Human Flower Project
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Arthur Williams’ Vegetable Vixens
Aided and abetted by a friendly photographer and hair stylist, a Denver florist unleashes his inner couturier.
Sara Thorpe braves the Denver streets in anthuriums
styling by Arthur Williams and Tina McKeever
Photo: Beth Sanders
After our recent plea for people-centric flower photographs, the cyber clouds parted and nymphs tumbled out of Colorado. They were dazy-eyed, as nymphs have every reason to be, and flocked with gerberas and anthuriums. “I just so happen to have some ‘human garden’ photos,” wrote Arthur Williams. Indeed!
Arthur operates Babylon Floral, a company that earns its name with exotic plants and hanging gardens slung from the shoulders of Denver beauties. The 7th Wonder of the World? Maybe not, but definitely a sign of splendor in the Colorado capital.
“I started doing the floral fashion stuff about 4 years ago,” writes Arthur, “as an outlet for my crazy artsy side.” With a background in photography and sculpture as well as training in floral design, Williams is clearly not trying to crank out the same ten formulas to make a living. Westword, Denver’s alternative paper, covered a Babylon Floral event back in January 2005, featuring wall sconces full of “chocolate-scented orchids.” Kity Ironton described the proprietor: “Ear plugs, steel piercings and the brightly colored tattooed koi swimming through Hindu symbols that completely encircle his right arm make Arthur Williams a very unlikely looking florist.” A swirling koi himself, Arthur seems intent on making flowers move, jostling floral design from decoration to something more like theater.
Manivone Nonthaveth in floral “hat,” created by Arthur Williams and Tina McKeever
Photo (detail): Beth Sanders
Of course, if you want drama, other people need to be involved….“One of my first images caught the attention of Tina McKeever at Vain Salon,” Arthur writes, “and we’ve been working together ever since.” They’ve staged a number of floral fashion happenings and seem to be building a strong following of downtown style-mongers. “Every other month Tina has an art show at her salon and we have 2 models serving appetizers and drinks,” wearing Arthur’s designs. These gatherings attract “visual artists, D.J.s and tons of creative types, usually a few hundred people.” Recently they put together a “runway show” at 5 Degrees, a local nightclub that, in lieu of happy hour or line dancing, was hosting exhibitions on “global warming.” Williams says more spectacles are in the works.
Recently, Arthur and Tina met photographer Beth Sanders at a conference of “wedding professionals” and—just add media! —the circuit really started to flow. Thanks to Beth, Tina and Arthur for sending these marvels along.
Our sense is that many florsists—how about most ?—struggle to balance the service side of their work with self-expression. Arthur Williams chooses to put his flamboyant foot forward, trusting that the business foot will come along. “Most of my customers order by price range and the general feeling they want to express, leaving me with complete artistic freedom,” he writes. “That always works out best. I truly believe that if you do what you love, it will take care of you.”
We’re fascinated to see how both Babylon Floral and Vain Salon make a point of linking—both on the web and in real life—with kindred enterprises in Denver. It’s like the old Rotary Club, but with piercings. Also tres 21st Century, Arthur’s business plan pipes-in philosophy. “I’m totally inspired by tribal cultures and Asian aesthetics,” he writes.
Manivone Nonthaveth before the runway show at 5 Degrees
with hair, hat and garb by Arthur Williams and Tina McKeever
Photo (detail): Beth Sanders
“I choose my florals by bold forms and ability to last without a water source for many hours,” Williams writes. “Of course that happens to coincide with my favorite flowers, cymbidiums, jamestorri dendrobium, flax to name a few. I really don’t change my design style or materials for the fashion stuff, but the ‘vessels’ ultimately dictate the finished work. As for the models, our wonderful friends really play along with our crazy ideas. Some of our headdresses aren’t built for comfort.”
Westword’s article quotes a price for one of Arthur’s floral gowns: $600 (mind you, those were 2005 dollars). But as with most contemporary installation and performance art, these pieces are made primarily to keep Arthur happy, for the sake of “fabulous….”
“I think it would be fabulous if people dressed in flowers all the time!” he says. You’ll notice that nymphs never sit down.