Thanks to the creative team at Philadephia’s Moda Botanica, our summer 2011 Flower Show had a nautical spin.
We asked Moda Botanica floral designer Armas Koehler to tell us about their unconventional use of materials, the blooms they love to showcase, and the awards they’ve snagged along the way.
flower: What part of your backgrounds led each of you to work with flowers and eventually team up to launch Moda Botanica?
Armas Koehler: Floral designer Bailey Hale has been gardening since he was a child and has a degree in horticulture. His life-long passion for flowers has taken him around the globe in search of the most beautiful, rare blooms. I [Koehler] have always been a lover of design in all its forms. While pursuing training in landscape design, I took a course in flower identification and a basic floral design class that revealed a new talent and changed my focus towards a career in flowers. Having both put in our time working in retail flower shops around the country, Bailey and I met while freelance designing for different events in and around the Philadelphia region. On these jobs we gained a mutual respect for each other’s skills and frequently discussed modern floral design. This led us to partner together to create a new brand focused on innovation and experimentation where we can custom design a unique floral experience for each of our clients.
Winning Philadelphia Flower Show’s “Best in Show” award two years in a row [in 2009 and 2010] is quite a feat. What do you think it is about your designs that are so appealing right now?
I think our dedication to showing the public a different approach to flowers through unexpected forms, cutting-edge techniques, and manipulation of materials is something that grabs people’s attention. We often view our works, especially the Philadelphia International Flower Show displays, as something more akin to conceptual art pieces interpreted through flowers as opposed to traditional flower arrangements. Our designs are a way for us to expose our ideas using the inherent beauty of natural materials. It is one of the most rewarding feelings when someone recognizes the thoughts and intentions contained within each creation.
What inspires your design aesthetic?
Like most designers, we take the majority of our inspiration from the world around us, whether part of nature or something manmade. Juxtapositions of texture and color are exciting for us to play with, though often it is the material itself that speaks to us. The philosophy behind our work is that flowers are inherently beautiful. Our job as designers is to add our thoughts and personalities to the mix to create an individual expression.
Moda Botanica is known for using unconventional materials and containers, such as the coconut husk seen in our Summer 2011 issue. What are some of the most unconventional materials you have used, and how do you get your ideas?
The six 20-foot-long steel cargo shipping containers, each weighing around 5,000 pounds, that we used for our 2010 Philadelphia International Flower Show display were probably the most unconventional things we have ever worked with, and they certainly garnered us a lot of attention. On a smaller scale, we have incorporated rubber bands, plastic water bottles, drinking straws, rope, yarn, eggs, clay, and transparent film into our designs. Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere—a trip to the hardware store or working in the chicken coop, the shape of an object or a random pairing of colors.
What are your three go-to flowers to work with, and why?
While we always try to work with materials that are in season, we are also always on the lookout for the newest and most unusual selections. There are a few things that show up repeatedly in our designs: The vanda orchid has definitely become one of our signature blooms popping up throughout our portfolio. Its bold, graphic colors and patterns, as well as its hardy quality when properly processed, make it a striking and useful addition to all sorts of designs. Another favorite is twig dogwood or Cornus branches, which are available in an assortment of colors. Its malleability lends itself to being shaped into new forms that can act as an armature to support other flowers or as a line to draw your eye through a composition. The last go-to element that our studio always has on-hand is the Aspidistra leaf. It can be looped or knotted to add texture to an arrangement, swirled in a glass vase to create a clean finish, glued to a form to create an organic vessel—the possibilities are endless.