Q&A :: Ethics in Designing Events

The Question:

I just met with a bride who found a wedding she loves on Style Me Pretty, and basically asked me to re-create all the florals/design concepts from that wedding. For me, this brings up a major ethical issue, and I am curious how you all deal with this: though I completely understand drawing inspiration from certain images/designs/ideas, I just don’t feel comfortable copying something made by another designer. In this case, there are some pretty specific color/flower/design choices that she wants to emulate, and to me it just feels wrong…. I also don’t understand why anyone would want their wedding to look EXACTLY like a wedding that already happened….. but I guess that is a separate issue…..

Has anyone else encountered this type of situation? How did you deal with it?

Best,

Designer in Washington

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The Answers:

It isn’t that uncommon for a bride to come into a consult with me with a wedding, bouquet or centerpiece that she wants to reproduce! The way I deal with it really depends on the bride. Sometimes all it takes is a comment that I do have my own design style that I will bring to the theme which would include using different vases, votives, etc. and switching up a few of the flowers and their placements to make the design more unique to her. If that doesn’t get the job done, I would make suggestions of ways to modify or enhance the design…again changing up flowers types, shapes, and placements, adding another layer to the tablescape, etc. I also would look for alternative designs that are similar to include in her design board to show her how to blend different designs into something that she may love even more. My experience is that all of these things that show my unique style and creativity and an emphasis on her uniqueness, as well, result in a new floral design that she loves more than the one she brought in to be reproduced.

Andrea Layne Floral Design, Florida

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When brides bring me inspiration photos, I typically use them as just that. I use the colors and/or the shapes to inspire me so that the design in the pictures is reflected somehow in my designs. 9 times out of 10, if I do this, the bride can see how her pictures inspired me to create her design. Every once in a while, a bride will reply to my proposal by telling me she wanted exactly what she saw in the picture. In these cases, I explain to the bride that I want her to have something unique and personalized for HER special day. I tell her that I am happy to use certain flowers, or to recreate a certain shape but that I am unwilling to simply copy another designer’s work. It’s my hope that my brides are coming to me because they want a Sweet Blossoms design. Sometimes, I just have to remind them that their wedding is SPECIAL and deserves a design that is just for them!
Blair at Sweet Blossoms, Maryland

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I tell my brides that all our work is custom, but I am happy to see inspiration photos. I don’t think it is unethical to repeat a color scheme from another designer, but I make it clear that (unless it’s a ball of baby’s breath or all hydrangea centerpieces) it’s not going to look just like the ones in the photo. I literally say, “we don’t copy the look, we look at all your inspiration photos and work from there”. There is seasonal variation, container changes, geography, etc. I also make it part of my rap that they get the best work from me when I have some flexibility in case what’s available (either from my own fields or from the wholesaler) isn’t up to wedding quality, OR if something is even nicer that what I was originally thinking. I will promise, for example, peonies in season, but my recent March bride got no such promise, and sure enough, the peonies were terrible that week so I used something else. Best of luck.
Polly, Robin Hollow Farm, Rhode Island

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You are right to listen to your “gut” on this one. I happened to be on the other side of this issue about a year ago. I developed a proposal for a bride based on her vision. She was not flexible about flower choices and her vision was more than her budget. When the proposal came in over her budget, I told her that we could revisit the proposal and make adjustments to be more in line with what she wanted to spend without sacrificing the “look.” I never heard back even after following up, and then one day I saw images from a wedding on my Facebook page. I immediately recognized the design (wheat grass in low wooden boxes with several gerberas inserted to look like they were growing from the grass). Every design element of this wedding was in my proposal. I contacted my friends at the venue to find out whose wedding it was, and low and behold it was the bride for whom I developed the proposal. I had met the owner of the local florist shop who did the flowers, at a couple of bridal shows and liked her a lot. I was surprised that she used my design for this wedding, and I have to say that I’m having a hard time coming to grips with this. Once a couple of years ago, a bride gave me a proposal from another designer, with whom I am friends, and I told her that I would have to develop my own design for her. She was fine with that. My design was completely different (and not any less expensive than her first proposal), and she went with me. I can sleep at night!
Jane Guerin, flowers, Virginia

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I think that it’s a compliment to copy and if that’s what makes the Bride happy then it’s worth doing. I get asked that all the time as they use others pictures for inspiration. As we use a natural product I do not feel there are proprietary rights on our designs and due to using natural products it will never be exact anyway. The slight differences that using a natural product create will ensure your touch is on it. Just ensure to explain to the Bride that it will be as close as a natural product can deliver. That line has never failed me.
Jane, Budget Blooms, British Columbia

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I have been doing strictly wedding and event florals from a home based studio for 23 years and I find that it is very common for a bride to give me a photo or a link and ask for her flowers to look just like that. Most brides have a problem envisioning what their wedding will look like and these photos are the best they can do when describing their wedding. Because their wedding is taking place in a different venue, the wedding won’t be exactly the same. The chances that all the product and the colors will be identical are low, so I just go with it and try to personalize the wedding where I can. In the end, my work might be submitted to a florist by a bride somewhere else in the world, and they are copying my designs. I try not to get hung up on this – we are inspired and learn from different designers all the time, I just try to look at it this way. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Melody, Fleurish Floral Designs, California

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I am asked by brides and shown pictures of things that want recreated for their wedding all the time. Nature of Pinterest and the Knot.
However, we can only recreate the style.. we will never be able to recreate the designers first work that was published. It will always have our flare on it. Plus as artist.. we all have our own eye and if 3 people copied the same bouquet .. it would turn out 3 different ways.
I also let my bride know that I will work really hard on finding all the flowers that are pictured… but.. sometimes they are just not available. I will always let them know up front that while the style will be there.. it is impossible to copy completely. Plus by the time their wedding day is there.. as long as it’s beautiful, and in the style and colors they want… in the end that is all that matters.
As for the ethical side.. great masters in the art world are copied all the time. Nothing is as good as the original work of art.. so goes it with flowers. I am sure that my designs have been copied, but style and flare will always remain with me.
Flowers by Karen, Washington

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Isn’t it the ultimate compliment when your style or design is copied?
I don’t think we have copyright laws in place for floral design. Plus, I think there are very few “original” forms of art and design. Fabulous design in all mediums repeats throughout history as trends and popularity command.
We all have our gifts and weaknesses in life. Some of us are artistically inclined and some are not. If a Bride sees something she is wild about why not copy it? She may not have the interest, time or skills to decide on her own look.
However, I do believe a great florist will get to know her Bride, read her personality and style and gently guide a Bride towards a look and style that fits and reflects that Bride.
Nancy, Destiny Hill Farm, Pennsylvania

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I’ve actually had this occur a couple of times. Now the florist weren’t in the same town, but I simply sent an email to the shop, complimenting their work & explaining that I had a bride that wanted me to recreate their design. Both shops were thrilled to get the positive feedback & the one shop even sent me their recipe for the bridal bouquets with design tips. The only thing one of the shops asked was that we’d ‘like’ their FB page & maybe leave a positive Google comment, which we were more than happy to do!
Sharon, Muffy’s Flowers, Alaska

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This is a tough situation and one I think we can all relate to! I think there are some brides/people that don’t see our craft as, well, a craft. They don’t see it as a form of expression and the ideas as of other designers as a form of “creative property”. They simply see pretty flowers and want the same thing – they don’t see it as ripping someone’s designs (or entire wedding!) off. There are also people that cannot visualize anything they can’t explicitly see, so saying “inspired” or “similar” doesn’t seem to mean much other than “it’s not exactly what I see” and can’t understand what you’re talking about. I find that trust in my capability as a designer is the only thing that will put them at ease. That being said, I try to understand WHY they want exactly what they see in a photo. Is it the color, the form, shape, movement, the “personality” of it, etc. I can typically pick up a theme in the “design language” they use as we go over photos, I interpret it and repeat it back to them to be sure I understand. When we are on the same page, I explain that what they see cannot be exactly replicated. Flowers may not be available or may be subpar size/quality, colors may not be exactly the same shade, possibly due to different lighting in the photo (a photographers skill cannot be under emphasized here! My photos and a pros photos of the same bouquet don’t even compare!), and I am a different designer. Try as we might, copying a different designer is extremely difficult. Anyone that has freelanced will tell you that! We are all different and have a different eye. Similar, sure, but all of us are different. I reiterate their “design language” again, to be sure I understand what they want (I’d hate to be wrong!), and tell them that I can do that and it will be very similar to and inspired by what they love about the photos. Typically they know that I “get them” and understand and agree and we both walk away with a better understanding of one another. If they don’t, they probably wont hire me. I actually feel more comfortable with that, if they can’t trust me they certainly shouldn’t hire me! I think all you can do is educate the client and hope for the best. I try to be sure my clients get what they want, but in the end, trust your gut!
Chandin, Studio 3 Floral Design, Washington

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With this type of a bride, I have been able to use select phrases such as: one of a kind, originally yours and individual inspiration to help the bride select elements that will define her wedding. Asking for personal items or flowers of meaning have also helped. It definitely is a fine line and one that takes time in the consultation process.
Kris of KRISanthemums, Oregon

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Do you have a question you’d like to ask for a Q&A session? Email it to me at: info@flirtyfleurs.com

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Comments

  1. To be honest this doesn’t really happen so much with us anymore as we have developed quite a specific style over time although it has happened in the past when we were trying to please/appeal to everyone! We are always totally upfront with a bride in this situation and explain why we are uncomfortable replicating a design that did not originate with us. At it’s most basic, it’s plagiarism and we are totally not cool with that; morally it’s not right for us as a company, all our designs are our original work. The other thing I find is that we all feel a bit irked when a bride would come in and produce this picture and say ‘I know what I want, I want this exactly as it is in the photograph!’. Floristry is a creative skill and designing wedding flowers is an organic process. Copying someone else’s work means that you’re not getting the best out of your florist by allowing them to create their own design, you’re pretty much insulting them in a round about way! The end result will feel like a ‘dumbed-down’ version of the beloved photograph which no-one will really be happy with. Instead, we would ask them what appeals to them from the photograph, maybe it’s the colour palette? Or the flower varieties? Or the style? etc Then we would pick out the elements and use it in inspiration for the new design. Everybody was a happy bunny! The final nail in the coffin for copying the design would always be when we would say to the bride ‘you do realise that someone else, before you will have had exactly the same flowers on their big day?’ That would be a huge faux pas, that no bride here would want to commit. One upmanship in weddings is rife!! That’s why our style of floristry works so well for us. We don’t appeal to everyone and we’re cool with that but it does mean that our style is our style and no bride in the past few years has asked us to copy a design.

  2. naturegirl says:

    As has been mentioned, identically matching is impossible due to natural styling. However I’ve been in some form of floral arranging for nearly half a century and I see repeat designing all the time that people think is new but that’s not necessarily right. Flowers and supplies have boomed into a variety of choices now, that wasn’t the case when I started, and that helps create new things from artistic designers. As long as the internet’s photo availability stays as strong as it is, this problem will continue for all who have issues with it – and brides will be flooding in with pictures in hand because that’s how they figure out what they want. The idea of it being “all their’s” is overlooked for “what everyone should have, what’s in style.” It helps if we have pictures of our own designs, to maybe match up as closely to what they have a picture of and see if that’s ok. They just need a picture, really, to see.

    It’s also impossible to keep their special day’s pictures private as well. So your design may just end up on the internet and/or in someone elses’ shop with the same request. I dearly love the way Sharon of Muffy’s Flowers handled the situation. I think that’s probably the best and maybe the only way to handle it now a days, as long as you can locate the designer.

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