There's a lush new trend on our radar, one that juxtaposes the humblest of items to create playful pieces with a touch of both whimsy and luxury. Designers are getting creative with flowers, which may look pretty in vases, but are even more charming when embedded in everything from bags and bookmarks to coats and coasters.
The process is painstaking, but also unexpectedly avant-garde and aesthetically pleasing, and serves to eternalise the beauty of blooms that would otherwise fade away. Case in point: the see-through coats, purses and earrings from New York label Dauphinette, which feature real flowers and petals.
The brand’s leather jackets are adorned with paint and pressed flowers that are hand-harvested in Seattle, while its pressed flower handbags are instant conversation starters.
The brand even sells decorative sets of botanical buttons that ensconce daisies, pansies and forget-me-nots, as well as individual earrings with colourful petals coated in resin. Its creations range from Dh100 to Dh15,000, with bags going for Dh1,200.
Creatives across the globe have started experimenting with pressed flowers in resin – a composite often used as an adhesive or coating in construction, home decor and even jewellery. “Putting a flower in resin is one of the best ways to preserve its beauty,” says Amielle De Torres, founder of Resinart.co.
De Torres moved to the UAE from the Philippines four years ago and worked as an IT administrator before losing her job owing to the pandemic in March. Now, she's pouring her energy into resin art, which she was introduced to through a TikTok video in 2019. "All I wanted was to have extra savings while I'm still looking for a job, but people actually love what I do," she says. "The response has been overwhelming."
The Abu Dhabi resident sources her dried flowers online and uses them to create resin bookmarks, coasters and key chains, which are priced between Dh20 and Dh45. She takes custom orders for clients seeking personalised gifts and has started experimenting with myriad components.
“I put colour pigments, sometimes with a theme in mind, such as the sunset, a galaxy or the beach. I also like to add gilding flakes, which are really pretty next to pressed flowers, and I’ve started putting photos and stickers in resin as well,” she says.
Pressed flowers are an ancient art form
The practice of preserving flowers is an ancient art form, dating back to 16th-century Japan, where Oshibana artists would create entire pictures using pressed blossoms. When trade with Japan flourished in the 1800s, the technique found its way to England, becoming a popular pastime among Victorian women.
For some, the practice was imbued with sentimentality; flowers such as pansies, violets and geraniums, used to mark special moments or occasions, would be preserved within large tomes for weeks until they dried, and then placed in a botanical scrapbook.
"Flowers and foliage are long-time favourites when it comes to decorating, and for good reason. Most people want to hold on to items with sentimental value, and the idea of preserving blooms as well as those special memories is beautiful," says Kajol Vaswani, co-founder of Meraki Design & Art Studio in Dubai. In some cultures, she adds, "we believe flowers are auspicious and pure".
Unique gift idea
An architect by profession, Vaswani started experimenting with resin while working with furniture in the UK. “When I moved back to Dubai, the material was still unexplored and that’s when I started with resin art, making coasters, cheese boards and trays, as I’m obsessed with luxury homeware,” she says.
Vaswani sources flowers from her backyard or from bouquets she carefully selects for her resin gifts. “If I am making something for my partner, I would use red rose petals as a symbol for love. If I am gifting a bookmark, tray or coaster to my grandparents, I would use white lilies to portray respect,” she explains.
“Apart from flowers, I use a lot of geodes – stones such as natural quartz, amethysts, pyrites, and abalone shells – that are [said to] have healing properties; putting art with natural stones in your home makes it beneficial and looks so luxurious.”
‘Resin has a life of its own’
Although pressed flowers are available online, some designers prefer to prep their own blooms, placing them between parchment paper within large, heavy books. After three to four weeks, the flowers dry out and are ready for their new life in resin.
De Torres says that this next process is time-consuming, and that creating even a single small piece can take up to a week. “First, you have to create your resin mix. There will be two types of liquid to mix: epoxy resin and epoxy hardener, according to the ratio prescribed by the brand. You have to make sure that your measurements are perfect since this will be the foundation of your item,” she explains.
Next, the mix is poured into the mould, and the artist designs the piece after ensuring there aren't any air bubbles. The drying process comes next, with De Torres saying she usually waits for 24 hours before removing the design from the mould and letting it cure, or harden, which she says is the longest part of the process. Key chains take up to two days to cure, while bookmarks take up to five days. "The last step is to sand the item so there won't be rough or sharp edges."
De Torres says, time factor aside, beginners should expect to experience some bumps along the way.
“I think the biggest challenge with resin is the unexpected turn of events. You have to have the perfect mix of resin and just the right room temperature to work in, or else your material will go to waste … resin has a life of its own.”
Workshops and DIY kits for beginners
Recognising that the process was fulfilling but not entirely easy, Meraki Studio started hosting weekly workshops as well as delivering do-it-yourself kits.
“We started selling these kits at the start of Covid-19, with an idea to ‘spread love, spread art’,” says Vaswani. She says that the demand for the DIY kits and Zoom workshops has increased by 60 per cent over the past few months.
"People are hesitant to step out, hence receiving a package with all materials gives them the comfort of doing it at home in their own time. We have received orders for kits for corporates, families and friends alike, some of whom get together on Zoom to make art."