The Return of Decadent ’80s Flowers

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The Return of Decadent ’80s Flowers

Artificially dyed baby’s breath and orchids in a range of pastel hues, along with glossy anthuriums, birds of paradise and hybrid tea roses populate the new wave of 1980s-inflected arrangements cropping up in New York at the moment. 2018 is shaping up to be the year of the anthurium, formerly a lead contender for world’s most despised flower. Should you need reminding, the anthurium is that plastic-y looking plant with a fingerlike spadix rising out of a flat shiny red bract, which has been referred to, for reasons that require no explanation, as “penis on a platter.” This controversial flower is just one of a host of formerly derided flora being reclaimed from the slush pile of floristry. Plants long forbidden in tasteful circles — tropicals like birds of paradise, protea, palm fronds and monstera leaves; cheap romance-and-restaurant stalwarts like tea roses, carnations and baby’s breath; and even that overused signifier of banal good taste, the orchid — are all being lovingly and brazenly revived. As diverse as they are, they have something in common. The last time they were fashionable was in the 1980s — specifically in Manhattan, the city where countless floral trends are born, and perish. In his studio, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe turned tropical blooms into icons of sexuality. Isolating specimens against similar backdrops to the ones he used for his nude portraiture, he regarded the smooth skin of a calla lily or the hard veins of an anthurium with the same deliberate attention as he would the flesh of a well-sculpted male body. Likewise, these sculptural blooms could also be found springing from glossy black vessels at party spots like Mr. Chow and nightclubs like Studio 54, signaling a similar sexual decadence. Uptown, flowers were mostly used to convey a different kind of excess — that of money and all the glamour it could buy. At competitively lavish weddings and charity events, and at restaurants like Le Cirque or La Goulue, the arrangements were epically overscale, not unlike the hair, shoulder pads and spending habits of the women who populated this “Bonfire of the Vanities” version of New York. These floral extravaganzas were joyous, Easter-hued creations loaded with whatever was showiest: Stargazer lilies, lilacs, hothouse roses, birds of paradise, explosive yellow forsythia, fragrant eucalyptus shoots and skyscraping, arthritic-seeming branches, often all at once. “Excess piled on top of opulence,” recalls Charles Masson, whose elegant large-scale odes to the seasons for his family’s uptown restaurant, La Grenouille (which he now creates at Majorelle ), likely inspired this look. “Trends,” says Masson, “are always signs of the times.” Equal parts flash and flourish, New York florist Brittany Asch’s arrangement features gold-painted sago palm leaves, rainbow-colored baby’s breath and electric green-dyed pampas grass. But times change, bubbles burst and eventually the creative center of New York shifted from Manhattan lofts to the psychic farmscape of Brooklyn. In turn, the floral style began to mirror the food movement: homespun fantasies of nature’s seasonal delicacies. At wildflower-strewn weddings and […]