California is blessed with many talented floral designers. A number of these are becoming very widely known in the trade for their cutting edge approach to floral design.
When you want more than cookie cutter arrangements for events, Yukiko Neibert has the answer. Her studio is in Kentfield, but she has clients from throughout the surrounding area around Marin. All of her work is custom done to order, and clients can choose from standard flowers as well as exotics and tropicals. Upon request, she will send images of the completed designs to clients.
Neibert specializes in table bouquets, weddings, events, and special occasions. In addition, she is widely known for her grand exhibition arrangements at museums. You can see several of her entries on the website. For several years, she has created entries for the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum at their annual Bouquets to Art exhibition. In 2005, her entry was designed to complement a Legion of Honor’s display of 17th century French furnishings. Her specialty is a fusion of Zen-inspired, classical Ikebana with contemporary style.
As if that isn’t enough, she also specializes in large design installations suitable for large rooms and large events. Some of the ones she has done are up to five feet wide and across. She will even provide a refreshment service on the third and fourth days to keep these large designs looking good for up to a week.
This innovative designer has many years of experience for she began at a very young age. “When I was growing up in Japan, well-to-do families prepared their daughters for society (meaning, arranged marriage) by educating them in flower arranging or tea ceremony, or both, to the point of formally certified competence—sort of a ‘black belt’ in high culture. Such certificates are expected in the back and forth of arranged marriages in Japan.
“In my case, I avoided tea ceremony and pursued Ikebana, which was a natural fit. The household of my medical family was within the compound of our hospital. There, my grandfather, the founder, had established Ikebana training for the nurses in their off-duty time, using flowers from his gardens. It was easy for me to join them at an early age and then to go off for certification.
“My formal training is purely Ikebana. I did a lot of self-study in contemporary floral designs, but for the most part my development came from handling the materials.”
Like many designers, she did what is pretty much expected of most to-be designers—working in an established shop. She explained, “Briefly, I worked for a retail shop in California to gain commercial exposure, pricing, costing, material sources, etc. I experienced no artistic development in the retail florist environment.”
Neibert has gained a well-deserved reputation, and much of her work comes from client referrals. She said, “It has been mostly word-of-mouth—the accumulation of reputation by doing one floral design at a time. When people see my floral designs, they become enthusiastic. Others respond nicely to direct presentation or pinpoint mailing of printed photographs of my arrangements—again, nearly a one-at-a-time campaign. So how do I get more people to see my designs?
“Certainly, recognition in the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum’s Bouquets to Art has been very helpful in establishing credibility and reaching a larger audience. And recently, I revamped my website, a way to show a great many of my floral designs to all that will look.
“About five years ago I applied to the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum’s Bouquets to Art organization one month in advance of the exhibition and was declined because the quota of designers was already full. So, I sent to them a selection of printed photographs of my floral designs, and received telephone response that space would be made available for me. This was an example of people becoming enthusiastic when they see my work, or at least photographs of my arrangements. Since then, I have been invited by Bouquets to Art to exhibit every year.”
Very often, you’ll find Neibert at the San Francisco Flower Market. She said, "In general clients demand long-lasting floral arrangements—a week or more. Seasonals are more likely to be fresher, hardier than imports. So my choice is to please the client, which means California seasonals whenever possible. However, when the client specifies a particular floral choice that’s not available locally, then you may have to buy imports from other climates.
“Among exotic flora I prefer exotic leaves; also I sometimes create exotic designs using ordinary flowers. To me, even weeds are an exotic material. One needs to be careful not to over use exotics. For example, I like Lobster Claws; however, once they have been used with a particular audience (even by another designer), you really can’t use them again with that group.
“I start with the foliage, leaves, and add flowers later. As I work the materials in my hands the design comes to mind. Usually there’s more to it—the client may have indicated a preference; the nature of the intended use (a dinner, a graduation ceremony, other events) is always an important factor; the selection or availability of materials is another obvious factor; and the ambience of the setting where it will be placed.
“The Bouquet to Arts exhibition spaces are selected more than a month in advance. This means I know which work of art my floral design needs to complement (antique pottery two years, a Van Dyke painting another, or French formal décor of the XVIIIth Century another). Colors, size, shapes turn over in my mind as I view and revisit the original art works and again in my recollection as I begin to choose the materials that I will take with me to the museum on installation day.”
Prospective clients are urged to contact Neibert well in advance of their event and weddings. She said, “Floral design for large, one time events such as weddings should be planned well in advance. If only to be sure of preferred materials in ideal conditions at reasonable cost, typically requires a couple of months. Also, if it is a large event, we need time with the client for the planning process, budgeting, substitutions, and the like. But, in the past, I have managed a wedding in only one week’s notice.”
Not all floral designers are willing to take on teaching as well, but Neibert takes this in stride. “In essence I am a floral designer. Teaching is a way to show my floral art to more people. I teach floral design at the College of Marin and also conduct design sessions with students in my studio. At the risk of sounding like a Zen master, one cannot teach floral design. I can teach color coordination, shapes and sizing elements; I can teach techniques for cutting and handling fresh flowers, leaves and branches. But the creative artistry and imagination must come from the individual. I have even tried to instruct by direct imitation, telling students to copy each action exactly as I do it, but it’s never the same—it never works out. In fact it is worse than a wasted effort because it leads them away from their own creativity and imagination.”