Meet the remarkable winner of the 2019 “World Cup,” and discover what inspires him and his unusual approaches the art of floral design, competition and teaching.
In the floral industry, many of our “rock stars” are internationally renowned designers and “World Cup” champions. When we are in their presence, there is a sense of awe and hero worship. One of these people is Bart Hassam – owner of Maison Fleur Floral Designin Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; 2019 “World Cup” champion; and Main Stage presenter at AIFD’s “Vision” Symposium in Chicago, Ill., this summer – who is as down to earth as his Australian roots. His approach to floral design is simple: Create beauty through plant material, with elegance and appropriateness but, above all, with a respect for the flower.
My entry into the floral industry was very organic. I was born in the country town of Bundaberg, in Australia, and my grandparents raised me after I lost my mom when I was 2 years old. From an early age, I learned the names of flowers and how they grew from my grandmother, who had a large garden. She encouraged my passion for flowers and plants and introduced me to the world of floral design and competition.
I have always been drawn to those who exemplify organic tendencies. Gregor Lersch was a big fixture in my mentoring. I love the way he works. He designs with botanicals with a purpose. He is always respectful to the materials, which always have a water source. Also, I love Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Frank Lloyd Wright. There is an organic nature to Wright’s architecture, from the small entries opening to large spaces. Everything relates to plant material.
Plant material is the source of my creative inspiration. I do not look too far from it. I believe that floral designers need to have a singular vision, which makes decisions clear. It allows those working with them to know the plan. As a florist, I want to work botanically. Containers and accessories must relate to the botanical material. I tend to use natural dyes or material constructions of metal or grasses. I let the material define me. If I am confused, I try to refocus and bring back everything to the materials. We often try to take something that is so beautiful and make it less beautiful. Just let the botanicals shine.
I have always been curious, since my teenage years, about how everything is constructed. When I was young, I would look at pictures of bridal bouquets, and I would try different ways of building them.
In general, I don’t practice a lot. For “World Cup,” I did not practice. I believe in improving on one’s own design. I work on a previous piece and move forward. My approach is like that of a painter. Monet did water lilies repeatedly. If that was good enough for him and worked for him, it works for me! I work with steel grass over and over again, and I am still creating something new.
I do three things: I want to be inspired by the plant material; I write a list, and I draw everything. I have notebooks for the last 20 years with my ideas and sketches. I go over those notes and sketches to see what ideas I have had. Also, if I am inspired by a material, I will write a list of 20 ways I can use that one material and what I can do with it.
In competitions, I love surprise packages. We get in our heads when we are preparing designs. But you need to trust your hands and the knowledge in them. You just let go and let the flowers do what they do. It is what we do every day in a shop. A customer comes in and wants A and B and comes back in 20 minutes. You just create and do it!
When I started traveling to teach and present, I would have 12 items prepared. I followed this as a guide. Now, I let it be more of an organic development. I will know the space, the flowers and the topics, and I plan 16 designs. I will have eight ideas or influences ready, and I will probably make only one or two of the other eight. Often, those designs are better than those I make in advance. I travel with three folders filled with collected drawings of designs that I have never made before. I look at them, and it helps inspire me. There is a spontaneity of influence on these designs. But everything matches and results in the best outcome.
I always feel a responsibility to do good work. With those working for me, it is important to explain the process. It is like parenting. This is how I learn. I process the good things and teach quietly. This is the way of passing on information that is useful. I mentor my staff.
You don’t own your mentees or employees, however. They are transient. You want them to be educated and do good work. You train them well so that they can leave, but you treat them so well they don’t want to leave. It is about making the entire work experience lovely. I like consistency. I don’t like variance. Educating and mentoring in a useful way is one of the great joys of my life. With social media, my current business Instagram account – @maisonfleurfloraldesign – has almost 5,000 followers, and my personal account has nearly 22,000 followers. I make daily posts, and Instagram is a great tool for both your business and your personal life – but it’s not always real. A friend of mine says, “Having lots of followers on Instagram is like being wealthy with Monopoly money!”