IN FULL BLOOM
What does it take to carry an elephant on your head? A celebration of flower power and a lot guts, according to Sandy Wessel. Sandy was one of six “mannequins” sporting elaborate headdresses at the traditional Las Floristas Ball in Bev Hills. The Beverly Hilton was in full bloom as hundreds of petal-pushers stopped to smell the roses and strut their stuff.
Guests got into the spirit too, with garlands, ribbons, exotic flowers, palm trees and even plastic pink flamingos in their hair. Realizing I was one of the few unadorned attendees, I was tempted to dash out to the hotel motor court, grab some bougainvillea and create my own makeshift crown. But my worries soon vanished as I disappeared amid a throng of festive revelers who resembled walking parade floats and could put Cher to shame.
This year’s black-tie gala had a tropical theme and was called “A Ticket to Paradise.” As servers made the rounds with sushi, stuffed mushrooms and champagne, a few of us got a peek at the eye-popping attractions to come. Some of the mega-bloom masterpieces were six-feet-wide and 12-feet-tall. Many weighted more than 30 pounds, and each one took several months to make.
Sandy’s glorious get-up was among the most ambitious. Called “One Night in Bangkok,” it was loaded with 10 different kinds of orchids, anthurium, lilies, lotus leaves, an elephant and an ornate pagoda. “350 hours went into this piece,” Sandy explained. “It’s a very time consuming process. They start out with a floral spray to preserve the leaves. Then they add all the glitter and do the seed work. The fresh flowers go on last.”
As a former president of the organization and a mannequin for the past 15 years, Sandy has the drill down pat. Wearing a show-stopping hot pink taffeta gown, striking red and gold eye makeup and her hair slicked back in a neat chignon, she described her Las Floristas day as all consuming. “It’s kind of like the Oscars,” she explained. “You get up at 8 a.m., then get into makeup, dress and get ready for the show. The brace makes it easier, but the key is to just relax and enjoy it.”
“One Night in Bangkok” was designed by posy pro Modesto Busto. Other entries were equally alluring with names like “A Little Taste of Heaven,” “Tranquility,” “Paradise Forever,” “Bonne Vivante” and “Winter in Paradise.” Sandy’s spectacular pagoda snagged the Las Floristas trophy, while the high flying “Birds of Paradise” took home the President’s award and “Bonne Vivante” scored the Sweepstakes trophy.
The roots of this fragrant affair go back to the 1930s, when the ladies of Los Angeles society gathered in garden clubs. “It all started from there,” Sandy explained. “They decided to do a charity with flowers and every year it just got bigger and bigger.”
Proceeds from the far-out floral fling help perform miracles at the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. With $300,000 raised for kids with special needs, you couldn’t have had a better excuse to go out and have a blooming good time!