What is something that Katy Perry, Doja Cat and SZA all have in common? Their use of real flowers in wardrobe. For Perry, take a look at her music video for “Never Worn White,” which also served as her pregnancy announcement. As for Doja Cat, you may have noticed her venus fly trap earrings when she walked the red carpet at this year’s Billboard Music Awards.
SZA’s look, from the “Kiss Me More” video, is perhaps the most envious of them all. Who wouldn’t want a bikini made of literal flowers while in a romantic, intergalactic vision?
“I worked with her stylist and they invited me in and gave me mild parameters,” botanical artist Kristen Alpaugh explains, who created the floral ensemble. “Anytime you put live flowers on a human being, it’s always exciting because it’s like real-life fantasy for artists to do something like that, but it’s also terrifying as mechanical artists.You have to roll with the punches.”
It all calls for a high level of skill and creativity. But don’t let Alpaugh’s mastery fool you. While an expert in her trade, she hasn’t exactly spent a lifetime developing her craft. In fact, she spent many years in the corporate world working in management consulting. She loved her job, but her love dwindled.
“I was just searching for something that felt more fulfilling,” Alpaugh reflects. “I’ve always been an artist… I eventually just felt uninspired and I just needed to make a change.”
Her moment of inspiration came when contemplating over a question her then boss used to like to ask others: “What would you do if you never had to work a day again in your life?”
The answer struck while on a run. Considering how to incorporate her love of art and flowers, Alpaugh knew she would become a florist.
“Everything sort of came into alignment,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about floristry at the time, but it felt so right and that set me on that path and planted that seed— no pun intended.”
Since leaving management consulting in 2017, Alpaugh has launched Flwr Pstl, appeared on HBO Max’s Full Bloom, racked up the aforementioned celebrity clientele, created a new breed of florals (Irithuriums) and opened Haus of Stems, an L.A.-based botanical art studio that is home to her specialized flower species.
“I’m always looking for ways to use flowers in new ways. My brain is constantly working,” Alpaugh says.
One day, she considered the possibility of flowers as canvases and the Irithurium was born. Taking iridescent paint to Anthurium blooms, Alpaugh’s flower breed have become coveted pieces at gallery openings, weddings, baby showers, birthday celebrations and Oscar parties. And though she continues to make custom floral designs under Flwr Pstl, Haus of Stems provides access to luxury botanical art (typically featuring Irithuriums) to both florists and non-florists.
“I think painted flowers have a bad rap for a lot of industry professionals,” Alpaugh says. “We’ve had people go rogue from that community and use our products and say that it’s unlike anything they’ve ever experienced from the painted realm and florists that have been in the industry for 40 years have sent us emails and called us saying, ‘Thank you so much. I’m looking at flowers like they’re brand new for the first time.’”
View this post on Instagram
Developing a floral piece is a collaborative process. Speaking to the idea that creativity demands constraints, Alpaugh factors in any requested prints or color palettes and then lets her brain go wild.
“It looks like I’m sculpting or like I’m doing tai chi. I’ll close my eyes and visualize the piece,” she explains. “It starts ultimately with the tai chi shaping everything.”
Childhood roots reflect across Alpaugh's practice. She did ballet for nearly a decade growing up, so movement and gesture became ingrained in how she communicates. As a little girl, she also recalls being transfixed by her mom’s little pot of flowers while waiting for the bus to school.
“I just always noticed the symmetry and precision that every flower has,” Alpaugh says. “I would sit there and stare into the flowers and there’s just nothing like the patterns that Mother Nature creates for everyone. She is the original muse.”
With the success of her Irithurium, Alpaugh foresees the popularity of hand-painted florals only expanding. What’s more, given the global shortage of white roses, she notes people pulling away from the white color palette. Moving forward, it’ll be all about incorporating color.
View this post on Instagram
“The pandemic has really impacted our way of life. And I think coming out of that, slowly, it’s like waking up out of hibernation,” she says. “People want to party, they want to celebrate. There’s nothing better than color to evoke that feeling.”
Alpaugh has already managed to make her art into a lucrative career, so what could possibly be next? She can’t say much, but hints that exciting projects are on the way.
“I’m heading more towards fine art,” she reveals. “Expect more permanent pieces of art coming out of Flwr Pstl.”
Photography by: Storm Santos