Paper Petals

In her Bronx basement, Livia Cetti brings glorious handmade blossoms to life

Though she has worked for such major new york florists as Renny & Reed and Belle Fleur and styled countless floral photo shoots for Martha Stewart, Livia Cetti has always been smitten with paper flowers. She spotted her first specimens while trolling vintage markets with her mother, an antiques dealer, when she was growing up near Santa Barbara. “I started making paper flowers at age 13,” she says, “though my calling took a while to develop.”

"I draw from my imagination,
not from pictures or cuttings.
My versions are definitely not anatomically correct!"

Three years ago, when tasked with constructing “something tropical” for a Caribbean-based client, “I created a paper hibiscus cake-topper,” and though the client didn’t prefer it, “I still kept making more.” (Her hibiscus blossoms have since popped up in everything from ad campaigns for Ann Taylor and Kate Spade to a state dinner at the White House.) Cetti constructs each artificial bloom—from foxglove to geranium to hollyhock—primarily from pieces of matte tissue paper. Three- to four-inch-long strips are rotary-cut, hand-dipped in a diluted bleach solution, and then hung to dry above an oversize sink. Next she employs an arsenal of fringing and crimping tools to articulate petals; each leaf is cut (and often painted) by hand. Finally, she twists all the parts together on floral wire and adheres them with floral tape, then affixes an old-world botanical-style label with the name of her firm, the Green Vase.

Speaking of botanicals, it’s hard to believe that Cetti’s floral factory is headquartered in her Bronx basement. “I draw from my imagination—not from pictures or cuttings—and also from the Wave Hill public garden here in Riverdale,” she says. “My versions are definitely not anatomically correct!” She’s not stopping at flowers either, although she routinely fills orders from John Derian for foxgloves and potted geraniums (40 to 50 at a time). Look for tufts of wild grasses, flowering maple branches, and variegated citrus specimens to make their appearance this spring.

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