This year marks the eighteenth Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). Every year, I look forward to attending this orchid show, and this year even more so when I learned the floral designer would be Jeff Leatham. I have admired his work at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris where he is the artistic director. In addition to Paris he has studios at the Four Seasons Hotels in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Leatham has a diverse celebrity clientele ranging from Oprah Winfrey, Tina Turner, the Kardashians, and Chelsea Clinton to the Dalai Lama and collaborations with luxury brands including but not limited to Dom Perignon and Chanel. In 2014, Jeff was knighted with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a prestigious honor to receive as it is only given to those who have made significant contributions to French culture.
I want visitors to come away with an unforgettable impression of the color and beauty of orchids.
Leatham worked with New York Botanical Garden’s horticulturists and their Senior Curator of Orchids, Marc Hachadorian, in creating this spectacular orchid show housed in the Edith A. Haupt Conservatory.
I knew in advance that the Palm Dome and some of the other galleries of the conservatory would be closed for restoration. When we arrived, we entered a small outer vestibule before entering through a second inner door ensuring both doors are closed before entering to protect the orchids from exposure to the cold. Once in, I was wowed by a show-stopper piece - a ten foot tall orchid sculpture and fountain designed by Leatham. It was crafted out of faceted mirror produced by Michel Amann of the Crystal Group - who fabricates sculptures for Jeff Leatham at the George V. This sculpture captures the reflections of everything around it - the orchids, the flowing water into the black pool - giving the illusion of kaleidoscope patterns. Pink and purple orchids are suspended above from a large white structure that frames the orchid sculpture fountain and pool. Throughout the show the organization of color sets apart this show from previous years in the way Leatham focused on a different color in each gallery. This gives the selected color scheme greater impact and unity. An otherwise bland tunnel connecting spaces is transformed into a color infused experience. Leatham brings a contemporary, and fun vibe into this outstanding Victorian conservatory.
Clean, Simple and Chic.
On another day I returned to the New York Botanical Garden to attend a talk that Leatham gave. Leatham lives in Los Angeles and commutes to Paris once a month for about a week and he visits Amsterdam every three months to see his suppliers. Leatham had so much to share and to tell us, allowing questions to be asked during the talk, and clicking through hundreds of photos of his work projected onto a screen. He has projects all over the world from the Mideast, Far East, South East Asia, and Europe to the United States and others. He has worked with the same team for twenty years, and adds additional freelancers when need be. He is really big on collaboration and works with local floral designers in some of the farther locales. At the Four Seasons Hotel George V the floral budget is roughly 1.5 million dollars annually. Arrangements are maintained daily, flowers are replaced if needed, and every three weeks everything is changed to a complete new look. Leatham’s design philosophy in three words: clean, simple, and chic. Color is the first thing he considers and he keeps things in threes: three colors, three types of flowers, and for vessels he favors: cubes, cylinders, and balls. Leatham repeats the same vase multiple times in a space which amplifies its effect and creates a bold crisp visual impact. His work is beautifully theatrical. For Tina Turner in Zurich he created a beautiful wall of 24,000 roses. Leatham exudes energy and he is fun to listen too. The audience was filled with a mix - professional floral designers such as Jennifer Spirito, a floral designer who flew in from Vancouver, Canada just to attend this talk and see his work at the orchid show, board members, lovers of flowers, members of his family including his very charming father who was getting some fan attention of his own and at least one journalist. When I asked what he is doing next, he replied he is launching two scents Botanica and Rose this and its coordinating bathroom amenities will complement the rooms at the George V.
I loved kaleidoscopes as a child. You start dreaming as you look through one.
The Orchid show brings cheer through color and through the warmth of the Conservatory. It is such a treat to see the colorful orchids, and lush greenery. If you visit, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and to leave your stilettos at home. I look forward to seeing the Edith A. Haupt Conservatory again after its restoration and Jeff Leatham’s flowers in Paris, Philadelphia or Beverly Hills. It will be interesting to see how this orchid show will influence future ones and how working with the New York Botanical Garden will influence Jeff Leatham’s work. There’s so much to do at the New York Botanical Garden. In addition to the conservatory, the grounds incorporate two-hundred and fifty acres, there are dining opportunities, and one can take classes there too. The Orchid Show is on view now through April nineteenth.