Where Fern Meets Fashion: The Secret-Garden Installations of Satoshi Kawamoto

Sometimes you don’t realize how starved a space is for plants until you throw one into the mix. (Where have you been all my life? said the bookshelf to the pothos vine.) Do that, and the next thing you know, you’re installing a whole avalanche of air plants crawling down the wall.

Satoshi Kawamoto takes this impulse to new heights. The Tokyo/New York-based plant artist and creative director turns indoor areas into leafy secret gardens, installations bursting with flora in surprising places.

From Gant Rugger’s F/W 2014 presentation. For the occasion Satoshi created an installation mobbed with plants that included aloe, ivy, euphorbias (like sticks on fire) and ferns (like bird’s nest). Photo courtesy of Green Fingers.

And often in fashion-related places: For Gant Rugger’s Fall/Winter 2014 presentation, models in herringbone wool coats smoldered among ferns, aloes and pencil trees; recently in LA, he charmed the shelves of Union menswear with moss, lichen, tillandsia and protea. For Filson’s first East Coast shop, Satoshi (aka Satie) brought in rubber fig, Spanish moss and yucca to energize the clubby, satchel-filled interior.

For Cos stores (H&M’s minimalist older sister in the midst of a global expansion), Satie created a limited-edition printed piece studying the spiked and curved infrastructure of tillandsias. This was to celebrate the recent openings of Cos’s NY and LA stores.

Satie’s print piece for Cos stores.

Satoshi Kawamoto of Green Fingers

Satie’s book! Do your house a favor and pick up a copy.

His aesthetic is soulful, generous and unfussy. Satoshi’s book, Deco Room with Plants, offers notes on incorporating plants into your space — from your shoe closet to your workspace to your far-too-naked walls. He is also the founder of the Green Fingers brand, which has six shops in Japan and one in NY’s East Village.

We recently spent a very special afternoon inside the latter, which combines a Victorian hort curiosity with the modern sense of plants as comfort and expression. There were cut plants for sale, yes, but also botanical works of art like “bouquets” housed in glass jars that have been hand-etched from the inside to create the illusion of frost, the only thing I want this Valentine’s Day. (Chalkboard game was also strong.) It’s here that dried plants, their colors naturally transformed into otherworldly extremes, actually feel…fresh.

Satoshi Kawamoto of Green Fingers

We recently stopped by the Green Fingers shop in the East Village, the only location outside Japan. Store photos by Ryan Benoit.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Visual excitements included this cascade of watering cans stocked with dried plants like carnivorous sarracenia pitchers.

From Satoshi’s installation at Front General Store in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Non-East Village photos courtesy of Green Fingers.

Satoshi’s Instagram account (@satie_san) adds even more fodder for the brain. Follow him for peeks into his installations, shelve-spiration, plant close-ups, stylish vibes and soaring shots of Tokyo. By email, we recently chatted with Satoshi himself, who fills us in on the pursuit of originality, the emotional power of plants, and his artistic process…

You grew up in Tokyo. Is that where you first started working with plants?

I grew up close to nature and I was always interested in plants as a kid. When I was in high school, I stumbled upon a pencil cactus that was dying and brought it home. I was fascinated by how I was able to revive it, and that really got me into plants. That is how I came to want to do something that incorporates plants into space/interior design. Professionally, the first job happened when I was 23. I launched a garden section for an antique shop [in Tokyo].

Satoshi Kawamoto of Green Fingers

Satoshi Kawamoto, founder of Green Fingers, holds up a titanic tillandsia.

How would your describe your aesthetic? What is your creative process like?

In terms of aesthetic, I tried not to bind myself to a specific style such as country, modern or oriental. But I do want people recognize my work and I want to reach a point where they would see something and know, “It is Satoshi’s work.”

I just don’t like to do what other people do and originality is something that I pursue vehemently.

The process usually starts with looking at the space and then I follow my instincts freely. In some cases, I draw sketches.

What are your favorite plants to work with?

It is hard to say, but I do tend to be drawn to succulents, and strange-shaped cactus. I like the distinctive-looking ones and I often recommend air plants.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Visitors to the NYC store are greeted by this charming array of succulents.

What have been some memorable plant installations you’ve created? How did people react to them?

Since I have done so many, it is hard to pick. Among my recent work, the installation I did for Filson’s New York store is quite memorable. One thing I get a lot of feedback and reactions [about] is my books. My first book, Deco Room with Plants was being translated into Chinese, English, Italian, Korean, and comments from other cultures are a great encouragement for me.

Do you think more people are getting interested in plants today?

I do. I get more inquires from interior shops and boutiques, etc. I think plants [are] increasingly rooted in people’s daily life, something more than just objects that make them feel relaxed.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

What feelings do plants give to people?

They are healing, relaxing and refreshing. But there are kinds that inspire people like objects and pieces of art. I often tell people to pick plants like they pick interior accessories or clothes.

Plants can make you feel revived as well. They are multifaceted, and I hope to help people understand that.

What are some installations you’re working on now?

In Tokyo, I am working on an installation titled “Hidden Garden / Satoshi Kawamoto” in Shin Maru Building.

On Alchemy Works, I collaborated with Apolis on market bags that led to the holiday installation at Alchemy Works.

On Union, I knew somebody who worked there, which led one of the people at Union to come to my shop in Tokyo. He liked what he saw and we started talking about a possible collaboration.

I like that projects come out of my own space in Tokyo or people’s relationships.  I am learning how chemistry happens amongst people and love that it leads to more power and wonderful projects.

A recent window display Satoshi created for Foremost vintage clothing store in Toyamo, Japan.

How would you describe the difference between the flower markets in Tokyo versus NYC?

It is not easy. New York has less kinds of plants and the prices tend to be high. So I still struggle to find plants. It has been only two years since I started to visit New York, but I know there is a lot more to learn.

— TH

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Houseplants that tickle the scalp are our favorite kind of houseplant.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

These chic, exuberant bouquets are making us rethink everything we used to think about dried flowers. In Satoshi’s hands the plant’s essence is heightened, rather than bleached away.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

At top, Satoshi’s signature jar bouquets. The ‘frosted’ effect is etched by hand.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

A tillandsia/jar installation.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Dried fern fronds and hydrangea bunches create an antiqued, romantic effect.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Even the merch is framed by leaves real and faux.

Satoshi Kawamoto of Green Fingers

Bell jars and glass cloches enclose colorful, moody terrariums.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.

Green Fingers, New York in the East Village.