Into freakebana: The weird and proud floral trend you're about to see all over your Insta

The whaa? and why of this freestyle flower arranging style, with its champion, Stella Bugbee

The whaa? and why of this freestyle flower arranging style, with its champion, Stella Bugbee

(Photo: Yasmin Seneviratne, Styling: Yasmin Seneviratne and Brittany Toole)

Ferns gone wild?

A bouquet two weeks out with half its original blooms dead and gone, leaving behind the tough and sturdy to go it alone


Freakebana floral arrangements are nothing if not intentional, perhaps defiantly so. However free the sparse and unexpected assortments may be, stems are deliberately placed, as you'll see when you scroll the hashtag, sometimes secured by masking tape, sometimes by a supportive piece of fruit.

If you've already seen freakebana compositions glide up through your Instagram feed, it's likely because you follow Stella Bugbee, editor of New York Magazine's, The Cut, who coined the term in November 2017, or the freakebana account she founded, or someone who does. If it seems familiar, it could be because both its name and its nature are a spin on Ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of creating sparse floral arrangements that take up space, while taking into account negative space.

"Ikenobos see something between the flowers. In the space, sometimes (we) feel the wind and sometimes we see the rain" explains Mayumi Chino, a professor at the Ikenobo School in Kyoto, Japan.

In her piece for The Cut, introducing Freakebana, Stella herself describes the approach this way: "The turnt cousin of Ikebana, Freakebana is the art of arranging whatever-the-hell, in a way that nods at the traditional Japanese art form, but subs out years of study for a naive, new-wave naturalism...Good Freakebana mixes sparse, eccentric elements for maximum surprise. "

In a subsequent note around a high-fashion Freakebana shoot, she pointed out another key distinction:

"While a subset of Ikebana (the centuries-old Japanese art form) called "morimono" has long included the use of fruits and any part of the plant an artist likes, this new style deploys even more eccentric elements for maximum surprise. Pink carnations, cubes of Jell-O, an air plant, a single rhinestone earring, a tuft of steel wool — almost no object is too low, or high, to qualify."

If that's not quite why this all seems familiar, to you, maybe it's that you're a… "Freakenobo" too. Not to take away from the coining and surge in popularity from its trend-spotting and setting creator and the publications to write on this trend to date (and if it's onetwotrend, we're there). I do follow Stella and when she started to post and write about these special snowflakes, the first thing I did was send a couple to my mom with notes like "you used to do this!" She agreed, she used to cobble together an oddly shaped vegetable and some stray wild grasses in a vase; more accurately, I remember a weirdo plum that was really two plums in one connected by what looked to be their kissing lips, which she'd place in a wide pitcher or even a glass Pyrex 4-litre measuring cup, along with any dried flowers she'd kept for too long (in my mind) leaning lazily behind the lovers, spilling out and over the rim.

The second thing I did was share the image with my aesthetically able, design-enthusiast colleague, Brittany Toole.

I shoved my phone at her excitedly: "Look at this!" She had a clear and immediate reaction: "No." It was the image of the sweet potato that appeared in that first article in The Cut:

Via The Cut, captioned “Sweet potato by Laila Gohar, Photo: Stella Bugbee"

After my "have you seen this before, did your mom do this too?" – she had not and hers did not – she remains a little unsatisfied with the descriptions above. She is now a follower and a fan of freakebana (the sweet potato arrangement has not grown on her) yet the "but what is it" question still plagues her as she compares freakebana-tagged pics against Ikebana arrangements, arrangements she produces with CBC Life collaborator Lady Hayes and wild and wildly popular bouquets from other florists we love like The Wild Bunch and Hunt & Gather Floral.

I've been wondering if I can answer the question "why now?" Is it merely a progression of a wild trend, and even if it is, what's driving that? I know what I feel when I think about it, and even moreso, when I see a traditional perfect vase of peonies. That's not us right now. It makes sense to see freakebana embraced online and, I can imagine, eventually, in homes. It fits with the imperfection of and the wild ride that is life right now.

But who knows? Is this art reflecting life reflecting art, etcetera? Or did it just bloom? Is Brittany's unsettled feeling over the definition, maybe as someone who is trained to identify decor genres, more the point? And, who else to bother with our deep thoughts but Stella Bugbee herself, so I asked her to chime in.

YS: When I describe freakebana to friends or colleagues, I default to a description like "picture an arrangement with a floral plus something totally not organic like… a fork." Do you think that there's a formula for freakebana?

SB: No! No formula. I think it's about a playfulness and a willingness to embrace imperfections. It's ugly, awkward, freaky plants and combinations of plants or objects. It's also about making the most of whatever you have on hand. It's the opposite of abundance or skills. It's an appreciation for naive, spontaneous arrangements.

YS: Is this art reflecting life? A mirror of the severe imperfection of our experiences "these days" or some other response or correction?

SB: I think that people enjoy feeling like they can make something - it's a relief to realize you don't need to be an expert or have a million dollars to make something fun. Also, people love flowers!

YS: If freakebana is ikebana's turnt cousin, what might freakebana spawn?

SB: That's highly classified information and I'll tell you when I am sure you're ready.  [✌] 

I for one, love where the future of florals seems to be headed and am daring to dream that its evolution will be quick and even quirkier. Fingers crossed that the right elements, composed in just the right way, will be the alchemy that unlocks the sentience in your organism, stirs it to ruffle its leaves, turn its petals your way, and look you straight in the pistol.

Greetings. (Photo: Yasmin Seneviratne, Styling: Yasmin Seneviratne and Brittany Toole)

Yasmin Seneviratne is a producer at CBC Life and the creator of Le Sauce Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @yasminseneviratne for things that make her happy and on Twitter @yasminATlesauce for things that make her real mad.

Brittany Toole is a researcher at CBC Life and a Toronto-based digital producer. Follow her at @BLToole.