On the Fleurs de Villes FEMMES international flower trail in Toronto

On a tour of the flower festival trail through Toronto’s quaint Yorkville neighbourhood with the co-founders of Fleurs de Villes and up close to the best local floral designers and their creations | article | video |

Quick Clip of full Fleurs de Villes FEMMES video

The Bloor-Yorkville area of Toronto is in bloom with artwork made from flowers. Local floral designers created inspiring works of art using mannequins dressed in flowers to pay tribute to remarkable women in our culture.

The floral sculptures of these women are found at points along the longer flower trail that winds its way throughout the Yorkville area. These installations dot the path to some of the city’s most notable hotels, restaurants, boutiques and shopping malls, underground and on the sidewalks of streets and avenues throughout Yorkville.

The Fleurs de Villes FEMMES flower art exhibition delights audiences in 36 stops spread out all over Yorkville with installation art made from flowers at each one. The show features mannequins of actress Marilyn Monroe , Golden Girls’ Betty White, author Margaret Atwood, English novelist Jane Austen, 13-time Grammy Award winning jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, and other unforgettable personalities.

The theme of this year’s festival centres on the “floral celebration of remarkable women,” says Fleurs de Villes co-founder Karen Marshall. There are 14 incredible mannequins, each done by a local florist depicting a particular woman. Installation pieces include Catherine O’Hara from the award-winning TV comedy Schitt’s Creek; Diana, Princess of Wales; Frida Kahlo, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Viola Desmond, who’s on the $10 bill in Canada, she points out.

“This year we really wanted to celebrate a diverse group of women who have created some sort of note for themselves because they are each remarkable,” adds Marshall. 

Lounging at the Hazelton Hotel

While sitting in the lounge of the Hazelton Hotel, she warns me in the form of a joke about the need to wear “very comfortable shoes” to follow the 90-minute flower trail – after the tour had come to an end. We both laugh.

Later, it occurred to me that she’s probably done that joke a hundred times before. She “works for some of the largest media brands in the world,” her bio says. She works alongside co-founder Tina Barkley, “one of Vancouver’s best known lifestyle gurus representing major magazines and brands as a regular television spokesperson and expert.”

Fleurs de Villes, which means flowers of cities, does pop-ups in cities around the world and we create a floral festival featuring top local talent, Marshall tells me. It sounds simple enough, but the show is part of an area that has 1400 businesses and over 14,000 residents — hardly a village anymore, not since 1883 anyway. The Yorkville flower festival is also one of about 25 shows presented in Canada and internationally by Fleurs de Villes this year.

What could have been a planner’s nightmare for many is an organizer’s triumph for them. Every piece is perfectly placed like priceless works of art strewn along a city trail to form a giant underground and above-ground gallery. 

So far this year, Fleurs de Villes has done shows in Costa Mesa in Orange County, California, the exhibition of flowers has been in Miami as well as Melbourne, Australia and Chicago. The next stop after Toronto is Montreal in Complexe Desjardins for 10 days, then on to Vancouver. Fleurs de Villes FEMMES will leave a trail of happy flower lovers in Edinburgh, Scotland; Sydney, Australia; Quebec City, New York, and work its way back to Toronto for Fleurs de Villes Noël at the beginning of December.

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The floral show goes from city to city but you’ll never see the same show twice because they use local artists. Floral pop-ups also feature women who are easily recognized and are part of the local culture. If the subjects weren’t born here they have a connection to the city. War heroine Laura Secord immigrated to Southern Ontario from the United States. Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Butterfield 8) will feature in the Montreal show in about a week. Wondering what the connection is? After a courtship and proposal at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel Taylor married Richard Burton at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal in 1964.

At this time of year, “People are always looking for something to do with their mothers around Mother’s Day and we thought what a great way to get them out, to explore the neighborhood, get people walking and talking and being together as families, taking your mother to a special luncheon at one of the hotel partners or restaurant partners we have and doing a full floral experience and really celebrating our local floral talent. That’s what we really liked to see,” said Marshall. 

“Isn’t this amazing? Look at the picture you guys,” says Barkley, at a stop on the underground path on the tour.

The floral artists work from a photograph of the woman that they’re assigned. Barkley says that the artist must consider their subject’s hair. “What texture is it? Is it shaggy? Is it curly? Is it thick? Where does her hairline start?” She compliments the artist who did Buffy Saint-Marie, especially the necklace the Academy Award-winning Cree singer-songwriter wears.

We keep going. “Liz is just bigger than life; the jewels, the big hair and a beautiful skirt,” says Barkley at the Elizabeth Taylor Mannequin.

“It’s all in the hair,” she says, as we examine the Sophia Loren Mannequin sitting, cross-legged on a scooter with her vintage purse dangling from a handlebar.

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Laura Secord

The artists are challenged to bring the photograph to life. Sometimes the result is the essence of the person and not an exact replica. Nonetheless, each piece is an incredible work of art with countless hours of work invested in them.

Fleurs de Villes Femme 2022 Laura Secord Mannequin

With some women, there are no pictures to work from. For Laura Secord they used an image of her memorial statue. We meet the floral artist near the end of the tour at installation No. 11 at Holt Renfrew Centre. The installation was created by floral fashion designer Karen Kurtz of Narbail Designs. The floral work captures the essence and fashion of the 1800s. The dress is more elaborate than the plain one she wears in the image. The ruffled sleeves are a perfect match.

We see ourselves as storytellers

The sculpture of German-Mexican artist Frida Kahlo inside Yorkville Village has deep purple tones. She sits with her legs in lotus position under her skirt, a crown of pink flowers on her head, beaded necklaces hung low around her neck, in a garden of dark green and rich pink flowers.

“We view ourselves as floral storytellers. We want to tell those stories. We want people to stop and read, and of course admire the flowers — get to know these women as well,” explains Marshall. To that end, every exhibit has a sign next to each woman with a short biography and a QR code to take the reader deeper into their story.

At the Marilyn Monroe exhibit at Royales de Versailles Jewellers (101 Bloor St. W.) where they have strict rules for entry and departure, Barkley explains that Billy Balls are little round yellow flowers, also known as Craspedia. They were dyed silver-grey by the artist and worked into Monroe’s necklace. The artist spent 18 hours on her hair and about a week on her dress, Barkley, tells me — to weave all the grasses, the leaves, all the palm leaves and everything. 

Floral artist Joezel Yumul had quietly joined our group on the trail somewhere near Yorkville Village. We started a full-blown conversation by the time we got to Betty White. It turns out that he’s the designer of the Monroe mannequin and recreated Catherine O’Hara’s (Beetlejuice, Home Alone, Best in Show) iconic black-and-white Marc Jacobs gown that she wore to the 2019 Tony Awards.

Originally from the Philippines, Yumul started Vogue Weddings and Décor in Toronto a few years ago. We decide to backtrack to the O’Hara floral sculptor on Yorkville Lane (162 Cumberland St.) near Gallery LeRoyer. O’Hara’s hair is gently blowing in the wind as Yumul explains that he used real charcoal to create the black in the stripe of her dress. O’Hara was posing on the red carpet in the photo. He explains that the red flowers at the bottom of her gown represent the red carpet.

“… Atwood’s Jacket alone … has 450 carnations …”

Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s mannequin is full of crimson-coloured flowers. Barkley says that in every city when they assign the mannequin, not everybody gets Marilyn Monroe. So the person who did the Atwood sculpture was absolutely charming and just embraced it and ran with it. “Great neckline, the whole thing,” says Barkley. At this point the artist appears.

“You did a beautiful job, honestly,” Barkley tells her. She repeats, “if you got the hair, you’re there.” If the sign wasn’t here, that’s a good test, she adds, suggesting that a good design is recognizable in an instant. In L.A. last week, it was obvious that it was Iris Apfel “as we walked in. Here, you know it’s Margaret Atwood,” says Barkley.

Artist Danielle of PYRUS Floral Designs says that Atwood’s jacket took about six hours of gluing and taping. The jacket alone has 450 carnations and the whole creation took more than two weeks.

“Princess Diana looked glamorous in … plump succulents”

Down the hall from Atwood is Viola Desmond. Desmond’s floral creator went couture, donning her in a moss green vintage jacket over a cornucopia of vines and flowers popping out from underneath. Most people know her as the woman on the $10 bill in Canada but she was also “an entrepreneur, businesswoman, civil rights activist” and school teacher. Desmond was also the founder of Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture and the Desmond School of Beauty Culture in Nova Scotia where she mentored Black students. She fought for women’s rights in Canada and was arrested for not leaving the whites-only section of a movie theatre.

Scat queen Ella Fitzgerald’s floral sculpture beside Tiffany’s has a long flower boa tumbling down the wall (151 Bloor St. W.). Slate Asset Management has a 360-photo booth with a camera that encircles the subjects on a platform. Here, you create fun moments for free. 

A stately looking Emily Carr sits in the lobby of the Park Hyatt Hotel in a soft dress in the deep forest green and white palette often found in her paintings. Princess Diana looked glamorous in a one-shoulder gown crafted from fragile-looking, plump succulents guarding the entryway to Yorkville Lane beside CIBO Bar.

Golden Girl Betty White

Laura Secord’s flower sculpture came with ruffles coming out of her sleeves, frills along her bust and a medallion at her feet. Recently belated Golden Girl Betty White is the centrepiece of the Fleurs de Villes CHIEN installation in The Oval in Yorkville Village. White’s mannequin is in an open area dotted with floral dogs, playing on her love of dogs. This is its third year as part of the floral trail. People sit on benches and high café tables relaxing as if in a park. The CHIEN exhibit has a new immersive selfie station for pooches where dog owners can take pictures of their pets.

Fashion Goddess Greta, inspired by fashion label Greta Constantine, has a mannequin installation with models wearing bright gowns and flower fascinators, on Level 3 of Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor St. W.). Objects like bicycles and swings, free photos at the radiating floral hearts at Holt Renfrew provide photo ops everywhere.

There are floral workshops, music and flower shops with flowers for Mother’s Day. The MOM sign decorated with flowers in the Manulife Centre (south-east corner of Yonge and Bloor Subway) can be turned upside down to spell WOW and that’s what most people’s impression of this flower pop-up show is – just, wow!

See the full video of flower artworks on YouTube.com/CoreMagazines.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

Photos by Cherryl Bird

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