Flowering Paris with Laura Dowling

At work on her book BOUQUETS, Laura Dowling returns to the City of Light to revisit the place where she first fell in love with flowers and introduces us to five Parisian florists who inspired her style
Laura Dowling bouquet; view of the Eiffel tower
Laura Dowling’s exuberant 'Moulin Rouge' bouquet of black dahlias, burgundy peonies, lady’s mantle, and pistachio foliage, tied with silk ribbon, photographed on the Alexander III Bridge in Paris

I still remember the bouquet that would change my life. On a morning stroll through St. Germain, I came across the Parisian flower shop of Christian Tortu, where an ethereal arrangement stopped me in my tracks. The flowers were simple yet elegant, chic yet whimsical, fresh yet timeless. But even more than its aesthetic appeal, I was struck by the emotional impact of this little bouquet. How heartbreaking, I thought, that it would only last a day or two before fading away. And then I realized the magic: It was precisely because of its temporary presence that the bouquet’s beauty was enhanced. Like a metaphor for life, the bouquet was a reminder to celebrate beauty and live fully in the present.

On this special trip to Paris, it was a treat to catch up with my Parisian floral friends, who generously shared their thoughts about flowers à la française.

Florist: Catherine Muller

Parisian florist Catherine Muller stands on a brick-lined street in front of towering wooden double doors painted pale blue. She looks slightly away from camera and smiles, holding a profuse French bouquet of pink and white blooms, with the stems wrapped in a trailing floral fabric
Catherine Muller with a massive bouquet of spring blooms

When I met Catherine Muller 18 years ago at L’École des Fleurs, the erstwhile flower school at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, she was the last-minute understudy for Tortu, who was scheduled to be the celebrity teacher for a weeklong master class. Students were informed of the switch just the day before, which led to some grumbling in the ranks. Who is this 24-year-old Catherine Muller, who no one has ever heard of before? And will she live up to the hype (and expense) of the class? The answer was oui in spades.

A hand holds lush pink bouquet tied with streaming peach ribbon against a colorful sky of suspended umbrellas
Catherine’s dusty-pink bouquet, photographed at Le Village Royal in the Quartier de la Madeleine, with an umbrella sky by artist Patricia Cunha

From the moment Catherine walked into the elegant Crillon salon, she wowed everyone with her charm, creativity, and exquisite floral art. Known for her romantic, quintessentially Parisian style, featuring lush seasonal blooms in breathtaking palettes, she currently teaches at her own eponymous school. In Catherine’s approach, “nothing is forbidden” and it is important “to do the opposite” of the current trend. Currently, she is inspired by chic vintage styles and muted colors—evoking the glamour of the French Riviera and “pop color” combinations of the 1950s and ’60s—and, as always, by nature. catherinemuller.com

Florist: Stephane Chapelle

Parisian florist Stephane Chapelle stands against the bright blue painted door of this French flower shop, holding a massive bouquet of tropical yellow flowers and foliage.
Stephane Chapelle with his innovative take on a French bouquet

Stephane Chapelle was an original member of the elite cadre of designers at L’École des Fleurs almost 20 years ago, where he was known as the king of the grande bouquet. Now, with an enviable clientele, his large-scale designs grace some of the most prestigious venues in Paris.

During our visit, he encouraged budding designers to “lead with their strength” and “never do what everyone else is doing,” guidance he received early on from his mentor Tortu. As a case in point, he suggested that every other designer I met in Paris was no doubt creating bouquets of garden roses and peonies—the quintessential seasonal combination of May. Smiling, he proceeded to whip up a striking bouquet of yellow tropical flowers and grasses that stood out in every way from those of his compatriots.

After a tour of his elegant shop, we continued our conversation at the nearby Le Nemours café, where he waxed poetic on everything from the benefits and pitfalls of social media to the future of floristry. How lucky we are, he mused, to work in a profession that is not only our hobby but our raison d’être. stephane-chapelle.fr

Florist: Clarisse Beraud

Parisian florist Clarisse Beraud stands casually in the doorway of her classic French storefront, with trim and a french door painted bright lime green.
Clarisse Beraud with a bouquet that captures a natural spontaneity

Atelier Vertumne is located on a quiet street just off the Rue St.-Honoré in the chic 1st arrondissement in Paris. The atelier is the artistic vision of proprietor Clarisse Beraud, a florist who delights in the hunt for exquisite blooms from the hedgerows, especially wild roses and tumbling vines that she says give her bouquets a look of natural spontaneity.

When we arrived at her studio on a rainy May day, the scene was straight out of a classic French film. As Clarisse opened the door, her petite pooch scampered out and set his sights on an elderly woman passing by, chasing her down while proceeding to tug on her skirt, reinforcing the confrontation with a menacingly loud bark. Clarisse offered profuse apologies to Madame, who toddled off muttering under her breath, and then looked up sheepishly at our group, beckoning us inside.

An advocate of restraint and elegant simplicity, Clarisse hand-picks each bloom for her signature bouquets and lets the “compositions create themselves.” For her, flowers and colors are the vehicles for telling stories, all with a large dose of French je nais se quois. maison-vertumne.fr

Florist: Eric Chauvin

Parisian florist Eric Chauvin, wearing in worn jeans and navy turtleneck, stands at the open door of his French flower shop, holding a bouquet. On either side, window boxes are planted with pink and white flowering hydrangeas and trailing ivy.
Eric Chauvin compares composing a bouquet to composing a high-style event.

Eric Chauvin is the architect of dreamy flower arrangements that pack a strong emotional punch. His work has garnered legions of fans around the world and an impressive list of clients, especially in the rarefied world of Paris haute couture.

A few years ago, I spent a day at his atelier, where I had the opportunity to study flowers with him one-on-one. I was struck by both the lightness and the movement he achieved in his designs, as well as their intrinsic stylishness. By taking inspiration from everything around him, from a walk in the countryside to fashion, architecture, and interior design, Eric’s floristry exudes a quintessentially French vibe. In Paris, his designs are a fixture at high-style hotels and at luxury brands like Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent, and Givenchy. A few years ago, his “flower walls” and rooms of a million blooms for a Christian Dior fashion show launched a worldwide trend.

On this visit, he gave me insights into his process, comparing l’art du bouquet to planning high-style events. While his jardin-style bouquets are classically elegant, there is always a nod to fashion and modernity—an edginess that adds excitement. ericchauvin.fr

Florist: Anne Vitchen

floral installation, Baccarat Museum
Anne Vitchen covered a pavilion with hundreds of garden roses at the Baccarat Museum. “Simply the most breathtaking display I’ve ever seen,” says Laura.

Anne Vitchen is the grande dame of flowers at the iconic Ritz Hotel in Paris. A highlight of my trip was the surprise she and her team created for us at the Cristal Room in the Baccarat Museum. Anne knew that the museum is one of my favorites, a hidden gem of classic French decorative arts. I love the setting in the 19th-century château and the collection of Baccarat crystal on display. But the pièce de résistance is the ballroom on the second floor.

Laura Dowling with Parisian florist Anne Vitchen
Laura (left) and Anne toast flowers and friendship

There, behind an unassuming paneled door, is a glittering space that rivals Versailles in its splendor. It was here that Anne and her team created a secret garden pavilion covered in hundreds of garden roses, enclosing a candlelit table set with Haviland china, Cristofle vermeil cutlery, Maison Lesage linen, and Baccarat stemware. In concept and design, it was the most breathtaking display I have ever seen. As we celebrated with a champagne toast, I savored the moment—and was reminded of the unparalleled beauty of the French aesthetic. annevitchen.com

More from Laura’s Parisian visit

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French bouquet
Laura’s luxurious 'Après la Pluie' (After the Rain) bouquet of vintage garden roses, purple clematis, and lilac, photographed at the Palais Royal
Laura Dowling bouquets
Twin bouquets in coral and fuchsia, each tied with a vintage silk ribbon, photographed at Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
 during a Paris photo shoot for her book, Bouquets, Laura Dowling holds one bouquet and pulls a wagon full of more bouquets
Laura with bouquets at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Marche de Rungis, Paris flower market
Shopping at the Marche de Rungis, the largest fresh produce market in the world
Vibrant bundles of pink and yellow flowers at a Paris flower market
Flowers at the market
red and green bouquet
Laura's bouquet of deep-red and lime-green blossoms and berries
Maison Lesage table linen, crystal dog
A detail of the beautiful Maison Lesage linen used for the table in Anne Vitchen's installation at the Baccarat Museum

By Laura Dowling | Edited by Kirk Reed Forrester | Photography by Erik Kvalsvik

Look for more Paris flowers in Laura Dowling’s Bouquets with How-To Tutorials (Stichting Kunstboak, 2020).

Book cover for Bouquets, by Laura Dowling. Subtitle: with How-To Tutorials