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Sateen's in bloom.

NEW YORK -- When it comes to arrangements of artificial flowers, retailers and consumers have been asking for a bigger bang for the buck, according to Stewart Aaron, president of Labs Inc.

"They keep saying, 'Give me more for less money,' " Aaron said.

Enter Floral Essence, which is just being shipped to stores. It is a collection of large-scale flowers in brilliant colors, arranged in hand-finished, color-coordinated containers.

The line flies in the face of the botanically correct faux flowers currently in vogue, but is intended to give furniture retailers inexpensive yet dramatic arrangements to sell.

According to Aaron, "There was nothing like it at High Point because everyone else was doing botanically correct things. But these arrangements got very high reviews."

A spokesperson for Montgomery Ward said the chain has ordered between 15 and 20 truckloads of Labs' flower arrangements to coordinate with fabrics Ward sells.

"The whole thing started a year ago with a request from Marlo Furniture, the largest in the Washington, D.C., area," Aaron said. "Their customers were buying furniture, and they wanted big, eye-catching arrangements as a finishing touch."

It was an interesting problem for Labs Inc., which was founded 20 years ago as a live plant resource. "We are a family business," Aaron said proudly. "That now includes two daughters and a son-in-law working for us.

"Labs started out selling live foliage out of Florida, as well as dried plants and wreaths from Mexico. We've been in the silk flower business for about 10 years -- although silk is something of a misnomer. We use polyester today."

Much of Labs' artificial plant business has been in big products, such as 25-foot trees that sell for $400 to $500. A lot of that merchandise ends up in the commercial market, in hotels, motels, corporate headquarters and even the King Kong exhibit at Universal Studios.

The challenge was to get fuller arrangements for less money, and that's the problem Aaron brought to Kerry Jarvis, creative director, who is also a member of the American Institute of Floral Designers.

"The toughest thing in this business is to keep the price down and still offer a look," Jarvis said.

Most artificial flowers had been sold by the stem, leaving consumers to arrange them at home. The price was right, but the results were not necessarily good. And customers began looking for professionally done arrangements, at a price.

Building a large-scale arrangement out of small, botanically correct flowers would be too expensive. Jarvis knew he needed something large and remembered the old sateen flowers popular 10 to 15 years ago.

"They are very high-gloss, very showy field flowers that had fallen out of favor in recent years. Today, people want realistic looks and manufacturers have gone beyond roses to copy everything from tropical flowers to roadside weeds."

But Jarvis discovered one company still making sateen flowers. "I realized we could buy them at a reasonable price, and combine them with more contemporary items like dried materials, fruits and berries, for a fresher, more up-to-date look," he said.

To an experienced designer like Jarvis, sateen flowers -- which often look like real ones; magnolias or hibiscus, for example --were familiar. But to a whole generation, they were something new.

"There's nothing really new in design. Everything just gets recycled," Jarvis said. "Even bell bottoms and platform shoes are coming back."

That's the fashion cycle. "Remember the 1930s roadsters with the big fenders?" Aaron asked. "For a while, you could only get that look if you built it yourself with a kit. But now the Plymouth Prowler captures that roadster look, and it's very exciting if you've never seen it before."

So faux flower arrangements built around over-scale, glitzy flowers not seen in years are new again. Custom arrangements this size would sell for several hundred dollars, but these are geared to retail from $40 to $120.

The flowers, fruits, berries and even feathers are arranged in coordinated containers.

"In the past, everyone bought stuff from the Orient and everything looked the same," Aaron said. "But we found two manufacturers who make the containers for us in bisque, and we're doing all the finishing ourselves so the containers are unique."

"Hand-finished containers have been associated with the upper-end market," Jarvis interjected. "We are doing our own finishing --hand-rubbed, splattered, dipped and sponged in rich colors to coordinate with the arrangements."

He said the colors are deep and rich. "We use a lot of dark burgundy and deep greens," he said. "Even what we used to call peach and salmon are more intense. And by doing the finishing ourselves, we keep the price way down."

As Aaron put it, "It's not necessarily what's on the cover of Architectural Digest, but it's what America buys."
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Title Annotation:sateen flowers
Author:Ondovcsik, Maryann
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Nov 25, 1996
Words:790
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