Paris Florist Focuses on the Strange
PARIS — Last year Domitille Basso traded a flourishing career in high fashion for the quieter charms of floral design.
Fashion caught up with her anyway.
In April, arrangements by her company, Thyrse, appeared in the pages of Italian Vogue. Her first employer, Louis Vuitton, has become a regular client. So have Lanvin, Guerlain, the Palais de Tokyo, the shoe brand Carel and We Are ONA, a restaurant collective.
Sculptural yet seemingly untamed, Ms. Basso’s unconventional designs feature locally sourced, seasonal vegetation, often incorporating quirky branches or creeping tendrils that edge compositions away from straightforward prettiness. There may even be a bud that is past its prime.
Her choices also tend to create visual suggestions, like the sexual innuendo of the long stalk and bulbous head of an artichoke bloom. And, she said, she will take stems like garlic flowers, prairie gentian (lisianthus), milkweeds (asclepias) and cockscomb (celesia) over daisies or hydrangeas any day.
“I like it when things look a little strange, when there seem to be little accidents, like in life, in a real garden or in nature,” Ms. Basso said during a recent interview. “I don’t think of flowers as simple decoration. They’re more like an installation, something you create that takes on a life of its own.”
Born and raised in the 12th Arrondissement, Ms. Basso, 33, graduated from the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne (now the Institut Français de la Mode) fashion school in 2011. She immediately landed an internship at Louis Vuitton, where she helped to develop fabrics and embroideries for the winter 2012 collection designed by Marc Jacobs, who then was the house’s creative director for women’s wear.
The collection included elaborate textiles that were torn, re-embroidered and sometimes embellished with feathers, and presented in a show that channeled the glamour of turn-of-the-century travel by placing a blue Orient Express-style steam train in the Cour Carré at the Louvre.
“I found myself exactly where I wanted to be, working with materials, colors and embroideries,” Ms. Basso said. “The collection was rich with ideas, with lots of velvet and big jewelry, and the possibilities seemed endless.”
She accepted a full-time job at Saint Laurent, where she worked on developing embroideries, pleats and other embellishments for the first collection by the house’s newly appointed creative director, Hedi Slimane. She also came up with ideas for hats and jewelry. By the time Anthony Vaccarello became the brand’s creative director, in 2016, Ms. Basso was put in charge of the embroidery department for finished products, collaborating with the embroidery specialist Lemarié in Paris as well as artisans in Italy and India.
“Domitille has a very Parisian sensibility. She has a real signature and sense of detail,” said Tristan Lahoz, a fashion designer, stylist and founder of the vintage showroom FrenchKissLA, who worked with Ms. Basso at Saint Laurent throughout her tenure there.
“She would take a simple request for something as basic as a T-shirt and work in little elements that create texture and volume, like sequins that are subtle by day but catch the light at night. She works almost like a jeweler: She can compose with anything and always finds ways to create an element of surprise.”
Then one day in 2019, Ms. Basso said, she hit a wall. She left Saint Laurent on the eve of her 30th birthday.
“Over time, you become accustomed to a certain rhythm and stress. Until I realized I couldn’t find my center, as if life had become unreal,” she said. “But the flowers had always been right there.”
Her paternal grandmother’s garden in Normandy had always been a point of reference in her life.
“She would pick up seeds wherever she went, take them home and improvise, so the garden was very like her, it had its own style,” she said. “It was a very simple but experimental approach, so I think it stayed with me, even unconsciously.”
Ms. Basso decided to name her company Thyrse, a term that refers to the compact branching seen in flowers like the lilac and plants like grapes.
“I wanted a name that would englobe research and experimentation,” she said. “There’s the botanical meaning, with an arborescence that opens outward, that to me represents a lot of ramifications.
“Then, while looking around, I came across associations with Dionysus, whose attribute is a scepter, which is very straight, stable and vegetal,” she added. “I liked that representation.”
In early 2021 she began composing bouquets in her living room. But within weeks, she said, she outgrew that space and moved into a 215-square-foot atelier at La Caserne, an unused electricity substation in the 11th Arrondissement that temporarily has been repurposed as workshops and exhibition spaces for a creative community.
There, she said, her projects have ranged from “sourcing the one tulip, the one poppy, the one rose and placing them with tweezers” for a video to large-scale designs for industry events.
Word of mouth and Instagram worked so well for her that, within a few months, she was signed by the artist management agency Pink Studio. Orders from fashion-related brands account for most of her projects, she said, though occasionally she will agree to work on a private event.
She also does personal projects, like a recent large-scale installation at La Caserne, where she showed compositions she called “little floating, imaginary worlds unto themselves.”
In one, orange physalis — which resembles small, puffy paper lanterns — kept company with violet calicarpa, commonly called beautyberry, in an arrangement designed to create the impression, Ms. Basso said, of “something from the depths.”
She also is exploring collaborations with other creative people and projects outside of Paris, and knows she is getting a Christmas décor commission, although she was unwilling to discuss it just yet.
For now, Ms. Basso continues to work alone, calling on freelance help when she has major commissions. But she said she already has been combing the neighborhood for a larger atelier, and is considering hiring an assistant and a studio manager.
Ms. Basso said she has discovered that the pace of the floral business can be just as intense as that in fashion. Leaving home at 4 a.m. twice a week to travel to the Rungis flower market outside Paris may have supplanted late nights in the embroidery studio, but relationships are just as important, commissions can be rush jobs and much of the process remains invisible to the client.
“You’re still trying to create really beautiful things and make it look simple,” she said.
“There’s the ‘wow’ effect, and then it’s over, done. But, like fashion, there’s a paradox: things change all the time, yet once something’s been created, it continues to exist.”