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New York Times / Life - Entertain

An ‘It’ Flower for a Feminist Moment

The graphic, almost-anatomical anthurium seems suited to the sexual politics of 2017.
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The florist Brittany Asch’s anthurium arrangements decorate the Glossier Showroom.

If you think Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of petunias and poppies are anatomically suggestive, then you’ve surely never seen an anthurium.

The heart-shaped houseplant’s waxy leaves curve inward like an invitation. They cleave around the spadix, an elongated bud of tiny flowers that the hood of the plant sometimes hides. (Am I right, ladies?) Anthuriums come in a sensuous selection of hues — soft pink, burgundy, violet — though red is the most common.

David Hockney painted them using colors from that palette; his major works are now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A large-format Polaroid of the flower, shot by the artist Chuck Close, hangs in an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. But if pay-per-view flora isn’t your bag, there are plenty of places to find the ever-so-carnal plant this season at no cost.

In the newest Marc Jacobs Beauty campaign, the activist-model Adwoa Aboah holds a glossy anthurium that matches the cherry red of her Le Marc liquid lip crayon and contrasts the makeup’s matte finish.

Vases of anthuriums, arranged by the florist Brittany Asch of Brrch, decorate the Glossier Showroom on Lafayette Street and Totokaelo’s store at 190 Bowery. Ms. Asch collaborated with the artists Petra Collins and Madelyne Beckles for their Museum of Modern Art performance piece, “In Search of Us,” creating anthurium-focused arrangements for the mantel at the center of the set. Ms. Asch’s bouquets also helped set the mood at two New York Fashion Week events in September: Sandy Liang’s presentation at the Standard East Village and Mansur Gavriel’s all-pink pop-up shop.

The model Adwoa Aboah in a new campaign for Marc Jacobs Beauty. David Sims, via Marc Jacobs

Mansur Gavriel, a leather accessories brand, was Ms. Asch’s first big client.

“I met with them, and there was just a lot of synchronicity,” the florist said, between “the work I wanted to produce and wasn’t able to produce because I didn’t have an outlet and what they wanted.”

Her chosen flower turned out to be a perfect fit for the company’s aesthetic.

“A lot of their work was very sculptural and art driven, and it’s such a graphic flower that it made so much sense,” she said.

The florist Chelsea Neff with one of her anthurium arrangements. Heather Moore

As her profile rose, Ms. Asch began fielding requests for weddings and other events. Emily Weiss, the C.E.O. and founder of Glossier, asked her to create the bouquet for her wedding, which consisted of reflexed roses, poppies and ranunculus. Pleased with the result, Ms. Weiss then asked Ms. Asch to design the flowers for the introduction of Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser product.

“I was going through my Rolodex of flowers,” Ms. Asch said. “What’s kind of glossy and waxy? I wanted people to have this floral translation of the Milky Jelly. What flowers can I use that elicit that kind of sense memory?” She went with anthuriums, and filled out the arrangements with flowers like the ones Ms. Weiss had loved so much on her wedding day. Since then, she has been the company’s florist of choice.

An anthurium gilded with spray paint is featured in one of Ms. Neff’s floral designs.

Anthuriums are native to South America, where they grew for centuries to little fanfare. Then, in 1876, Édouard André, the head gardener of Paris, brought them from Colombia to France. The flower spread to England, and in 1889 the businessman and politician Samuel Mills Damon brought the anthurium from London to Hawaii, where they were widely propagated from the 1940s onward. Production there hit a high in the 1980s, when the flower, a symbol of hospitality, became a popular form of décor in hotel lobbies throughout the United States, according to Ms. Asch.

Chelsea Neff, the owner of Pine New York, envies her Hawaiian friends who grew up with the flowers in their backyards. As a florist, she gravitated toward tropical plants like proteas, palm trees and anthuriums to distinguish herself from the 1-800-FLOWERS crowd and delivery services that charged “$150 for really cheesy roses.”

Since starting her mail-order business in 2015, Ms. Neff has designed anthurium-forward floral displays for the luxury gym Equinox, to introduce its experimental studio, and has appeared with her flowers in photo shoots for Uniqlo and Vogue. She believes that part of the anthurium’s appeal is its durability.

“I’m pretty sure it’s one of those plants where you can’t kill it,” Ms. Neff said, adding, as a further endorsement, “I always kill succulents.”

Cut stems of anthurium, like the ones she and Ms. Asch use in their arrangements, can last for up to three weeks, and potted plants can weather the winter. All they need is a little bit of water once a week and indirect sunlight.

But don’t be surprised if your houseguests are alarmed by its confrontational style.

“I love that it can possibly make people a little bit uncomfortable,” Ms. Asch said. “As a society we’re really coming into our sexual identities, and I think facing these flowers that mimic our own physical makeup either makes people really close up or totally feel liberated.”

Correction: November 30, 2017

An earlier version of this article, using information from a florist, referred imprecisely to the flowers in Emily Weiss’s wedding bouquet. The bouquet included roses, but not orchids.

Correction: November 30, 2017

An earlier version of this article, using information from the florist, referred imprecisely to the flowers in Emily Weiss’s wedding bouquet. The bouquet included roses, but not orchids.

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