Brisbane florist Bart Hassam is preparing to compete in the Olympics of floral design. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)
It is the World Cup you’ve probably never heard of, but for the handful of people selected to compete it is a dream come true.
The “Olympics” of floral design — the FTD World Cup — only happens once every four years and competition is fierce.
For Australia’s representative Bart Hassam, this is a second chance to make it to the top of his field.
The Brisbane florist shot to fame in 2011 after he won the coveted Asia Cup, but he missed out on the chance to represent his country at 2015’s World Cup in Berlin.
He told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Craig Zonca and Rebecca Levingston he was determined to make the most of his opportunity to compete in Philadelphia next March.
“If you can do well at a World Cup that can set your international profile on a course,” he said.
“Even though I love being a commercial florist, the design side of things is what I’d love to do more of.”
Mr Hassam and his fellow competitors selected from 25 countries have the coming months to prepare for an intense series of timed challenges.
“It ends up looking a little bit like MasterChef,” he laughed.
Supporters wave flags and chant while they watch the designers create elaborate pieces with materials brought from home and surprise elements revealed by the judges.
Mr Hassam was no stranger to working under pressure and bending the creative limits of floral design.
When he is not wrapping bouquets behind the counter of his Brisbane flower shop, he travels the world to teach fellow designers how to explore new ways to work with blooms and foliage.
Unique design style slow to catch on
It is an area of the industry that straddles the line between commercial floristry and fine art.
He crafts lattices, archways and other architectural structures out of fresh and dried foliage before covering it with bursts of colourful live flowers.
Despite bending the limits of flower arranging to make his pieces, Mr Hassam was strict about maintaining what he calls his “floral morals”.
“I cannot use flowers out of water that will visibly die and look like they’re wilting,” he said.
“You might as well cut the flower up and throw it in the air and be done with it.
“I come from a background where flowers were to do with ritual and meaning.”
Mr Hassam said most of his more elaborate designs were marketed at high end restaurants and hotels, but wider appreciation for the art was slow to take-off in Australia.
“A lot of my structural work comes from the education I had in Japan,” he said.
“The following there for floral design is much greater.
“They regard those skills as a commodity whereas in Australia [floristry] is about what you can get for the dollar value.”
Bart said his fashion-forward grandmother encouraged him to become a florist. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)
Budding career began in Bundaberg
Mr Hassam was 13 when he made his first bridal bouquet.
“[It] was in the shape of a teardrop and was that sort of English country garden style — yellow roses, white freesias, white orchids, white coronations and ivy,” he said.
“To make a wired bouquet you take all of the stems off the flowers and make an artificial stem with wire.
“Architecturally it’s really exciting. I would have been an architect if I hadn’t been a florist.”
He refined his skills arranging flowers for rural shows and decorating the altar of his family’s church.
By high school he was designing bouquets for up to a dozen weddings a year.
Mr Hassam said his greatest inspiration was his fashion-forward grandmother who had an enviable garden bursting with colour and was all too happy encourage his ability.
“She was no shrinking violet and she’s responsible for why I view the world the way I do,” he said.
“She had a greenhouse section with hanging ferns, strange succulents and orchids and the front garden was all annuals and perennials — all those sweet-smelling flowers you don’t see these days because people just don’t have time to garden.
“I understand now that it was a great education in the way plants grow, types of growing areas, flowering times throughout the year, common names and botanical names.
“That kind of education is rare.”
Mr Hassam said he would like to see Australia’s floristry industry place more emphasis on knowledge of horticulture than how to retail plants and flowers.