Seven Questions with Seven Store

Seven Questions with Seven Store

This interview was published on SEVENSTORE's blog.

Author: Jack Stanley
Photography: Wretched Flowers

A lot of floristry follows the same rules. There are the same flowers placed alongside one another, the same colours chosen to complement each other, and the same arrangements repeated time and time again. New York-based Wretched Flowers, though, has broken all these rules.

In the past, the floristry studio – now based between New York and Connecticut and led by artists Loney Abrams and Johnny Stanish – has pierced mushrooms with nose rings, used plants foraged from across the city itself and celebrated dead and dry stems in the way that more traditional florists celebrate fresh cut greens and bright colours. Through this approach to floral art, Wretched Flowers are trying to challenge the conventional way that flowers are seen. Or, as they describe it, “one person’s weed is another person’s wildflower.”

After beginning life in 2020 inspired by the weeds of New York City, Wretched Flowers has grown and changed in the three years since. Nowadays, Abrams and Stanish describe themselves as a “multifaceted” design studio, with a particular focus on “artifacts” – think metal lamps, ceramic vases and laser cut mirrors – that draw on historic processes and objects.

While these, often metal, artifacts seem a million miles away from the floral work of Wretched’s early days, there is a clear aesthetic crossover between the two disciplines. Whether it’s floral arrangement or furniture design – or Abrams’ and Stanish’s writing, art practice or event production – the idea is the same: “to challenge traditional notions of beauty and taste.”

JS: Where did Wretched Flowers come from? What were you doing beforehand that led to you starting the company?

WF: We had been working collaboratively as artists, making sculptures mostly. We had a studio in East New York in Brooklyn and would go on long walks while we waited for resin to cure. Out of boredom we’d look really closely at the weeds growing up between the cracks and started to realize how biodiverse the plant life was. It turns out NYC is a biodiversity hotspot; the “concrete jungle” has more species than all of the UK. So, we started making bouquets out of weeds, just for fun, and posted them to an Instagram account, along with information we found about each species.

We were curious about how these plants got to New York – how present-day ecology is created by an entanglement of history, trade, imperialism, migration etc. We had no intention of starting a company. But an audience formed around our images and our research, and people started requesting foraged flower arrangements for their gallery openings and events. So, it began.

JS: Why did you choose to focus on floristry? What was your approach to your floral creations?

WF: Once we started looking into floristry, we saw so much potential to be subversive. We set out to make arrangements that reflect what plant life is actually like, and to define a new aesthetic that challenges traditional notions of beauty. Flowers are typically only appreciated during a very short window in their lifecycles – when they’re freshly bloomed, unbruised, young. We use plants that have died, or gone to seed, or that have been ravished by beetles and left riddled with holes.

For small creatures, plants are food, plants are habitat, plants are camouflage – plants are so many important things that most florists don’t appreciate. So, our approach was to make arrangements that celebrate the gnarly reality of plant life, and to then research the social ecologies that connect our arrangements to history and lore.

JS: In those early days, everything you created was made with plants foraged in New York. Why was that important to you?

WF: The installations or arrangements that we produce in NYC are tied to the land in New York. If we do an event in another city, then they will be site specific to that city. So, it’s about a sense of place. But also, we wanted to provide a sustainable alternative to the conventional floral industry. Eighty percent of cut flowers in the US are grown in Colombia, with heavy use of pesticides outlawed in the US, and then shipped in refrigerated jets and trucks. So, while floristry may seem like it celebrates nature, it actually devastates it.

To avoid that destructive supply chain, we mostly forage. And when we do, we target invasive species and facilitate the spread of beneficial species. So, we’re very conscious of the role we play in our local micro-ecology. When we do occasionally buy flowers, we get them from a few small farmers that we’ve formed relationships with in the area, who grow organically.

JS: Since then, you’ve become a more multifaceted studio. How does your work now build on what you did with floristry?

We like to think of Wretched Flowers as an ever-evolving, nebulous, world builder. It’s a catch-all for all the activities we do, which all, more or less, aim to challenge traditional notions of beauty and taste, while making connections between history and the present, nature and the human-made. It consists of floristry, but we also produce events, we make artworks, we design homeware, we write texts (we have a photo and text essay about the history of the tea plant, and its role in British colonialism coming out soon). Homeware is what we’re most focused on right now. We make hard objects for the uncommon home: lighting, mirrors, vases, and other home accessories, which we design and fabricate in our home studio.

Design felt like a natural evolution because we had very specific ideas for how we wanted our arrangements to look, and we needed to make custom vases to make our visions come to fruition. Around the same time, we bought a house and didn’t have any decor or furniture. So, we began to make the things that we wanted to live with. Now we sell those things both wholesale and on our site, and are also pursuing opportunities in interior design and custom decor.

JS: What are the similarities and differences between working with flowers and the furniture you make now?

WF: On a superficial level, we tend to like things that look dangerous, or are more masculine-feeling – which I think is contrary to most associations with domestic spaces or florals. And we like things that are moody and dramatic; minimalism isn’t really our thing. So those are some aesthetic qualities that our homeware and floristry share.

But on a deeper level, both our floristry and homeware are about longevity – both in the sense that we want our pieces to last, and in the sense that we tie history to the present. Most of our flowers are dead already, so you don’t have to worry about them only lasting a week before you have to throw them away, and our arrangements tell stories about ethno-botanical history.

Our homeware is built to last forever (we use materials like steel and ceramic), and our pieces are inspired by obscure, historically significant objects or craft. We make a concerted effort not to trend-chase, because trends come and go, and when they go, things end up in landfills. So, we try to make everything we do timeless and sustainable – two things that are actually very linked.

JS: Where does your influence from historical objects come from?

WF: We spend a lot of time sifting through museum archives looking for inspiration from the past. Each object in our latest collection, ARTIFACT, is a reinterpretation of a significant historical object from a museum archive. We based our porcelain vase off a single, grainy, black-and-white image of a bronze vase from Japan’s Edo period. It was a lot trickier to recreate in ceramic than you might think! The ceramic bowl is a truncated version of that same form. We designed the steel bud vase by essentially combining two halberds (which are like axes) from the 15th century. A mace ball was the inspiration for our cast pewter candleholder. The Crown of Thorns mirrors and lamps use an interlocking joinery technique used by Tramp artists, who notched and carved wooden cigar boxes during the Great Depression when materials were scarce. We’ve revived the craft using laser-cut stainless steel.

JS: After making the switch from flowers to artifacts, where does Wretched Flowers go from here? Will you continue translating your aesthetic onto new objects?

WF: We will continue making new objects, for sure, and we’re still doing floristry – mainly for events and dinners and things of that sort. We also ship dead arrangements globally. But as far as homeware goes… the Crown of Thorns technique is modular, so right now we’re iterating our designs to make some new lighting and wall pieces, which we’ll debut at ICFF in New York in May 2024.

We’re also having a lot of fun slowly designing our house, a mid-century modern ranch on two acres about 60 miles north of NYC. We have the space to test out some landscaping ideas too, which involve re-wilding and regenerative gardening. As we’re cutting our teeth designing our own house and gardens, we’re looking to get into designing for other people. A dream job would be to provide full-service interior design and/or landscaping – including custom Wretched Flowers pieces – for a new restaurant, shop, or hotel. Spread the word!