A Los Angeles-based botanical artist is turning blooms into living works of art.

Haus of Stems iridescent glowing flower bouquet
Kristen Alpaugh

A few years ago, Katy Perry reached out to Los Angeles botanical artist Kristen Alpaugh on her FLWR PSTL Instagram to say that she was interested in purchasing a unique flower arrangement. So, Alpaugh did what any self-respecting businesswoman would do when a huge star sends an inquiry: “I literally started Googling what she likes,” Alpaugh says. “Like, ‘What flowers does she love? What does she hate?’ And I realized that she was obsessed with iridescence.’”

Around the same time, Alpaugh had been gifted an abalone shell. She soon connected the dots that Anthurium—a plant from the Andes Mountain range in South America with stiff, shell-like leaves that we think of as flowers—could act as a canvas.

She created an arrangement for Perry out of an early version, then became obsessed with perfecting her idea. “My apartment became a laboratory,” Alpaugh says, comparing herself to a mad scientist. “I tried to create an iridescent stem but kept failing for weeks.” 

More Videos From Sunset

Finally, one night she couldn’t sleep, so she got out of bed, went back to work, and at 3 a.m., her trademarked painted flowers—irithurium—were born. As a result, Perry loved them so much she literally wore an irithurium gown and headpiece in her 2020 “Never Worn White” video.

Katy Perry with Haus of Stems iridescent glowing flowers

Rony Alwin

Since then, Alpaugh has become a celebrity florist with the likes of Lady Gaga, singer-songwriter SZA, and rapper-singer Doja Cat as clients. (Check out the irithurium bikini SZA wears in Doja Cat’s 2021 “Kiss Me More” video—it’s not to be missed.)

So, how are irithurium made, exactly? Alpaugh isn’t saying what her process is, and has applied for a patent—a very mad scientist move.  

“I worked really hard on this and it’s something that people are constantly trying to replicate,” she says almost apologetically. “I can just tell you that they are individually hand-painted. Every single stem is different. They are waterproof. They won’t bleed. They don’t smudge.”

Haus of Stems iridescent glowing flowers

Kristen Alpaugh

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Haus of Stems bouquet, and I can attest that irithurium are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. One devilish stem known as “Wicked” glowed on my dining room table in seemingly impossible tones of bronze, brown, and maroon. “Infrared” was positively aflame, and “Emerald City” would have Dorothy clicking her heels in delight.

And while one might be turned off by the idea of painted flowers, Alpaugh isn’t apologizing, nor should she. As she said on HBO Max’s Full Bloom (she was a contestant in season one), she’s an artist.

She’s also part of a delicious dichotomy that’s currently taking place in floral design: On the one hand, we have flower farmers like Washington’s Floret Farms, who harken back to simpler times and celebrate flowers like dahlias. On the other hand, there’s a generation of florists like Alpaugh who are less of the farm, and more of the city. The technicolor arrangements of Full Bloom judge Maurice Harris (Blume & Plume) spring to mind, as do the activist petal prints by Los Angeles floral designer Whit McClure of Whit Hazen.

For those who want to see irithurium for themselves, that’s easily arranged. They can be ordered from Alpaugh’s Haus of Stems in time for Christmas if you order by Dec. 14; or for New Year’s Eve if you order by Dec. 20.

After the new year, Alpaugh says that she has another trick up her sleeve—something to do with photographic prints—but she isn’t saying what the images are, yet. “I never thought I’d have a secret to keep, but um … ” the floral artist says with a well-intentioned shrug. Apparently now she has two, and I can’t wait to hear more.

Haus of Stems florist Kristen Alpaugh

David Katzinger


Read the Current Issue

Get one year of Sunset—and all kinds of bonuses—for just $24.95. Subscribe now!