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What Fashion Week Is Like for a Florist

"We want there to be an emotion involved in it," says Michael Putnam, one-half of fashion-favorite floral design boutique Putnam & Putnam. "Not just pretty flowers."
The set of Jason Wu's Spring 2018 runway show. Photo: Putnam & Putnam

The set of Jason Wu's Spring 2018 runway show. Photo: Putnam & Putnam

Designers like to stock their brands' showrooms with lush, gorgeous flowers for the same reasons you or I might like to pick up a small bouquet of tulips when we do our weekly grocery shopping: Flowers, according to professional florist Michael Putnam, are the ultimate luxury. Michael has grounds to speak on the subject with authority, as he's one-half of Putnam & Putnam, the New York-based boutique floral design studio that's an unequivocal favorite amongst the fashion (and bridal) industries. 

Together with his husband Darroch, Putnam & Putnam brings a romantic, almost overgrown quality to every project it takes on. And while weddings certainly contribute to a significant portion of the company's business, Michael and Darroch are themselves professionals in the fashion space, working with some of New York's most high-profile designers (including Jason Wu, with whom Putnam & Putnam also collaborated for Fall 2018) while also maintaining excellent retail partnerships (like Bergdorf Goodman). 

Neither Michael nor Darroch have a background in florals — Michael's is in interior design, while Darroch's is in fashion photography — but the pair execute such painstakingly detailed installations that it's no wonder the fashion community has embraced them so wholeheartedly. Ahead of New York Fashion Week, I spoke with both Michael and Darroch about getting their business off the ground, building collaborative relationships with designers and, of course, why flowers and fashion will always go hand-in-hand.

Michael and Darroch Putnam. Photo: Bryan Derballa

Michael and Darroch Putnam. Photo: Bryan Derballa

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Were you always interested in florals, and were you also always interested in fashion?

Michael: I've definitely always had a passion for flowers, but I didn't pursue it because I never thought it could be a career. But when I took it up as a hobby, I realized soon after that it definitely could, and it sort of took off. My background isn't so much involved in fashion, but Darroch's is, for sure. Darroch was a photographer for years.

Darroch: I've always wanted to work in fashion. My goal outside college was fashion photography, and that's what I moved to New York to pursue.

Your business really began when Michael began assisting some of New York's top florists, but when did you two realize it was something you wanted to, and could, pursue professionally?

Darroch: Before this brand, as a side project, I actually started an offline vintage resale business with a friend. That was my first taste of running a small business and I loved it. It was totally a side project, like on weekends and that kind of thing, and I just loved it so much more than working in a corporate environment. I used to photograph for Barneys, so I was in a corporate photo studio. I just loved running my own thing, so when it really started to be apparent that this could be a business, I knew right away that I wanted to join in and be the back-end, the business side of things.

How and when do you start preparing for fashion week?

Darroch: That's a really funny question because it's so opposite of our weddings, which book out, typically, eight months to a year in advance. This fashion week, we're doing four different shows, and I think we started getting contacted for them like, a week ago. [Laughs]

Michael: For all of them.

Darroch: It's so last-minute, which is just the world of fashion.

Michael Putnam. Photo: Judy Pak

Michael Putnam. Photo: Judy Pak

What does fashion week prep typically look like for you?

Michael: The first thing is to view the collection and brainstorm with the designers, to conceptualize what they want their show to look like...

Darroch: ... to see the swatches and the color palettes and all of that.

Michael: We try to hammer that out first. Color palette is the biggest thing. And then we start thinking, "What's the build-out going to be?" or, "Is it a runway show or is it a presentation?" Once they decide they want to use us, we start thinking of what we want to do.

How have you gone about building those relationships with the designers with whom you work?

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Darroch: Usually when we first work for a designer, we start small, so we'll do a smaller project for them, whether it's an editorial shoot or something for the showroom for a special occasion. And then they'll bring us on for a bigger project, and then we go big and do a show.

Michael: It's really special because we've built strong relationships with a lot of the designers, and we basically do their shows and presentations every season, which is amazing.

How would you say your work is differentiated from other fashion-favorite florists?

Michael: Just like with our weddings and everything we do, we try to bring a touch of romance forward. We really want our work to feel like something. We want there to be an emotion involved in it, not just pretty flowers. I think we just pour everything — our hearts, everything — into everything we do. Every little last detail is touched by my hands. [Laughs] I don't sign off on anything unless I've touched at it, looked at it, made sure everything is perfect, exactly how I want it.

Darroch: And that's the way we do all our jobs. We're not the kind of people who take on two weddings or three weddings a day. We take one project at a time. We are present and we are there and we just care about all the details, because especially with social media now, no matter what you do, people are going to see it. We take that so seriously.

What's the most extravagant ask you've ever received for a fashion week project?

Darroch: Probably [Jason Wu]'s last season. The concept was something we've never done before, and the scale was really cool. What's amazing about Jason is he not only puts so much trust in what we do, but a lot of designers are hesitant to put that money toward flowers. But he knows how important it is to make an impact. I mean, that show was basically his collection and our flowers, and really, it was totally an honor to do that for him.

Michael: But I think it's the same with a lot of designers we work with. We do Adam Lippes's lookbook every year, every season. He normally does it in a more residential space and he puts trust in us, too; he doesn't dictate anything. He wants us to come in and create. We're really lucky that a lot of designers just trust us for what we do.

Putnam & Putnam's shop-in-shop featured in Bergdorf Goodman Magazine's June 2017 issue. Photo: Bergdorf Goodman

Putnam & Putnam's shop-in-shop featured in Bergdorf Goodman Magazine's June 2017 issue. Photo: Bergdorf Goodman

What's the least amount of notice you've ever received from a client for a project?

Darroch: Quite honestly, we get crazy last-minute requests, but we just don't do them. It's pretty wild. I think because our process is so bespoke, our schedule fills up pretty quickly. And especially in fashion, of course, you know people do not like the word "no." It's sometimes really hard to explain to people that we just can't do it because we're not going to do a halfway-there job. We do get super last-minute requests, like, "Oh, we're having a show at the end of the week or in three days," and we can't accommodate stuff like that. And we learned that. In the beginning, we juggled too much and then the quality of work just sharply declined. [Laughs]

How do your fashion week gigs differ from what you might work on normally during the year?

Darroch: What's interesting about the difference between our brides and working with designers is that our brides come to us knowing what we do because of social media. They typically put a lot of trust in us in that they look to us for guidance and direction. And what's amazing about working with designers is that it's a bit more of a collaboration, where they might have some type of idea, but they don't know how to execute it. That feels really special.

One of our favorite clients to work with, and we don't get the opportunity too frequently, is Linda Fargo at Bergdorf Goodman. Whenever we get an opportunity to do an installation with her, to be able to tap into the artistry they do there and play some small role in that, is just so fun. And she and her team have incredible, out-of-the-box ideas, so it's always fun to anticipate what they're going to come up with and see what they want us to do.

You've said before that the relationship between flowers and fashion goes hand-in-hand. Why do you think that is?

Darroch: Flowers have been around forever. Fashion has been around forever. There's a romance in both of them. There's something so incredible about new collections and new designs, and there's something so romantic about new flowers and the way they pair together. I think that florals just elevate the design, you know?

Michael: I think florals elevate anything.

Darroch: They elevate anything, but especially with fashion. It's taking something that's already beautiful and making it even more beautiful.

Michael: The ephemeral nature of flowers is really special. It's also the ultimate luxury.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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