Alaska Peony Princess
Kim Herning, of Northern Lights Peonies in Fairbanks, Alaska, returns to share her second couture look expressing the unique character and beauty of the peonies she grows.
“Creating the dress was like ‘play day’ for adults,” she says. “The kind of enthusiasm we all felt generated so much energy and laughter, second only to seeing my fields in bloom.” There is a fairy-tale quality to the styling and the setting that evokes an imaginary storyline of old.
Floral design: Kim Herning, Northern Lights Peonies
Models: Kendra Underwood and Andrea Reisdorf
Hair and Makeup: Kendra Underwood and Andrea Reisdorf
Photography: Claire Granger and Kristina Mulready
Northern Lights Peonies: Founded by Kim and John Herning in 2016, Northern Lights Peonies is home to 5,000 peony plants, approximately two-thirds of which are white blooms, and one-third of which are in the pink to fuchsia-red spectrum. “We expect to harvest 13,000 stems this season,” she says. “Our largest crop is ‘Festiva Maxima’, which are the white peonies with red flecks in the center. They are super hardy and super tall, and I consider them my big producers.”
In addition to marketing her peonies to out-of-state wedding clients, florists and wholesalers, Kim operates an on-farm shop for local customers. She advertises through Facebook and often holds pop-up peony sales in Fairbanks. Depending on the year, Northern Lights Peonies begins harvesting peonies during the last week of June through July.
The photoshoot took place at Northern Lights Peonies, framed by a stand of birch trees on the property. The family’s beloved tractor also makes a cameo appearance, a nod to the farm’s new logo, Kim says.
“Our long summer days are attributed to why we get such big flowers and why the colors seem to be more intense than peonies grown elsewhere,” she explains.
Kim created a peony gown last year, and she wanted to try a different style for 2020. She sketched a skirt design that tapered outward in a bell shape, beginning with a fitted waist and ending with a hem measuring about 36 inches in diameter. The skirt is 100 percent botanical and is paired with a corset-style bodice. Vertical sections of different-colored peonies alternate between lighter and darker blooms, like panels on a garment.
Ingredients: Peonies (flowers and foliage), chokeberry branches and spruce branches. “I cut shorter 6-to-10-inch stem peonies and stored them in the cooler over the season,” she explains. “I had crates and crates of peonies. There are probably 1,000 stems in the skirt.”
Kim hydrated the stems prior to constructing the skirt, a useful trick that allowed the buds to open slightly. As a result, each individual flower head covered more surface area of the skirt.
Mechanics: Working from Kim’s sketch, her husband shaped large-diameter copper wire into a hoop-skirt frame. He attached rings along the length of the skirt, soldering joints at each contact point. The result is a structure sturdy enough to support spruce branches and hundreds of peony stems but light enough for the model to wear and move in it.
Kim covered the copper frame with landscape mesh and lined it with spruce branches, attached with cable ties and chenille stems. Peony stems are woven through the branch matrix, attaching to the skirt base. “The spruce needles help stabilize the peony stems,” she says.
Floral Source: Northern Lights Peonies