Jeff Leatham on Flower Walls, Instagram, and Working With the Kardashians
He’d rather shower clients in flowers dripping from the ceiling, he tells Teen Vogue the day before Valentine’s Day, one of the bigger days of the year for his shop. Christmas, and the OTT installations he creates for Kylie and Kris Jenner, among other clients, is bigger. If you’ve seen Kris’s foyer decorations over the past years — or the gifts Kylie showed off on Snapchat when her daughter Stormi was born — you’ll know what I mean. But even with a holiday like February 14 looming over us, Jeff and his assistants seemed happy to work at their own pace.
And his shop, which is located at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles, is everything and nothing like what you’d imagine. For starters, it looks like an average workroom, but there are hints that it caters to anything-but-ordinary clients if you take a peek around. Pop music blares in the background, and everywhere you look, foam blocks wait to be covered in flowers. On a side table are five identical rose clusters in heart-shaped formations. Each of them has a corresponding black envelope, its recipient’s name written in gold ink. (All of the names begin with a K.) These flowers are destined for social media stardom, to be Snapchatted and Instagrammed and tagged with a thank you to the man who is sitting across from me.
But while Jeff knows what an impact social media has had on his work, he’s less worried about what the reaction will be, than he is by the work he can do right now. He also opened up about his process, what designing floral art for his celebrity friends is really like, and clued us in on how someone lands a job like his. As it turns out, all that’s a very happy accident. Allow him to explain:
Teen Vogue: To start at the beginning, how did you get started in floral design?
Jeff Leatham: I started actually here in this same studio about 24 years ago. I’d been modeling in Milan and Paris and I came back from living over there and I needed a job. Someone said, “Hey, I know a friend who has a flower shop at the Four Seasons.” I was kind of like a helper. And then it just led to something that I was really passionate about and something I love to do. Then I moved to Europe after four years here, and that’s just how it kind of grew.
TV: Did you ever think that you would work with flowers?
JL: No, I never really thought I would work with flowers. My father’s an amazing gardener and different things, but it never really was interesting to me. But then I just really loved that whole idea of creating something that makes people smile. And what we do every day, with everything we create, when someone receives it, they’re gonna go, “Ahh,” and then have a smile, so that’s pretty special to do something that has as effect on people’s lives and makes them feel good about themselves. It’s nice to know you’re making an impression on people’s lives, rather than something that people are just gonna forget about.
TV: What was most surprising as you were learning and honing your craft?
JL: That I was really good at what I do and the fact that we were creating something, this new style that I created 15 years ago, it was innovative and changed the way people think about flowers. I know that sounds strange, but before I started with flowers, flowers were just pretty garden bouquets and different things. I remember the way I did flowers before, just kind of mixing flowers together and doing just mixed bouquets. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t clean and simple. Then [we started] creating things that are very simple and all one flower in a vase. This whole idea of all one flower in the vase and keeping things really simple and clean and chic. Doing flowers in different ways, wrapped around a vase and bent around like this. It’s funny for me to look at it now because now I’m doing such different things.
It’s just funny how the whole thing evolved and then I moved back here two years ago and then opened this space. So now I have an office, I still have my office in Paris, my office here and then I’m opening an office on the east coast in the fall. We do products and books and different projects and things. So it’s kind of turned into this design empire, which is good.
For me the most important thing is just creating things and evolving, so you’re never just staying stagnant. I think that that’s our biggest fear as artists, because we’re all the same. Whether you’re a painter or you’re a writer or you’re a writer or singer or an actress or an actor or a floral designer, it’s our biggest fear is just to become complacent and not inspire ourselves, which in turn inspire others, which creates trends and change in the way people think.
TV: How do you work with clients to create a certain look or vibe?
JL: The most important thing when I sit down with people, is to find out, because they’re the one who comes to me that wants to plan an event or do something. Even when I got married in October, I always kind of knew what I wanted my wedding [to actor Colton Haynes] to look like. So I always have them first close their eyes. They just tell me the way they’ve dreamt of that experience being. And then I go from there and I create my own experience. I have to say that honestly, every event that I create, I kind of 50% of that event for myself because it’s always more beautiful if I’m creating something for myself and I know it’ll be good because I have higher standards sometimes.
TV: What advice do you have for somebody who wants to get into the business but has zero idea where to start?
JL: I don’t believe in hiring interns because I can’t imagine someone ever working for me for free. But someone who’s starting out in this business… Khloé Kardashian called me during the holidays. She lives part-time in Ohio, [and] her florist that does her house there is really inspired by my work. He’s 18 years old, and he has this really amazing, successful business with flowers. So we sent him all these books. But, I think it’s about creating your own style. I’ve seen his work, it’s about really creating a twist that makes you stand out. If you’re just feeling like you just love flowers and want to work with flowers that’s great, but if you want to stand out you really need to create your own style. You need to create something that’s different that people look at your work and they’ll remember it.
You always have to have your signature thing. Now Kim’s thing is every time you see the color nude, it’s like oh, that’s Kim Kardashian. It’s the same thing with Kylie. When you look at a pink lipstick now, used to always think about Estée Lauder or a brand like that. Now you look at pink lipstick and you think of Kylie Jenner. You have to create your own brand identity. And that works with everything. It works with fragrance, it works with flowers. So I think it’s just being your own person and your own artist, no matter what you do, and that’s the most important thing.
TV: Is there anything you would tell yourself, knowing what you know now, if you could go back to right when you first started?
JL: I wouldn’t change a thing. That’s the reason why I’ve done such amazing things, and it’s because I’ve always took the chance. I’ve been like, OK you want me to move to Paris? I don’t speak French, I’ve never lived there full time before, but I just picked up my life and moved to Paris. And then three years ago, I got knighted. In America they don’t do that. In France you’re like that’s a big deal, you’re a knight and you wear these badges and sh*t. And you come back here and it’s like remember you’re a knight, but I’m sweeping the floor and working late. I have such an amazing team and I am nothing without my team, because they’re really passionate like I am too.
TV: In Paris you’re a knight, but here in America especially, celebrity is the new royalty. And with Instagram and social media especially, as your own identity as a celebrity rises, do you feel more pressure?
JL: There is pressure because here it’s all about who you’re working for and who you’re designing for, that’s very strange, but I think it’s something that has been well separated for me. Plus I’m married to a celebrity so it’s strange thing too. Celebrity here is very different than it is when I was in Paris. Celebrity here is, you’re hiding, and you’re not making friends with people, and you’re so protected because you have a million assistants around you the whole time. It’s easy for me in Paris because celebrities are my friends. We’re hanging out, I’m going to their homes, I’m going to dinner with them, we’re chit-chatting, we’re talking, we’re laughing. And you can do that when you’re in Europe because people let their guard down because they’re on vacation, if that makes sense at all. But when they’re so well guarded by different people, and here it’s this whole kind of other nightmare of celebrity, for me. Because people don’t let their guard down so much here, because it’s a business town.
“You can’t be afraid of someone who’s just as talented as you are, ’cause actually there’s room for everybody.”
The Kardashians really have been my biggest supporters. And they’re so lovely, and they’re very, very protective of me, and I’m very protective of them. They’re like my family. Kris has really helped me become a success here in Los Angeles. Because of me using her, or her using me to send flowers to people, and that’s really sweet because you don’t have to do that. It’s very give and take. It’s not so much about social media as it is just creating relationships with them on a personal level. It’s not just about flowers, it’s about asking them for advice about relationships, because we’ve all been through so much and so many different things that it’s just nice that sometimes I can create something for them to make them smile too, because they help me so much.
I have a good responsibility because so many people do look at our work to create something that makes people dream. It’s not always going to be about me. In 10 years there’s going to be someone else. Hopefully we’re still doing cool things, but hopefully some kid that’s looking at our work right now and we’re inspiring him, hopefully he’s a huge success in 10 years.
I think computers and social media have ruined relationships, because people can’t make up their mind now who they want to be with now. But I think it’s really helped people being, open their minds and be more inspired to see everything that’s out there. The new generation, it’s all good. People are like, “We’re too afraid of all these new young people.” I’m like, “No. I love that because that’s hopefully something will inspire me in the future.” You can’t be afraid of someone who’s just as talented as you are, ’cause actually there’s room for everybody.
TV: Has social media changed the way you work?
JL: Of course it has. Social media’s changed the way that I work with my job. It’s changed the way I think people plan events and parties and the popularity of certain things. I think even this industry of flowers and design, I think it’s become much more popular the last probably four, five years because of Pinterest and then after Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat. Because people just lay in their bed and they look through feeds and all those stories of people and they get flowers. Whether it’s the Kardashians or other celebrities, it really helped skyrocket that awareness to floral, which wasn’t really there before. People before were just getting average flowers. But now people see [things] and then they copy, and it becomes a trend, and then everyone does it. And then it’s on social media. So it’s my job to keep going to the next thing and finding the next thing.
TV: What advice would you give to somebody who is looking to give somebody flowers, but only has the supermarket flowers?
JL: It’s always Leatham rules of 3: keep everything clean, simple, and chic, which means bunching all of one type of flower together; never mix more than three types of colors together, and keep everything monochromatic; and never mix more than three types of flowers together. So we do like whites, cremes, and the light green or something. And like a red, a hot pink, and a black color, and then just keep things extra geometric, like really separate. So, those are the easiest rules. So if you go to the supermarket, don’t buy the arrangement that’s all mixed different flowers, buy the arrangement that’s all one color.
TV: What do you see trends for 2018 looking like?
JL: No flower walls. Laughs] It’s not my favorite thing. It used to be really cool, and sometimes its still pretty, but I think its just been overdone. Everyone wants a flower wall and no one realizes how expensive they really are.
I think flowers falling from the ceiling [will be big]. We’ve started to do that a lot lately, where the flowers are literally falling from the ceiling onto the people. I like that.
Anything that we do with people that gets photographed and goes online, it’s a trend. I don’t sit in my office or hear anything like, “Oh my god. What am I going to do? What’s going to be the next trend?” Most trends — things that are really popular and what people love — usually happen on accident. It’s either something falls over or I change my mind the last minute. I’m like, “No, take that down and move that over there.” That’s usually how our trends start. It’s just very last-minute. That’s really the way I design. I tend to find that when you design too far ahead, you lose the inspiration.
Original post from Teen Vogue
Publication date: March-19-2018