A woman, newly arrived in France, liked the miniature fig tree in her temporary apartment so much that she carefully watered it for months. Until, on close inspection, she realized it was an artificial tree.
Made-in-Hong Kong artificial flowers and plants have become so real to look at that they fool even ardent gardeners. In recent years, hand- and machine-made decorative foliage has won the hearts of French homeowners, office and boutique managers, interior decorators and restaurateurs.
"It is the nouvelle mode, the new wave," says Clarisse Genevieve, manager of the SIA Decoration shop on Boulevard Malesherbes, in central Paris. SIA Decoration, France's largest artificial flower retailer, has eight shops in the country, including four in Paris, and is expanding abroad.
But the new wave is not like the old wave. In the past, people shunned fake flowers because of their mediocre quality and association with cemeteries, explains Genevieve.
Now, once derided as bad taste, ersatz foliage has gained a new respectability. In Japan, often the source of new trends, people refer to "art flowers" rather than artificial ones.
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Faux Flower Power Growing in Europe
A significant improvement in quality, matched by a drop in prices, has led to a surge in the popularity of these versatile decorative creations across not just France, but most of Europe.
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Says SIA's creative director, Line Svendsen: "it is a new tradition in Europe, but the past five or six years have been really good." She believes all Mediterranean countries, as well as the UK, appreciate artificial flowers, although they are less popular in Nordic countries.
Paris merchants say artificial flowers, with their new-found respect, are finding a place in French homes, shops, restaurants and hotels.
Besides specialty boutiques, many furniture and interior decorating stores now stock manufactured plants. An estimated 72% of retailers specialising in tableware, lighting or furniture sell these arrangements, while store owners report that they make great gifts.
The prime factor for the increasing acceptance of synthetic flora is the great improvement in quality, in turn due to technological advances.
Artificial flowers used to be made from silk, which was expensive, or plastic, which didn't look very authentic. Now they are made in better materials, such as wrinkled silk, cotton, paper, polyester, glass, wood and metal.
|Svendsen: "good six years".|
French professionals credit Hong Kong manufacturers for perfecting innovative new techniques and dyeing processes to achieve multi-layered colours and realistic textures. "They showcase a floral flourish...which are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing," according to French household decoration trade magazine, Proform.
"The resemblance with nature is remarkable," agrees Guy Mollard, director at floral decoration company Jardin d'Amandine, based in the south of France. "The possibilities, new creations and colours are infinite, and the price is coming down."
New products and applications are entering a dynamic market. Demand is increasing for more exotic flowers, such as ginger torch and heliconia, as well as for standard blooms.
Faux flowers as an Art Form
|Exotics and standards are sellers.|
A new breed of "horticulturalists" has been born, according to Proform. Designers such as Svendsen consider themselves florists as well as designers, who create whole new concepts in display and arrangement.
For those who advocate " real flower power", it is worth noting that while fresh cut flowers die in a few days, an attractive bouquet of artificial blooms - at ever more affordable prices - will last for months or years.
These decorative objects are versatile. Designers can create a composition to harmonise with any interior, no matter what the season. Besides home decoration, faux flowers are also used for weddings as bouquets, sprays, garlands and basket arrangements. That's not to mention their use as hair bands, brooches, candle rings and corsages.
|Blooms for months and years.|
The variety of these flowers and plants is astonishing. In the SIA Decoration shop in Paris, staff bustle about setting up a new shipment, removing an amazing array of foliage from cardboard boxes. There are large, single flowers; bunches of small ones; flowers on twigs, leaves, fruit, nuts and berries. There are artificial trees such as palm and olive, greenery, as well as vegetable and fruit plants, such as watermelon and kiwi.
All of SIA Decoration's flowers come from the Chinese mainland via a number of Hong Kong suppliers. The company sends its florists to Hong Kong on purchasing missions several times a year.
|SIA Decorations' pieces shipped via Hong Kong.|
Large vases of flowers and orchid compositions are among the shop's most popular items, Genevieve explains, holding up a stalk of variegated blossoms. In France, it is the custom to put fake flowers in vases, just like real ones.
The shop's largest orchid composition is about US$39, while a single orchid sells for about US$5.9 or less. The biggest bouquet of faux flowers is priced at US$396.
At Maison Trousselier, on stylish Boulevard Haussmann, Lisette Fuchs has noticed great interest in artificial flowers in the decade she has been director at the 400 sqm shop: "every year they get better and better, they look more real."
|Genevieve: Faux Flowers Treated as Real.|
Today, about 70% of the shop's synthetic fauna comes from Hong Kong. The rest are hand-made silk flowers from Italy.
The company has more than 3,000 flower products in silk and cotton, as well several hundred "trees" and "green" plants, including faux mango- and banana-bearing trees and bamboo arrangements.
Trousselier's creations are displayed in classy hotels such as Plaza Athenee, and in swish restaurants like La Tour d'Argent, as well as in corporate and banking offices. They even feature in the offices of the president of France and the mayor of Paris.
|Fuchs: Decade of Increasingly Better Products.|
Flowers are not so expensive from Hong Kong," says Fuchs. Trousselier works directly with many manufacturers and the company has a full-time, permanent agent in Hong Kong in charge of purchasing, quality control and supervising manufacturing contracts.
The large shop offers a wide range of products and prices. A single "rose", with a realistic dew drop, costs US$7.9, a "tulip" US$9.9. A huge arrangement of flowers in a decorative pot costs more than US$8,900.
"Artificial flowers are no longer something that you put out when you don't have the courage to buy natural flowers," says Laurent Bouhana, director of development at Silea-France Gift. "In the past two or three years, they have taken their place in the home as a true element of decoration."
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From Special Correspondent Garry Marchant, Paris