Althea Wiles is owner and creative director of Rose of Sharon Floral Design Studio and founder and education director of J Althea Creative, a floral design course and florist consulting program. We got to hear about how she’s changing the floral design industry one petal at a time.
When did this spark for floral design begin?
My parents ran a wholesale plant nursery, so I grew up around plants and flowers. As a kid, I would pick flowers from their plants and make arrangements: zinnias, daylilies, hosta…whatever was on hand. But I didn’t start working as a florist until college when I volunteered at a local shop during spring break and fell in love.
What makes your designs unique?
My designs tend to be lush and full, a classic southern style. One client described my style as “classic with a touch of magic.” I think that sums it up nicely.
You have curated a collection of live floral fashion accessories in the form of necklaces, anklets, bracelets, rings, hair clips, handbag clips, and more. What are some of the trends that you are seeing?
The clients that are interested in our living floral accessories, want something that says, “this is ME,” but only when you look closely. These pieces contain tons of details that you only notice if you really pay attention.
Take us through your creative process.
I work best when my clients have an idea and want me to bring it to life. I always start with lots of questions about their ideas, their likes and dislikes. Once I have a feel for their style and the project parameters, I work through the design in my head. Most of my creative process is internal. I rarely sketch or do mock-ups. When I’m actually designing, I’ll adjust the design as needed for the materials available. Since flowers are never exactly the same in color, size or maturity, there is always a bit of “listening” to what the flower wants to do to get to the final design.
Is there anyone who inspires you in the live floral fashion accessory design space?
I have been consistently inspired by the design tutorials produced by Passionflowersue by Susan McLeary. Susan is a floral designer, artist and instructor who creates unusual, boundary-pushing floral art including elaborate headpieces, flower crowns, and her signature succulent jewelry. I love her book, The Art of Wearable Flowers.
Althea Wiles with Passionflowersue (Susan McLeary’s) book, The Art of Wearable Flowers.
You have your own florist education program through your company, J Althea Creative. What do you teach your students?
Throughout my career, I’ve informally taught both floral design and business skills to multiple people. With the launch of J Althea Creative Consulting, florists can now access my skills, knowledge and experience plus receive personal training and support in a structured setting. I teach best in situations where I can really focus on the student, so my courses are mostly focused on one-on-one lessons. Beyond that, I customize the courses and consulting based on what my clients need. Some clients only need a few pointers while others need in-depth training followed by accountability checks. We also recently launched the Pretty & Profitable Workshops. Now anyone can book me as a florist speaker at their conventions, shows or even independent florist shops just needing some help training their staff.
Men and women are seeking live floral fashionable adornments for their special occasions. Tell us about your favorite designs.
Anything that truly represents the client’s personality. I recently had a client who was unable to hold a bouquet for a wedding, so we created a delicate cascading arm-band to wear on her bicep.
I also like floral pocket squares instead of boutonnieres – why should only women get to wear or carry the intricate designs?
Why are your live floral fashion accessories a luxurious and memorable gift?
Fashion accessories are best when designed for a specific occasion and outfit and the perishable nature of fresh flowers means that each one designed is both personal and fleeting. An orchid hairpiece for a music awards ceremony needs some extra sparkle. A floral ring for prom needs to be both delicate and sturdy. A mother-of-the-bride corsage needs to be understated and coordinate both with her outfit and the wedding decor. When these pieces are designed with the client personality, the occasion, and the outfit in mind, they won’t be forgotten.