What happens when the rambling, lush and rosy aesthetic of an English garden meets the rigor, elegance and attention of Japanese ikebana? Well, for one, you get the singular, refined beauty that defines Studio Mondine—the San Francisco-based floral studio of friends and creative collaborators, Amanda Luu and Ivanka Matsuba. Their sensitive, wild and naturalistic approach to florals has made them a go-to favorite for worldwide events and editorials of all kinds, from weddings to installations to workshops and more. We caught up with Amanda for a deeper peek inside the magic (and serious intentionality) that fuels the seemingly endless artistry behind Studio Mondine—and what gave them the confidence to strike out on their own in the first place.
Photography: Sandy Lee
How did you both become interested in florals? And what led you to working together and making a shared career out of this?
Ivanka and I both met on the freelance circuit in San Francisco -- we kept running into each other, weekend after weekend, at different floral design studios. We had a lot in common -- quiet, serious, and focused on making arrangements. I think it took a few weeks before we warmed up to one another. Once we got talking, we realized there was more that we shared: a love of food, travel and minimalism. Our first editorial was a modern, Japanese-inspired wedding story with a kokedama string garden serving as the backdrop, and ikebana-inspired arrangements sprinkled throughout the space.
Photography: Maria Lamb
How would you define your combined Studio Mondine aesthetic?
Our work really is a negotiation between the wild, overgrown English garden with the intentional, precise Japanese ikebana. We prefer working in nuanced, naturalistic palettes and highlighting seasonal flora. Nothing is off-limits in our work; you'll often see foraged weeds mingling with delicate garden roses in the same arrangement.
Photography: Studio Mondine
Can you tell us about how you came up with the name for your studio?
We encountered the story of the Mondine -- a class of women who cultivated rice in Northern Italy in the late nineteenth century. Mothers and daughters would leave their homes in the summer months to perform the back-breaking work of picking weeds in the transformation of these rice fields. They were known for their fierce determination, their triumphant spirit and their song. We sought inspiration from these strong women in defining our studio's ethos.
Photography: M. K. Sadler
What are some of your favorite places to look for floral design inspiration?
Our surroundings -- whether that be a lush, overgrown meadow in the Alps, or an arid desert in the Mojave, or a crowded cityscape in Hong Kong -- we always return to our environment to inspire our work. Ivanka and I tend to focus on a particular feeling or mood that arises from the environment, and that helps to inform the palette, ingredient selection and movement within the arrangement.
Photography: Studio Mondine
Do you have any advice for budding floral designers—or other creative individuals who are similarly looking to turn a passion into a calling?
Cheri Huber, author of my often-referenced Zen primer, "That Which You are Seeking is Causing you to Seek" writes:
It is far better to do something wrong than to live one's life in fear of doing something wrong.
There is no such thing as a mistake. "Mistake" is an idea we use to torture ourselves.
When we pay attention, everything enlightens us.
My singular piece of advice to budding creatives is simply: Go ahead, risk it.