Hotels are famous for many reasons, but only one, arguably, is renowned for the flowers in its lobby. That's the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and it has Jeff Leatham to thank. Ever since the former model was hired as the establishment's artistic director, Leatham (and the hotel itself) have become known for a style of floral design defined by modern, monochromatic clusters and the novel technique of positioning stems in arrangements at unexpected angles. Leatham, who offers floral workshops to guests at the George V, recently launched a range of vases with Waterford Crystal and is awaiting the release of his third book in the new year, talked to Globe Style about his growth strategy – plus shared his tips for holiday centrepieces.
How much did you know about flowers when you started out in the business?
Nothing at all. [At 21], I had finished [a stint in] modelling and didn't have a job, so I called a friend in L.A. in a panic. He said he knew a woman doing a big wedding at the Four Seasons. That's how I started.
It's not often in floral design that someone creates such a distinctive style.
It's probably the most imitated style in the world. And I'm so blessed to have had that impact. When I was on Oprah a few years ago, a big part of the interview was the idea that life is complicated enough – doing flowers shouldn't be. And I think that's why [my work] captures people's eye: the simplicity of one colour or one type of flower. People often say, "Don't you care that people are copying your work?" I think that, when artists get upset about that, it's a sign of insecurity. You should already be onto your next design anyway.
The modernity of your look acts as a counterpoint to the grandeur of the George V.
[Design firm] Pierre-Yves Rochon did such a great job with the interiors. Originally, they hired [floral designer] Christian Tortu at the same time as me and he was like, "Let's do something very French." And I was like, "No, no, no. If you want it to be noticed, you have to do something modern and sleek." The tapestries are so ornate and beautiful, but the flowers sitting next to the tapestry [also have to say], "We're here."
Star hotel chefs often have satellite restaurants around the world. But you stay anchored in Paris.
Imagine if I came once every four months. It wouldn't be the same. I'm gone for seven days and I have a coronary because the flowers are wrong. People won't look at it and think, "Oh, that's Jeff's staff." They look at it and think, "Oh, that's Jeff." That's why you always need to have control.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Ready to deck your halls?
Put down that poinsettia and take a page from the Jeff Leatham handbook of modern floral design.
Enlist some support
An opaque vase – particularly a glossy black one – makes a striking statement and allows you to hide Oasis Floral Foam inside the vessel to hold stems in place at interesting angles. Another bonus: The foam retains moisture, so you won't have to change the water as often.
Tip the balance
Rather than position blooms vertically in a vase, tilt them to the side for a contemporary effect. First, fill the vase with water almost to the top, then lean the stems against the side of the vase about an inch below the water line – the water will support them and hold them in place.
Take up space
To add interest to the base of an arrangement, fill a transparent cube-shaped vase with fluffy hydrangea heads, then insert small clusters of roses at three staggered points among their petals. Finish by tucking a cluster of orchid stems into the centre of the arrangement for drama and added height.