Durbanite-turned-Capetonian Shari Akal knows a thing or two about creating beautiful things to look at. From designing and sewing one-off clothing items to costuming and styling film shoots to creating custom floral arrangements for events, there isn’t a practical element of the fashion and floral industries she hasn’t had her hand in.

And then there’s her intellectual output. Akal completed her master’s degree four years ago with a thesis entitled “Costuming Gender: An Investigation into the Construction and Perception of Drag Costume in Mainstream Film”. She’s lectured undergraduates in a range of theory and applied fashion subjects at the Durban University of Technology and Fedisa. And her article “Transintelligibility: Popular Film and Contemporary Fashion” will be published this year by Brill Press in the journal Fashion and Contemporaneity: Realms of the Visible. She also owns a floral design company called Bouwer Flowers.

Credit: Nicole Layman

Do you think fashion and floristry have a natural link?

With both being considered visual modes of art, I think that fashion and floristry are linked in many ways. Each are appreciated for their form rather than their function, and fulfil a desire for beauty and luxury.

How are you able to use your fashion design skills and translate your flair for styling and costuming into floral design?

Because of the aesthetic nature of both fashion and floristry, I apply the basic principles of design that I learned through training in fashion and costume (shape/form, texture, colour, proportion and composition) to my floral arrangements and installations. What excites me most as a costume designer is how we are able to visually communicate things like identity, time and place through designed or styled items of clothing. As much as possible, I try to apply this to floral design.

I attempt to communicate the individual style and personalities of each of my clients through colour, combination of flower types, shapes and composition of arrangements for each separate event that Bouwer does.

You’ve done the flowers for many weddings all over South Africa. What are some of the common elements brides tend to want in terms of how the flowers look at the ceremony and reception venues?

Huge importance is put on how the couple is “framed” during the ceremony. This can be done by creating a floral arch, placing large arrangements on plinths on either side of the couple, suspending flowers from the ceiling behind the couple, etc. Regardless of what the actual structure is, the desired styling of a ceremony backdrop is often very lush and dramatic in order to create the most impact for the photographs and as a focal point for the guests.

For the reception, hanging installations above the tables have become very popular. In countries where weddings are rather elaborate affairs, couples like to create a unique experience for their guests, and hanging floral installations can make a venue feel a bit more magical.

Which flowers and plants do you find most enjoyable to work with and why?

I fear this is a rather boring and typical response but I love working with garden roses. They not only smell incredible but there is such a large range available. Unlike most flower types, roses are grown in varying tones of each colour which allows one to do some very interesting colour-focused design.

When I want my design to be more shape-focused, I like to work with flowers and foliage which trail like ferns, vines and orchids.

Credit: Love Made Visible

What do you reckon are some forthcoming floral trends?

As in fashion, forthcoming trends are often formed through a reaction against what is currently popular. Because floral trends have tended toward the elaborate with florists making use of many elements – working with various tones in one arrangement and creating lush organic shapes – I believe there will soon be a focus on simplicity. Far fewer flower types and colour combinations will be used. This is, at least, where my interest is moving as it enables the observer to appreciate the beauty of each flower, if fewer varieties are utilised.

Text: Dominique Herman; opening image: Nicole Layman