The Art of Permanent Botanicals
For Danna DiElsi, founder of The Silk Touch in Norwalk, Conn., a long-term love affair with faux florals has grown only stronger over time.
Permanent flower arrangements sometimes get a bad rap. More and more, though, “forever” botanicals—both flowers and plants—have become so lifelike that even the most hard-core “natural”-obsessed consumers are gaining an appreciation for them.
“Permanent botanicals are so fabulous,” says floral designer Danna DiElsi, owner of The Silk Touch in Norwalk, Conn. “Permanents are so versatile, and they have come such a long way. Many people think of “silk” flowers as what are in the craft stores, which are often inexpensive and horrible. They give permanent botanicals a bad name. But high-quality permanent flowers, plants, berries, trees and more can be hard to distinguish from fresh.”
DiElsi studied at the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City, but she always had an interest in flowers and creating, which led her to working with permanent botanicals. “There was a store not far from where I lived that carried nothing but permanent flowers and plants, and it was all the rage,” she says. “I got a part-time job there, and I became so interested in the flowers, how they were made, the beautiful fabrics, and how designs could fit any home and office décor.”
Eventually, DiElsi ventured out on her own, starting a small business in her home. “I decided to take a leap of faith and see what would happen if I did this full time,” she says. “People loved the ‘silk’ flowers. They didn’t have the upkeep of fresh flowers, and the flowers looked so beautiful—and, at that time, they weren’t even all that natural looking.”
Part of DiElsi’s business strategy was to get into the corporate market, so she created a seasonal rental program for flower arrangements and plants that businesses can utilize in their lobbies, for meetings and for functions where a company wants a nice presentation of flowers but doesn’t want to buy new fresh arrangements every week. With the program, DiElsi changes the floral displays quarterly or monthly, depending on the contract.
“That part of the business took off, and I gained so many customers that I could hardly keep up,” she says. “I was working with a lot of hotels and restaurants, and I had quite a few corporate accounts, too; it was the major part of what I was doing.”
Business was so strong that, in 1996, DiElsi moved her business to a small 250-square-foot retail space in Norwalk—in the same building where her current 1,100-square-foot operation is today. “I was in the small space for nine years, and in 2005, the larger retail space became available, so I jumped on the opportunity,” she says.
Even though The Silk Touch is on Main Street, DiElsi admits the store doesn’t get the foot traffic one might expect, but she’s been in business so long that everyone in the area knows her, and she gets lots of jobs from new residents and businesses—and even brides-to-be—who are referred by her past and current clientele.
The advancements in permanent botanicals since DiElsi began with the them nearly three decades ago has been astonishing. She notes that the flowers and plants available today are made so much better: The leaves and stems are so much more realistic; the colors are much more natural, and the selection has expanded to include organic materials such as twigs, succulents, berries and branches.
“We’ve evolved into this organic, natural world where everything has to look like it popped from the earth,” DiElsi says. “Today’s permanent flowers look and feel more natural. They have movement to them, so when you place them into arrangements, they fall a little more naturally.
“It’s fun to keep people guessing about whether they are fresh or faux,” she continues. “When folks come into my shop, especially for the first time, they often say they can’t believe all my designs are permanent.”
DiElsi notes that permanent orchids are top sellers, and she has many clients who have replaced their fresh orchid plants with them. “Hydrangea is another winner, and we offer all varieties, with natural colorations.” Succulents and herbs are also all the rage right now, she adds.
Design style also has changed to a simpler look for many, DiElsi reports. “Glass vases with a few stems in modern yet sophisticated styles are the most popular,” she shares. And she often incorporates dried materials (trending heavily right now) and natural branches into her designs, which adds to the realism of her creations.
The Silk Touch prides itself on customer service, and DiElsi spends a lot of time with every customer who walks through the door, listening to their needs and helping them come up with ideas that work for them. She shares that the secret of a long-lasting relationship with customers is to not project what she wants to do or impose the newest trends but, rather, to listen carefully and incorporate some new ideas with their thoughts.
“Sometimes, people who come in are very confused or overwhelmed; they see so much stuff, especially on social media, and they don’t know where to begin,” she says. “We weed things out, I suggest solutions, and we work together to come up with what will look best in their containers and spaces. Oftentimes, clients will bring their containers and photos of their spaces to me, but I also go to their homes and offices.”
DiElsi uses Winward International as her primary supplier, and she’s relied on them for more than a decade. She also purchases from Allstate Floral and Sullivans—all manufacturers of premium-quality permanent botanicals. The highest quality and realistic stems and foliage are important to DiElsi, as are botanically correct colorations.
“If you closely examine a beautifully made permanent botanical, you will notice how true a replica it is of its fresh counterpart,” she says. “Stems might have thorns and tiny growths, and they’re often not smooth—just like the real things. In the factories, on-staff botanists help with the design and creation of the flowers and plants.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the corporate- rentals segment of The Silk Touch’s business has tapered off a bit due to business closings, cost-cutting measures by businesses and people working from home. However, DiElsi reports, more individuals have been seeking permanent botanicals for home décor.
“Permanents make a lot of sense because they look and feel so real, and even though many people have more time now, who wants to spend their time changing fresh flowers, not to mention the cost of them,” DiElsi says. “People today want something pretty for their foyers and other areas of their homes, and they often don’t want the hassle of fresh flowers, so permanents provide the perfect solution.”
DiElsi has also been proactively doing things to help her business survive, such as working on a new website and expanding to an e-commerce platform. “I hope that, in time, folks will start to come back to the shop,” she says. “It is a beautiful experience. However, in the meantime, I’ve had to try new things. For the past few months, I’ve posted photos of my beautiful seasonal designs on social media, and that has generated sales, so I am convinced this is the direction I need to pursue.”
Of course, a good number of customers still come back to the shop seasonally to change the arrangements and plants in their homes and offices, and DiElsi continues to do parties and weddings.
“Flowers make us happy. They put us in a good mood and bring entire rooms together,” DiElsi says. “In the busy world that we all live in, permanent botanicals are truly the answer. They’re always fresh and vibrant, and they bring beauty to our lives and capture the spirit of nature without the daunting task of constant upkeep. I love helping people make their homes warm and inviting, their offices professional and their events special—all with permanent botanicals.”