Faye Zierer Krause, of Flora Organica Designs in Arcata, Calif., considers the standard Iris a bit of an underdog. But having grown up on her parents’ organic farm before starting her floral design studio in 2015, she finds appreciation for the best traits of any plant. “I love the saturation of purple and dark blue that Irises have,” she says.

Like Faye, flower farmer Lane DeVries, CEO of Sun Valley Floral Farms, also in Arcata, has a nostalgic affection for Irises. When he first arrived in America in 1984 and began working at the farm that he now runs, Irises were an important field crop. These days, Sun Valley is one of the leading Iris growers in the U.S, producing standard Irises 12 months of the year.

“I think Irises are ready for a revival,” Lane proclaims. “The Iris is one of those old flowers having a comeback.” In 2017, Sun Valley Flower Farm hosted a Field to Vase Dinner inside its greenhouses and asked Faye to serve as guest floral designer. In addition to using a rainbow of tulips for the table décor and chandeliers, she created a dramatic Iris “curtain” where dinner guests clamored to take selfies. Faye tied hundreds of standard Irises onto agricultural netting typically used to support the flower’s slender stalks as they grow. The stunning blue botanical backdrop impressed many attendees, myself included.

So I knew Faye’s artistic sensibilities would be compatible with this commission. While planning for the American Flowers Week botanical fashion shoot, she says, “I wanted to use a single color Iris because I knew it would be more impactful and define the garment’s form better than a mix of Iris colors.”

Ode to the Iris
Ode to the Iris

Sun Valley provided her with 1,500 ‘Hong Kong’ Irises, with slightly ruffled sapphire blue petals and a yellow “blotch.” These features are portrayed beautifully on the floor-length Iris skirt, which has a soft drape that is reminiscent of regal velvet. To create the garment, Faye allowed hundreds of Iris buds to open in her warm studio for about two days. When the flowers were ideal, she moved buckets into her cooler to hold at the right stage.

Construction took place the day before the photo shoot, beginning with a tulle underskirt that supports the flowers, about 600 of which Faye individually stitched to the fabric. She worked upward, from the hem to the waistband, laying each row of blooms over previous rows to hide the cut stems. Two types of native huckleberry finish off the hem, adding flair, depth and contrast.

At the waistband, Faye reversed the Irises so their heads create a finished edge. Because the completed skirt was quite heavy, Faye zip-tied a thin belt to the fabric waistband, cinching it around the model’s waist to stay in place. A mass of open Irises felt too voluminous for the bodice, so Faye dressed her model in a ballet-style jersey top and wove flowers into a botanical stole for the shoulder detail. “The stole has a fabric base and a chicken-wire-like ‘sausage,’ which I sewed on to build the structure,” she explains. “I added greenery and glued on the Irises, hyacinths and tulips – all from Sun Valley, plus some hellebores from my garden.”

Faye’s own property and an ancient, multi-trunk bay tree serve as the moody setting for this luxe Iris garment. She “planted” 400 extra Irises in the ground beneath the tree, using their clustered placement to suggest a naturalized floral meadow. “Now, I really want someone to let me do this for a wedding, because the Irises held up so well,” she says.

The yellow eyes of the deep blue Irises resemble flecks of sequins against the richly colored skirt – they seem to have a reflective quality, even on a foggy, wet day in late March.

Ode to the Iris

CREDITS

Floral Palette: 1,500 ‘Hong Kong’ Irises, Sun Valley Floral Farms (Arcata, Calif.) thesunvalleygroup.com @sunvalleyfloralfarms
Designer: Faye Zierer Krause, Flora Organica Designs Arcata, Calif., floraorganicadesigns.com, @fayekrause
Model: Morgan Mireles
Hair/Makeup: Angela Cheung, Onyx-Private Holistic Studio, Arcata, Calif., @onyxarcata
Photography: Leon Villagomez, leonvillagomez.com @leonvillagomez
Location: Flora Organica Designs, Arcata, Calif.