Me and my favourite florist: Oscar Humphries and Simone Gooch
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“It’s normally much more minimal than this,” sighs collector and curator Oscar Humphries as he negotiates a long table strewn with boxes of flowers. In his light-filled living room overlooking the never-ending treetops of Hyde Park, Simone Gooch, founder of Fjura, is putting the finishing touches to one of her singular, extraordinarily beautiful floral arrangements.
Taking centre-stage on a stark galvanised-steel Pierced table by Japanese-American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi, the pyramid of blooms is dotted with orchids: butterscotch-yellow Cymbidium, gently arching buff-coloured Phalaenopsis (the “moth” orchid) and speckled florets of Dendrobium (the “Singapore” variety). Underneath them, bunches of velvety, deep-red cyclamen peek out from the base. It’s a riot of rich colour and intriguing form. At the centre of it all, the spidery carmine-spotted petals of vivid, magenta Arachnis cultivars pick out the intense violet splashes of an abstract painting by Austrian artist Martha Jungwirth, which hangs on the wall behind.
This artistry and acute attention to detail are what Gooch has become known for since arriving in London from her native Sydney four years ago. At a time when floristry was dominated by romantic and often naturalistic compositions, her bold, intriguing combinations quickly caught the attention of the city’s creatives – she has worked for Hermès, Loewe and Burberry among many others, and become one of the most in-demand (and certainly most imitated) florists in the world.
“Few florists do something new and different,” says Humphries, who first heard about Fjura via the Sydney-based florist Saskia Havekes, and then later through his friend Alex Eagle, owner of the eponymous London lifestyle store. “I saw something very original in Simone’s work. She puts together very brave combinations of flowers – say, English roses and orchids – and has a very distinct way of presenting them.”
Her presentations have included a “large, sculptural, garden-esque installation” for a Prada event on the 10th floor of 180 The Strand and a tablescape for Sotheby’s annual Collectors’ Dinner at which two long tables spanned an incredible colour palette, from rust-red orchids through to bubble-gum pink peonies and tangerine sweet peas. Each arrangement was different, yet they all worked harmoniously together.
“Flowers are my medium. My focus is sourcing the best, most beautiful materials I can find, and they change daily,” says Gooch of her pre-dawn treks around south London’s sprawling New Covent Garden Market. “I let the shape, form, colour and scale of the flowers dictate, so every commission is different. I’m definitely a less-is-more person.”
Yet her arrangements always seem somehow epic and larger than life – tumbling mounds of frothy china pink and ivory peonies or clouds of gypsophila with perfect pink tea roses. For Humphries’ first Fjura commission – at a lunch to celebrate an exhibition of works by postwar Japanese artist Jiro Takamatsu at Stephen Friedman Gallery in 2015 – Gooch filled elegant vessels with pale orchids and punchy pink peonies.
“Simone’s compositions often have an asymmetry to them and an eastern element,” says Humphries. “It isn’t ikebana as such, which is a very strict practice, but there is a definite wabi-sabi element.” Her aesthetic was thus a perfect pairing with Takamatsu’s playful paintings and sculptures from the 1970s and ’80s, which experiment with space, line, form and colour. And, unsurprisingly, says Humphries, “all these art obsessives and collectors fell in love with what Simone had done”.
What is surprising, perhaps, is that Australian-born Humphries has become such an avid Fjura fan. The 38-year-old son of satirist Barry Humphries hit the headlines in his 20s for a stint in rehab and as the baby-faced beau of Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon, who was 13 years his senior; then again in his 30s with tabloid-fodder family feuds. But in spring 2018 he married Sophie Oakley – a fellow art curator with whom he now has a one-year-old daughter, Honey. For the wedding service at the gothic revival St John the Baptist Church in Kensington, Gooch created an altar installation of blossom boughs and camellias, which, like most of her work, was created on site, responding closely to the soaring interior of the vaulted church and its grand sanctuary.
“Oscar has always considered flowers to be an important part of the experience of an event,” says Gooch. “I really appreciate his approach; it’s quite unusual.” For Humphries, whose recent curatorial subjects include the architectural designs of Charlotte Perriand and Carlo Mollino, his love of living with flowers is tied in with his penchant for vases.
“I think it’s a bit boring to collect ceramics and put them into a granny cupboard,” he says. “It’s far better to take them out and use them.” Which is what he does with his own collection, including shelves of rich, luminously glazed 19th-century bowls and vases by Christopher Dresser, as well as Sèvres porcelain pieces and designs by Japanese ceramicist Shozo Michikawa.
This inclination to put rarefied objects to good use was central to the pair’s offering at Frieze Masters last year, Sèvres and Japonism – showing more than 40 pieces of the famed French porcelain produced during the late-19th-century wave of Japanese influence. “We broke a golden rule of showing vases and that’s that you never put anything in them – we had flowers and grasses in vases, flowers next to vases. And it made a big impact,” recalls Humphries. “Simone maintained her own visual values but responded to the pieces. It was a great collaboration between curator, object and florist.”
Next up, Humphries and Gooch are plotting a show of the aforementioned Dresser pieces. “We would do something completely different,” says Humphries. “But one thing is for certain: I wouldn’t do a vase show without Simone.”