The Language of Color

Long before the age of text messaging, when admirers wanted their beloved to know, “ur btifl n r lov wl lst 4ever” (for the text-lingo impaired, that’s “you are beautiful and our love will last forever”), they said it with flowers. Gerbera daisies and roses, in this case. Blooms and colors had specific meanings for Victorians, meanings that can enhance the beauty and significance of your modern bouquet.

Carry a bouquet of white roses and pink jasmine to tell your intended, “I am worthy of you” and “I attach myself to you,” respectively. Carry purple lilacs and ivy to symbolize the first emotions of love and fidelity. And let your groom’s boutonniere of simple garden daisies reply, “I share your sentiments.”

Or simply select the blooms you love in colors you crave and arrange them the way you like. Imbue each flower with your own meaning. That’s the beauty of bridal flowers—there are no hard-and-fast rules for what you can and can’t do to celebrate your day.

The overall trend in wedding flowers now: They work in harmony with other elements of the ceremony. For many brides, the bouquet is the ultimate accessory for the gorgeous gown, and an essential component of the bridal party’s overall look. Other brides feel prettiest when they’re carrying
bouquets on the cutting edge of chic, or flowers that reflect the venue, the season, even the personalities of the bride and groom and their families.

That’s not to say that today’s bridal flowers are shrinking violets. It’s more that they’ve learned to be team players, supporting and highlighting the bride in concert with the other elements of the day.

What are the elements brides are balancing to achieve this harmony? Here’s a roundup of the most modern ideas in wedding flowers.

Charismatic Color
Ask any florist in the greater Philadelphia area what is most notable about today’s bridal flowers, and they will say the same thing: color. Even the most traditional brides are looking for a burst of visual energy.

The days of predominantly white, ivory or pastel flowers for the bride may well be over. “We almost never get requests for lights and whites today,” says Mark Mainville, manager and a designer at Philadelphia’s Chartreuse. “Brides want bright, bold, vibrant color.”

Some brides don’t just want color—they seem to want to compensate for years of muted wedding blooms. They’re giving the whites and pastels to their bridesmaids and keeping the showiest colors for themselves.

“More and more, I see brides reversing the traditional color palettes for brides and their attendants,” says Keith Bell, head designer and owner of Long Stems in Bala Cynwyd. “Brides like the way the bold colors offset their white or ivory dresses, and the fact that the quieter colors don’t compete with the bridesmaids’ generally more boldly colored dresses,” he says.

And what colors are brides choosing? Orange tones from mango and saffron to rust; surprising shades of green from celadon to acid; deep purples and chocolate browns; fuchsia and raspberry and other electric pinks.

Getting Personal
More and more brides and grooms are looking at their wedding as a statement of who they are as individuals and together as a couple. “Whether it’s Ethiopian food, or they like Pucci, or they’re opera fans, brides are asking me to find that floral reference point,” says Anne Miller, owner of Willow Fine Flowers in Philadelphia. “Brides are moving away from the ‘everything matching’ wedding. They want the details to be very personal, almost beyond trend.”

The best way to inspire your florist to reflect that inner you: Bring loads of -photos you love to your consultation. But don’t stop with the bouquets you’ve been clipping from magazines. Bring in pictures of things that inspire you and your groom. If you’re passionate about your red convertible and your fiance’s sheepdog, bring snapshots of both and see how your florist translates those aspects of who you are.

Seasonal Inspiration
Many brides are asking not so much for specific flowers or styles, but for a range of colors and overall feel. Inspiration comes from what’s in season and what’s in peak bloom, according to John Marotta, owner of La Mimosa Designs in Philadelphia. “I go to the flower market several times a week to stay on top of what’s looking great and what’s affordable,” he says.

But choosing your wedding flowers seasonally isn’t just about economics. “It may be a global flower market, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get lily-of-the-valley worth carrying down the aisle in December,” Marotta says. “Flowers look their best when they’re in season.”

The Lure of the Tropics
The global flower market may not be producing picture-perfect spring blooms in August, but it is providing inspiration for a growing number of adventurous brides who want tropical blooms in their weddings.

Chai Kanchanahoti, master designer and owner of Fleur in Philadelphia, says brides are looking for the unique bursts of color and form that tropical flowers provide. Spiky pincushion orchids and tropical foliage such as ti leaves add shape, color and architectural elements to an arrangement. Kanchanahoti makes sculptural boutonnieres by bending and folding glossy dark-green ti leaves.

Everything Old Is Cool Again
What could be more traditional than wearing your mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress? How about carrying her bouquet? Mainville says, “I’m now seeing brides bringing in those old photographs and asking for the same flowers.” That often means cascades of gardenias or orchids in quiet colors.

Some brides prefer to echo what their mothers and grandmothers carried without the old-fashioned cascading shapes. Barney DeFusco, wedding and special events designer for Robertson’s Flowers, with locations in Chestnut Hill and Wayne, builds updated bouquets from those classic blooms. “We’re tying them in loose hand-held bouquets and pairing them with very modern greens like bear grass,” DeFusco says.

While roses are still the most common wedding flower, two of the most popular bridal blooms today are ultra-traditional calla lilies and stephanotis (with pearl or rhinestone pins, and sometimes no pins at all). But the clean, Art Deco lines of both and the astounding range of colors available for callas (20 colors and counting, from the white you’d expect to a midnight purple you wouldn’t), keep these traditional flowers feeling modern and never musty.

What makes one flower a classic and another yesterday’s news? It’s getting harder to say—especially as creative growers continue to develop new colors and textures to reinvigorate the looks of familiar blooms, and florists continue to search for new and different ways to express their floral ideas.

Carnations, for instance, have long been ho-hum generics in a brand-name world. But increasingly, florists are finding new and interesting ways to use this grocery-store posy to great effect, pairing them with exotic blooms as a textural and tonal counterpoint.

Even garden-variety (literally) gladiolas can look stunning. South Jersey florist Michael Bruce, owner of Michael Bruce Florist in Westmont, has combined a composite of individual gladiola florets with those familiar glad stalks in subtle shading around a monochrome color theme. The result: a striking wash of intense color and fluttery texture.

Rediscovering these neglected flowers is part of an overall trend to mix high and low in all aspects of the wedding: serving mini-cheeseburgers at a Rittenhouse Hotel reception; pairing flip-flops with a silk charmeuse column gown; bunching black calla lilies with deep purple carnations. These unexpected combinations are designed to surprise and delight, to introduce a sense of casual fun without sacrificing elegance.

Delight Is in the Details
If color is the most notable trend in wedding flowers, detail—more than specific blossoms or colors—is the most notable way all these trends get expressed. It’s in the way flowers are tied and finished: a treasured piece of jewelry integrated into a boutonniere, or a swatch of rich velvet entwined around a bouquet’s handle. It’s in contrasting textures: green hypericum berries aside smooth chartreuse orchids. It’s in the sensory experience of the flowers: fresh lavender, even unexpected herbs like dill or mint incorporated into bouquets to enhance the fragrance.

From the wide-angle view, bridal flowers are simple, bold and part of the bride’s overall look, or the event’s overall floral statement. But upon closer inspection, the bride’s flowers—and the groom’s boutonniere—surprise and delight.

Weddings are personal celebrations, and the flowers reflect that. Color, scent, texture and imaginative detailing are all to be appreciated in a one-to-one exchange. Hug the groom and experience a hint of rosemary. Talk with the bride, and discover the intricately braided silk ribbon wrapped around her bouquet handle. These are subtle, personal touches that are meant to be appreciated the same way you’ll be appreciating your guests: up close and personal.