The most surprising fact to come out of the session was that Tortu does not believe in flower food and does not include it with bouquets sold at his Paris boutique to clients such as Princess Caroline and Catherine Deneuve. (Famous for her love of flowers, Deneuve cultivates an inner circle of botanical experts that includes Tortu.) There is no substitute, Preston said, for a clean, well-bleached vase and fresh water. She also warned against faux trucs: tricks that seem legitimate but are in fact merely picturesque, like cutting stems underwater.
Compared with his exuberant, often anarchic compositions, Tortu himself is a droll, tranquil fellow, completely unexcitable, or so he presented himself at his Fleurs, Fruits et Légumes class. At $330, or a whopping $2.75 per minute, it's the most expensive course the school offers. Is Tortu worth it?He is an engaging man at the top of his game, and I am always happy to pay extra to be in the presence of a star.
It's a straight line from the fruit-and-vegetable portraits by the 16th-century Mannerist Giuseppe Arcimboldo to the virtuoso multimedia arrangements that put Tortu on the map. I wish I could report that he has a catalogue of secrets for constructing them, but mostly they're built just as you'd imagine. For the arrangement Tortu demonstrated, a pyramid of Oasis blocks—their corners shaved to increase surface area—was strapped with tape to a shallow plastic tray. Sticks inserted in a cauliflower and bound to grape clusters anchored them to the foam. Small pears were affixed with heavy wire plunged into their sides. Tulips, anemones, eucalyptus, and baby-lettuce hearts went in just as they were. Only the maidenhair plants needed special handling. Using tontinnage, a technique deployed by French florists to render big plants more wieldy, Tortu gently removed most of the soil, wrapped the roots snugly in moss, secured the moss with wire, and attached the plants with sticks pushed into their roots.
Perhaps because Tortu was the only teacher I cared about pleasing, my arrangement was the best—that is to say, the most faithful to the prototype—of the three I had done. And while I could have used a bit more praise, I totally appreciate that Tortu cannot squander himself. He designs a constantly renewed line of scented candles, vases, and other accessories. He has freestanding shops in Tokyo and Seoul, plus a franchise in Milan. Thirty people are on his payroll. Certainly he has bigger fish than me to fry.
In the middle of the class Tortu took a call on his cell phone. It was Catherine Deneuve.
École des Fleurs, 33-1/55-90-59-60; www.ecoledesfleurs.com. Classes (from $100, including one centerpiece) are held at the Hôtel de Crillon (10 Place de la Concorde, Eighth Arr., Paris; 33-1/44-71-15-01); one-night packages with breakfast for two and a 90-minute class for one start at $674, double.
TWO MORE SCHOOLS ABROAD
Jane Packer Flower School
Sculptural pieces, such as glitter-dipped roses tucked into a sequined handbag, are Packer's specialty. Shops in New York and Tokyo also hold classes frequently.
One-day classes from $212. 32-34 New Cavendish St., London; 44-207/486-1300; www.janepacker.com
Kenneth Turner Flower School
Turner's arrangements use fruits, vegetables, and shells. Classes are also held at his Tokyo outpost.
One-day classes from $305. 58 Molton St., London; 44-207/409-2560; www.kenturnerflowerschool.com