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Phil John Perry on the floral industry and designing Beyoncé’s Vogue headdress

Phil John Perry on the floral industry and designing Beyoncé’s Vogue headdress
A sketch of Beyoncé's floral headdress for Vogue by Phil John Perry, left, and the piece on the September cover of Vogue. (WWD)

Beyoncé is known to run the world — and the photoshoots she takes part in. For her latest Vogue cover shoot, she was offered an array of headgear options to choose from and when she selected Phil John Perry’s monumental floral headdress, she ended up making fashion history of sorts and thrusting Perry into the spotlight with her.

Perry has been gradually gaining traction in the industry: The florist and milliner had been designing floral crowns for brides with London flower shop Rebel Rebel U.K., when British Vogue picked up one of his creations last year to feature online. A few months later, Vogue U.S. commissioned Perry to create a floral Baby’s Breath mane for Kendall Jenner and came back shortly after, asking for another of his floral creations for its September issue.

Born in Manchester, England, the Mancunian often spends his time in the north of England picking up inspiration from his nature walks and by visiting the local art scene, which he describes as being “anarchic.” The bigger aim of his work is to change the perceptions around flowers and his craft: “I personally want to get away from flowers being pretty, it still has to be gorgeous and beautiful but it doesn’t have to be soft for a woman to wear,” he said in an interview.

Here, Perry talks to WWD about building up an independent business and how he felt from the aftermath of the Vogue shoot, both personally and professionally.

WWD: How much creative freedom did you have designing Beyoncé’s floral headdress?

It all happened really fast. I found out about the shoot five days before it happened. They sent over a few reference images and colors, which I found out later came from Beyoncé herself, but it was completely up to me decide the shape. I was really passionate about doing something different because everything I had designed before had been a flower crown, which doesn’t cut it for Beyoncé — it had to be a full-on warrior-esque yet regal headdress. To give it that edge, I wanted it to take on an asymmetric dome shape, which was something that I had played around with before.

WWD: The cover piece is quite different from the one featured in the spread.

Actually, we were only commissioned to make one piece, but then I saw one of her Gucci looks and it inspired me straight away because I love fashion and I see it as an extension of what I do. I thought, “All right, I’m going to make something quickly and see if she likes it,” and I ended up making it out of an old sailor’s hat that I had found the night before in my landlady’s closet. The structure was perfect and I made it in about 15 minutes. It’s personally my favorite, it has Fishtail Palms, Peppercorns, Anthurium, Cordyline and some other leaves.

A sketch of Beyoncé’s floral headdress for Vogue by Phil John Perry.
A sketch of Beyoncé’s floral headdress for Vogue by Phil John Perry. WWD

WWD: How did she react when she saw the second piece?

Everyone kept saying that it was going to be too big and I was like “no, Bey can handle it.” It got picked up by the stylist and brought over to Beyoncé and when she saw it she looked me in the eye and said, “Phil, this is beautiful.” She took the lead, put it on and adjusted it herself. We simply nodded at each other and she went off to do the shoot. She appreciated it.

The cover piece was also extremely heavy and that one I had trouble with. I had asked to see the Vogue hat archive and there was this fantastic one that looked like a beautiful metal cage and I built it the day of.

WWD: Did you do sketches prior or do you work with an idea in your head and adapt to how the flowers naturally sit?

Everything is built within a few hours and on the day because the flowers are fresh. I do tend to think on my feet because there is so much prep you can do. I basically just plotted out the color and shape and I just ran with it, it was a risk and it paid off. Towards the end of the shoot, since those flowers weren’t in water, the headpiece ended up having a tired edge to it when they shot it and I loved it! It wasn’t as loud and the flowers had an almost tea-stained look to them.

WWD: Aside from the Vogue archives, did you take any inspiration from any of Beyoncé’s work?

I am a big, big fan. I’ve listened to her since I was a child. I’m obsessed with strong women and as an artist I draw from them. I love “Run the World (Girls)” and “Flawless” and I was listening to those songs when I was making the headdresses. This morning, I was listening to more of her songs and also “Survivor” because who doesn’t love a good Destiny’s Child song?

WWD: How do you think this is going to impact floristry within the fashion industry?

It’s a very technical skill and I think a lot of people are being recognized for what they do; the Japanese florist who did Rihanna’s headdress is a completely different style to mine, but that’s the way forward. I think right now there’s a lot of referencing and copying and it’s too pretty but I think floristry in the fashion industry is happening. It adds a momentary factor to it, which is lovely because the clothes are there and moving, and to match it with something that isn’t going to be there and isn’t going to last — I think that’s really interesting.

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