We’re so lucky to be partnering with Leatal Cohen, founder of Pics and Petals, for our Nolita popup this month—not only did she grace our space with her gorgeous floral designs, but she’ll be popping up herself at the shop in person May 18-19th! We caught up with her to learn about her process, her path to a creative life, and why she values community over competition.
Interview with Leatal Cohen
Leatal is a double-threat (as her businesses’ name suggests), working both as a photographer and a floral designer. But her path to these passions was extremely organic—perhaps fitting, considering her love of flowers. “I actually started [my career] as a full time pediatric occupational therapist,” she tells us.
“Anything creative—especially florals and event design—was something I did for family and friends or for fun.”
In fact, Pics and Petals actually started as a hobby: “[When] I got married I realized that my husband’s late nights home from work—he’s a lawyer—could be looked at as a positive. I now had the time to learn everything there is to know about photography and floral design.”
While the two sides of Leatal’s business are definitely different, she says they often overlap and inform one another. “The business really started with photography. My husband gifted me a camera for my birthday two years ago after seeing how much I loved taking pictures on my phone, especially when we traveled. I started out taking portraits of my nieces and nephews,” she says, but soon turned her lens toward a different type of subject. “When I’m designing, I always look at the finished product from the visual eye of a photographer which takes into account balance and composition, color, symmetry, lines, etc.” And this perspective has given her a bit of a “hack” for knowing when a design is truly finished:
“Photography is like the ‘spell check’ to my floral design!” she says. “When I’m done, I always take a photo on my camera. It’s only when I look at the photo on my screen that I realize something is missing or needs to be added.”
As disparate as it may seem from her current pursuits, even her past life as an occupational therapist informs her work. “Since I’m an OT, I always think about how both photography and flowers spark the creative side of the brain, which is the right side. I’ve always been better at that than left-brain skills…
“I never think about things in advance, and just ‘go with the flow’, which I think perfectly sums up how my business got started!”
This characteristic may also be responsible for the wonderfully organic quality of her arrangements, which always look uniquely free-form.
Living in New York, Leatal has no shortage of inspiration for her work. “I love roaming the streets of downtown NYC with my camera in hand, she tells us. “The colorful facades and graffiti-lined streets of the city provide me with so much inspiration both for photography and florals. I literally have a list of cross-streets for photoshoot locations and prettiest spots to take portraits of my arrangements!” The city also keeps her well-stocked with gorgeous and exotic flowers.
“I keep discovering more and more unique flowers at the market every season. Ranunculus have always been a favorite, as well as anemones—hands down, anemones always transform my arrangements.”
She also gravitates toward unusual textural elements, including “anything grassy and fuzzy like pampas or bunny tail,” which make an appearance in the designs she crafted for the Kayu popup: “I tried mixing my own style with the aesthetic of Kayu’s brand, including lots of different types of greens and branches, dried and fuzzy flowers like pampas grass and bunny tail, and my favorite flower, ranunculus.” Using dried flowers is a new tactic for Leatal, but one that delivers great results. “Dyed and dried flowers are definitely having their moment as they are so unique to the eye and last forever—a great combination for an arrangement!” she notes.
Now pursuing Pics and Petals full-time, Leatal has discovered the value of creating a community of like-minded female entrepreneurs. “[A] piece of advice that I always practiced myself is: community over competition. I’ve experienced interactions with floral designers that seem protective over their work, and I’ve found the nicest floral designers who have their own businesses and are so happy to connect,” she tells us about navigating both sides of the equation. “There will always come a time where you need something or someone to help you for an event and the more creative people you connect with, the larger your network will be to support you during these times of need,” she emphasizes.
“There are NO negative consequences to connecting with other creatives, and SO many things to lose when you go at it alone.”
Kayu PopUp Shop In Nolita
171 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
May 9th to June 1st