Floral artist passes on his love for Provence, his birthplace and inspiration

Frédéric Garrigues gives Hongkongers a taste of study holidays he holds in southern France, where he grew up walking through fields of wild herbs and lavender and living by the seasons

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 12:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 12:37pm

Frédéric Garrigues credits his upbringing in Provence for inspiring his flower arrangements. As a child the fine arts graduate turned floral artist, who was born in 1963, would wander among the southern French region’s olive groves, pine trees and sunflowers, climb rolling hills dotted with wild thyme and rosemary, and meander across lavender plantations. Those memories inform his work, which Parisians have hailed for its originality and which some call “country chic”. They are an inspiration for the study holidays he offers in Provence – a sample of which he is giving Hong Kong audiences in a series of talks this week. We caught up with him ahead of the talks.

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Can you describe some memories from your childhood?

I was educated by my grandmother Marie, who lived in a small village in Provence. In the early 1960s, many people were poor but they helped each other a lot. They shared everything: work, harvesting of the garden or hunting, parties. They were “humans­” – poor but humble. I keep many memories of that time, as many children were happy. My grandmother took my brother and me out, picking wild fruit to make jam: blackberries, plums, wild strawberries. We lived with the seasons. Curiosity never let us want for anything. There were mushrooms, chestnuts, wild asparagus. The year progressed at the pace of these treasures.

You did not enter into flower arranging through the traditional route.

I had the chance to enter the National School of Fine Arts. In five years of study, I learned to design a project, argue, make choices and develop my own critical sense. Using photography helped me a lot. What better way to learn to see? I was lucky, in parallel, to collaborate with theatre and cinema circles or fashion. With [opera, theatre and film director] Patrice Chéreau, I learned teamwork, the importance of the decorations and lights and sound but also to give the best of yourself even for tiny things, details.

How would you characterise your earlier phases?

I’ve never felt like an “artist”. I think my training helped me to learn the essentials about the creative process. I’ve realised that any creation or realisation needs the same things to take shape – preparing food for friends, making a painting or a photograph, a bouquet of flowers, a staging, these are equivalent and require the same attention. We must do it with love. This “energy”, this desire to share, makes them tasty dishes, the most moving paintings and bouquets become more charming. It is the desire to share this love that transforms things. Today I am only giving a part of what I received. I am a smuggler of emotions, a conduit.

Where do you find inspiration?

First of all, I need to feel: a message, a person, a place. I prefer to refuse work if I do not feel anything. I have confidence in my perception. If I’m not able to feel things, I cannot work [on a project]. I think, to be creative, it is first necessary that one is self-confident and have the abilities of his team. I am only a coordinator. All my designs are the fruit of several skills.

How has the industry itself changed?

Globalisation and the current market for flowers do not influence my perception of plants. I deeply regret that this makes us believe that we can have everything at any time of year. Click on the internet and wow! Can you tell me what it means to have Christmas peonies at 10 (HK$85) a stem, when these are early summer flowers? What is the meaning of all this industry?

What are your future plans?

I wish to convey my vision of floral decoration, through courses and internships in Provence. I am also preparing a new book summarising my ideas that I would like to publish in French, English and Chinese. My wife is Chinese and I asked her to write a Chinese version.

Garrigues is speaking in morning and afternoon sessions until Thursday at Hay Fever Floral & Gifts Shop, G/F, 62-64 Flower Market Road, Mong Kok; (Tel: 23970668, or email [email protected]).