OGDEN — On Monday, Ogden native Jeff Leatham will receive a rare title for an American and a floral designer as he is knighted at Palace of Versailles in France.
Reached in Arizona Thursday, the 43-year-old Leatham said he’s promoting his third book, “Visionary Floral Arts and Design,” and also recently relocated his office from New York City to Los Angeles.
But he spoke with pride about his father Larry Leatham, mother Janet Leatham, sister Jennifer Roush and niece Sade Roush, who will be in attendance Monday as he receives the Order of the Arts & Letters award for his groundbreaking floral designs.
“My father was principal of Ogden High School for years and years, also Utah’s teacher of the year,” Leatham said, adding that his mother taught at South Ogden Junior High.
“I came from an education background — I ran away from all that,” Leatham said.
Speaking by phone from Paris Friday, Janet Leatham said that they knew early on that their son Jeff had a creative bent and preferred to think outside the box.
“When he was a senior in high school, he was a class officer and asked if he could design the whole senior cotillion himself,“ Janet Leatham said. ”It was absolutely phenomenal, with 40 different black and white silhouettes of movie stars around the gym that he had drawn.“
And if he was taking a date, he went to the florist and asked to assemble the corsage himself, she said.
”He was very unique, knew exactly what he wanted and went for it,“ Janet Leatham said.
Jeff Leatham said he enjoyed the social aspects of school, growing up in Washington Terrace, attending Bonneville High School and squeezing in one year at Weber State University before destiny called.
“I had a great job working in upper management at the Gap, and moved to L.A. to open stores for them,” Leatham said.
One thing led to another, and he found himself modeling in Europe. After a couple of years, Leatham said he returned to LA and got a weekend job at the flower shop of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
As part of the job interview, Larry Leatham said that his son was asked to create a floral arrangement on the spot, adding that the woman who hired him said the result was something no one else had done.
From there, his new career bloomed.
“By the end of the year, he was head designer,” Larry Leatham said.
“It was a fluke for me, working with flowers,” Jeff Leatham said. Having never gone to florist school, he pushed the envelope because no one had ever taught him the dos and don’ts of design. And his natural talent launched him into a world of celebrities where he feels quite at home.
As the artistic director for the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, his team’s striking arrangements catch the eyes of the well-traveled and well-heeled. And many ask about the artist behind the bouquets.
That notoriety put him in charge of wedding flowers for Chelsea Clinton and Tina Turner. He also has become good friends with Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford.
“I’ve worked with a lot of celebrities,” Leatham said. “To me, it goes back to all artists having a connection with each other.”
Monday, Leatham will receive the Chevalier Legion of Honour award and will join a small circle of Americans who have come away with the same honor — according to frenchculture.org/about/awards-and-events, that list includes Paul Auster, Ornette Coleman, Agnes Gund, Marilyn Horne, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Meier, Robert Paxton, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Uma Thurman.
“My designs revolutionize the way people think about flowers,” Leatham said. “I do them in a clean and chic way that highlights the beauty of the flower.”
While he travels the world frequently, Leatham still credits his hometown for making him the man he is today: “I was always surrounded by such beauty there.”
And speaking from a sidewalk cafe in Paris, his parents said they could not be prouder.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience for all of us,” Janet Leatham said.
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.