floral markets for farmers who grow small plots of unique hydrangea, flowering kale or even vines. “I much prefer driving through the country visiting farmers who grow interesting varieties. For example, I was driving in the country last week and spotted a raspberry farm. But along one side of the field, the farmer had planted a plot of the strangest sunflowers I’d ever seen. They were only about 3 feet high but they had the most massive blooms. I was enthralled with them.”
You’ll also find Michael discovering out-of-the-way farmer’s markets throughout California. “I like working with farmers that may only grow a half acre of some special flower and they’ll only be available for two weeks out of the year. But that is what makes an arrangement special. The best part of visiting a farmer’s market is if they have an Oriental section because they grow so many odd, unusual vegetables. I have no idea how to cook them but they make fabulous arrangements. I’m so inspired the colours and the shapes.”
He says the key to a really great flower arrangement is to start with one bloom or item you truly love. “Start with something that speaks to you. Instead of buying a whole bouquet of something you don’t really love, find one bloom that inspires you. Then, build around it. Find some greenery and blooms that look good with your special bloom.” He says a great arrangement follows the rules of balance and texture.
This is exactly the approach you should take with fragrance. Start with an ingredient you truly love. If you love lily-of-the-valley, start by looking for scents that feature that note. Of the half a dozen perfumers, I’ve interviewed over the past 12 months, each begins their creations in this same manner. They’ll start with a note or ingredient that speaks to them.
Merritt’s introduction for floral art wasn’t the most auspicious beginning. Forty years ago, he landed a job as a delivery boy for a florist. But his driving was so terrible he ended up rearranging the flowers when he got to the client’s address. He quickly discovered he had a talent for design. In fact, his talent is so strong, he’s designed floral displays for two Presidential inaugurations and balls.
“We use a lot of herbs in our arrangements. I just happen to be using this mint here. Yesterday, we did a party for a company and we used a lot of Mexican sage with this deep purple shade. That had a great fragrance. Here is a little chamomile which has a soft fragrance to it. And right now, I’m using a lot of David Austin roses because they are in season. The seasons change so rapidly. We were into sweet peas about a month ago. When they cut them for me, I asked them to cut them in big clumps so the vines are still on them. So the flowers had this great character to them with all the twisting vines. I like to use some clematis or Italian jasmine. And these are all ingredients that you’ll find in fragrances.”
Inspired by Michael’s approach to designing fragrant floral arrangements, we’ve selected three fragrances that pair unexpected ingredients.
44 Gerard Street is a fragrance that would feel at home in Merritt’s floral design studio. It’s built around a fresh, crisp eucalyptus note (a plant that Michael often incorporates into his arrangements) which is given added freshness with the addition of green lemon. Heady jasmine sambac blends with an unexpected note of ginger. Orchid and rose add a floral character that is balanced with cashmere wood and musk. It’s an interesting blend of unexpected notes.
What’s interesting about this fragrance is the precise balance of green notes with juicy citrus and white flowers. Delicate lily of the valley and jasmine are wrapped in fresh green leaves with a hint of citrus. You can close your eyes, inhale and imagine the floral arrangement inspired by this scent.
This feminine eau de parfum by the famed fashion label is composed around a fragrant peony note, the kind that Michael uses during the months of May and June. What’s interesting is the addition of juicy goji berries and smooth peach that add texture and interest to the scent. Grapefruit brings freshness and smooth white woods give it longevity. It’s an interesting blend of ingredients.