She has a legacy that extends beyond her own incredible works and stretches out across the talented creations of her pupils, but her journey has been windier than some might imagine. Brazilian-born, floral designer Zita Elze never envisioned a life of floristry but now she couldn’t imagine her life without it.
She has a successful career in floral design, her own teaching academy and an enviable talent for living floral embroidery keeping her busy but Zita took some time out to chat with us about her career, achievements and what life has in store for her exceptional talents.
The award-winning designer may never have known the direction her career path would take but she has never been a stranger to adventurous change.
After meeting her future husband in Sao Paulo, they moved to Europe where they spent time living in Rome, Germany and Paris. With a passion for artistic bookbinding, Zita studied at a highly renowned school in Paris before opening her own atelier in Paris’ 5th arrondissement.
Her business was a success but her career was put on hold as she dedicated her time to raising two lovely children. Then in 1999, she made the life-changing decision to move to London to study Interior Design and Garden Design at the Inchbald School of Design.
An interesting directional change considering her early successes in bookbinding in Paris, but Zita insists that path was not for her.
“Creating an artistic book cover can take three months or more and takes endless patience – this wasn’t the right type of work for me.
“So I decided to follow my other passions, for interior and garden design.
“Floristry was not in my plan - it just happened, but I can’t imagine what my life would be like without flowers!” she said
It’s true, flowers have become an enormous part of her life and her career in floristry has been ground-breaking for the industry itself.
Shortly after making the move to London to study, she attained the knowledge and experiences that would shape her career. Her talents were immediately recognised.
In 2003, she was presented the prestigious Design and Decoration Award, ‘Graduate Garden Designer of the Year′, and shortly afterward she opened her first shop “Zita Elze Flowers” in Kew.
Despite having no experience, her flower shop was a roaring success from the very beginning, and while initially intended only to showcase her design practices, the shop gradually overtook her initial plan to work as an interior designer and garden designer.
More surprising still was Zita’s decision to move into the art of teaching.
At the Zita Elze’s Design Academy, the Kew-based designer offers a range of classes for both professionals and amateurs, including monthly, weekly and daily courses, covering everything from special hand-tied bouquet classes and Wedding Design to her innovative Concept and Design course.
“I have studied at a number of design schools and I was not always impressed by their approach, especially by the rules they impose on sensitive souls like me!” she explained.
“I am a free spirit and want to do my own thing, which usually is not allowed at these schools
“Once during one of these painful sessions I told myself ‘If I have to teach one day, I will never do this to my students’
“So what I do is very different from what you find at other schools – I help my students to discover and develop their own creativity. While I believe in good technique, my mantra is that it must come second to my approach! The results from my students are amazing.”
Her teaching style is very different indeed. Zita encourages her students to fixate less on rules and more on emotional drives – a tactic she employs for the majority of her own creations.
“I love to draw inspiration from emotions, this is the core of my teaching philosophy,” she said.
As her shop found success and the Academy took off, her passion for flowers grew. Her originality and creativity thrived, and in 2009 she became renowned for a very peculiar technique, which has now become synonymous with her brand: Living Floral Embroidery.
“I always dreamt of ‘out of this world’ gowns, something surreal like the kind of dreams girls have when they’re little,” she mused.
“I use fresh materials but I don’t want the work to be just flowery! I was and am always looking for a kind of spiritual experience.”
Incredible works of art, Zita’s Living Embroidery Collection is just what one would imagine; romantic, whimsical, intricately designed and, of course, breathtakingly beautiful. Her awe-inspiring gowns are adorned with fresh flowers, berries and other natural materials and the results are outstanding.
She has been internationally recognised and acclaimed for her unique skill but the question remains, where did this innovative idea originate from?
“In Brazil I had an aunt who used to create beautiful embroidery on children’s clothes. I always loved to watch her working and one day, during one of the Concept and Design floristry classes that I was teaching, the idea was born.”
She first attempted the technique on a glass surface and an embroidered vase was part of her eye-catching sliver-gilt medal-winning exhibit at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show. “Chelsea Flower Show was an amazing achievement as I did everything almost all by myself and with no prior experience in shows.”
“I had some production help leading up to the show but I worked so hard that it feels like I am still in recovery.”
But the pain was most certainly worth the gain, as Zita counts the moment of her reveal as one of her proudest achievements. After some experiments and a lot of practise, she progressed to fabrics and unveiled her first embroidered dress at the Chelsea Flower Show the following year.
“When the model started to walk around the grounds there was an amazing reception – unfortunately, we were asked to stop as we weren’t supposed to get that amount of attention!”
From that ground-breaking moment, her Living Embroidery Bridal Collection was born. Today, a bride-to-be can take a look through Zita’s previous bridal creations or collaborate to create something entirely original for their Big Day.
But there are certain realities that need to be acknowledged when deciding to wear a living, breathing piece of art on your wedding day, Zita insisted.
“My pieces are designed to be worn only for a short time,” she said, “Flowers are very fragile”.
“I recommend that my brides have a second dress to see them through the day. They are also costly pieces as we need around a week to put one together.”
It’s not always smooth sailing. Despite experience, the design and creation process can be a daunting challenge, as Zita found when bringing to life a design for Brides the Show last October.
The Sleeping Beauty-inspired gown was to be the embodiment of a fairy-tale moment but the experience was less than magical.
“Basically it was a nightmare!” she exclaimed.
“I had no time for the usual proper conceptual development, so I did what I shouldn’t, I went into it with no thought-through plan and it was disastrous.
“I asked a dressmaker to prepare a dress base, which took her ages and then she came back to me with something completely different from what I had imagined.”
It all went downhill from there she said.
“The whole thing fell apart on a Saturday night, with production due to start on Monday morning. I declared there wouldn’t be any dress for the catwalk after that.”
Thankfully, all was not lost.
“My niece was living with me at the time and calmed me down, so I went to do some meditation and eventually I managed to dream up a concept that was slumbering in my subconscious.
“It had always been there,” she said, “but initially I tried to go the easy way (i.e. without proper concept development) something I definitely will never do again,” she insisted.
“I called my friend Louise and she kindly lent me a mannequin, so I actually made the base of the dress myself. This dress was a prototype really, not appropriate for wearing, but in the end we managed to get it onto the model for the catwalk.
“Thus, Sleeping Beauty was born!”
With the Academy occupying a large portion of her time, Zita has declined to work on a few projects that have come her way, but with a talent such as hers there’s sure to be something exciting on the horizon.
Keep your eyes peeled and be sure to follow along her exciting projects at zitaelze.com.
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