In LA, where movie stars are akin to royalty and pretty much everyone lives in a palace, Eric Buterbaugh reigns as the flower king. Known for his sophisticated eye and grand arrangements, the star floral designer has held court from his studio at the Four Seasons Hotel for nearly two decades. And when Madonna is throwing an Oscars after party or Demi Moore is hosting a dinner, Buterbaugh is their first call (I presume; if not first, he's at least very high up on the list). Same goes for the fashion houses. From Louis Vuitton to Dior to Tom Ford, there’s not a runway show or store grand opening that Buterbaugh hasn’t had a hand in.
As a kid growing up in small-town Oklahoma, Buterbaugh says he spent his allowance on fashion magazines, clothes, and fragrances. “I would buy men’s cologne or women’s perfume,” he recalls. “As long as it smelled good, I didn’t care.” Eventually, he made an escape to Dallas where he started working for Gianni Versace. That job took him to LA and then London, where he was responsible for dressing celebrities, buying the collections, and merchandising the stores. Eventually, he parted ways with fashion and moved back to LA. He fell into flowers by accident, making a few arrangements for a friend’s party for fun. After the event, people were calling and asking for her florist’s name. “She was an English girl with a wicked sense of humor,” he says. “So she gave out my info, and I started getting all these calls to do flowers. It’s been 17 years.”
For the guy who spends his days in a jungle of peonies and roses, fragrance felt like a logical step. “Since flowers are grown in hot houses now, the scent is basically bred out of them,” he says. “I wanted to bring that rich, natural aroma back.” A chance meeting with former Lancôme exec Fabrice Croise (now his business partner) sealed the deal. The duo turned to famed perfumery Firmenich (the creators behind iconic scents like Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue and Flower by Kenzo) to develop their fragrances. They gave the “noses” a list of Buterbaugh’s 15 favorite flowers and free reign to develop higher-than-high quality perfumes inspired by them. “Some of the big brands will do three or four hundred modifications to a scent,” explains Buterbaugh. “So the essence of what the master perfumer creates is lost. We promised not to do that, and we haven’t.”
The result is a collection of seven (and three more on the way) deeply complex and layered floral fragrances. Made from essences sourced from the far reaches of the globe, you can look at these scents as Buterbaugh’s love letter to the floral world. There’s the refreshingly clean and bright Apollo Hyacinth (the one Buterbaugh himself can’t stop wearing…this week) that smells like a crisp spring day after the rain and the sweetly feminine Virgin Lily of the Valley that just begs to be worn with a pretty sundress as accessory. To Buterbaugh, they’re the most essential of scents—each one with a unique story to him.
Of course, with superior ingredients comes that luxury price tag. A 250 milliliter bottle will set you back a cool $500, while the smaller 100 milliliter option sells for $300. All of which is a solid explanation for why the larger bottle looks more museum piece than fragrance bottle (it was inspired by crystal liquor decanters). “We really wanted the whole experience of the product to be total opulent luxury but in a modern way,” Buterbaugh says. Job certainly accomplished.
The scents, which just launched on his website, have already found fans among Buterbaugh’s inner circle. “We have been giving out mini bottles for our friends to test and have been getting amazing feedback,” he says. “I get calls every day that my friends are stopped on the street by people wondering about their fragrance, so that’s really validating.” Of course, it helps when your friend/fan is Demi Moore (she’s got a thing for Celestial Jasmine), Naomi Campbell, and Gia Coppola.
As for me, I’ve fallen hard for a tiny sample bottle of Regal Tuberose that Buterbaugh generously gifted to me. It’s sensual and girly with just the right amount of peppery spice to cut the rich floral notes. I spray it sparingly on special days, drinking in the heady aroma. And when I run out, it’s cool— I figure I can probably sell a kidney in exchange for the full-size bottle. At what price beauty, right?
Eric Buterbaugh photographed by Tom Newton. Ever wonder about the lifespan of a fragrance's top notes?