Call Them Fakes If You Must, but Diane Love's Fantasy Flowers Are Raking in the Greenery
At 39, Love is one of the reigning creators of objets for the affluent, with boutiques bearing her name in stores from Bloomingdale's to Bullocks. Everywhere the Love-designed porcelains, baskets, jewelry and handbags sell smartly. But at the root of the $5 million a year business are Love's fabric flowers. When clients such as Candice Bergen, Barbara Walters, Dustin Hoffman, Gloria Vanderbilt, Lillian Hellman and the King of Morocco stop by, like bees to a garden, they first buzz in to see her floral sets—six-toned parrot tulips made from silk, maroon irises of rayon or periwinkle bluebells of cotton. Often mingled with artificial strands of grass or speckled leaves, Love's fabrications are stunning but not true to life.
Purposely. "I am not interested in botanical replication," Diane insists. "I'm creating colored sculpture. Many of the flowers I make don't exist in nature—they just have the sensibilities of flowers." Prices, happily, are also believable, ranging from $2.50 to $15 a blossom, with a large arrangement costing $300. Last month a Love line of Mikasa giftware, including lacquered boxes, stoneware and bronzes, went into department stores around the country. One typical item: a glass bud vase, complete with three of Love's flowers, for a modest $29.50.
Born Diane (pronounced Dee-Ann) Stewart to wealthy parents (her father was an investment broker), she grew up changing decors as frequently as continents. As the family moved from New York to Florida to Europe, Diane was always helping her mother redecorate. When she visited friends' homes, she recalls, "I used to rearrange the dolls on their shelves and put spotlights on them."
Equipped with an art history degree from Barnard in 1961, she settled down in homes in Manhattan and Westchester with her first husband, children's wear manufacturer Stanley Love, and raised two children, now 15 and 18. "I had no guilt about being a nonworking mother," she says. "I think it's all very worthwhile." But as the kids grew so did her longing to keep busy. She tried fashion PR, newspaper-column writing and real estate, all of which seemed blah. But when she and Stanley bought a new Manhattan apartment, and Diane began decorating it, friends kept asking her advice. "Suddenly," she says, "I realized I was giving away a very valuable thing." So she opened a tiny shop on East 62nd Street.
Filling the shop with antique goodies acquired from a shopping spree to England, Diane tried to spruce up the place with fresh flowers, but the cost was ridiculous. When she arranged some artificial ones, she says, "Lo and behold, people wanted to buy them." Thus heartened, she jetted to Paris to find the best flower makers and lugged home huge loads of ersatz blossoms, which she began selling to department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. Jewelry came next, then handbags, shell baskets and "anything else I wanted to work with."
These days Love splits her time between her Madison Avenue shop and the Long Island home she shares with second husband (since last year) George Friedman, president of a perfume company. There she designs her flowers (most are still made by the same Paris workmen), but hopes to extend her imprint even further. "One day," she says, "I'd love to redesign the milk carton." Explains Diane: "So I'd know there was something beautiful in everybody's home."