By Jill Brooke
As Malcolm Gladwell observed, “The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world.” This quote can be applied to what Susan McLeary – aka Passion Flower Sue – is doing with flowers.
In her hands, flowers are modernized and massaged into instruments to create floral jewelry, floral installations, cascading arrangements, and lessons on sustainable living.
“My love for nature motivated me to use floristry to increase awareness around sustainability and make advancements towards more responsible design applications,” says McLeary who also teaches popular online classes.
For example, when I met Sue recently at Debra Prinzing’s Slow Flower Summit at Stone Barns, she modeled “The Compost Dress,” which she created by using floral scraps along with eggshells and garlic skins to create the colorful flowing caftan.
“I arranged the compost, shot it, plopped the photo into @spoonflower, manipulated it, and ordered it up in crepe de chine,” says Mcleary. “My talented friend @mlkrullsewwhat – who also made my wedding gown 20 years ago – created this one-size-fits-most caftan out of it.”
Clever isn’t it? As are other designs she created for AIFD’s Flower Forward where she used a few bunches of agapanthus and delphinium, transforming it into an over-the-top headpiece that doubles as a cascade bouquet, and a shoulder piece that is also designed to be worn as a headpiece.
“Using flowers from arrangements that have expired, this last gasp allows me to create something lasting,” she says.
As well as transformative – since life is so, well, ephemeral. Part of the joy of flowers and their superpower is how we are forced to focus on this nanosecond because the fleeting nature of its unassailable beauty is a reminder of carpe diem and appreciating the moment.
“Working in ephemera presents a unique set of challenges-it felt very much like my past work as a sauté cook in an upscale restaurant,” she says. “We work really hard and really fast to coax perfection out of perishable, fleeting ingredients, then we present them.”
Yes, and it’s why florists are finally getting more credit as artists since instead of working in paint they use branches and blooms. These creations live in memories as well as fortunately pictures.
In fact, McCleary also gives instructional videos on how to hydrate flowers for jewelry and accessory making – by using wet paper towels in containers.
Her idea of wearable art is creating new flower fashion possibilities and pushing what was done to delightful evolving interpretations. Why not use fresh flowers for fashion and jewelry? Not only is her floral jewelry becoming popular with modern brides -but so are the accessories and draping of flowers on dresses finding a cool niche clientele.
“Flowers for All,” she says invoking her fashion philosophy. After all, her caftans and designs “are meant to fit all body types and are gender neutral.” Like in nature, flowers are meant to be enjoyed by everyone.
“Flowers For All” is also the title of her new book which will be out in the spring of 2023 and we can’t wait.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD, floral editor for Aspire Design and Home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.