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Constance Spry in America

Constance Spry’s American clients in London had in frequently praised the flower decorator’s skills to their visiting friends. High society events such as Nancy Beaton and Sir Hugh Smiley’s wedding in January 1933 and the marriage of Wallis Simpson to the Duke of Windsor in June 1937 had helped spread Spry’s fame to the US.

In 1937 Spry was invited to New York to give two lectures for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Spry intrigued the audiences with her images of arrangements that mixed humble blackberries with delicate roses and her original style of combining cultivated flowers and plants with items foraged from hedgerows. She travelled across the eastern and southern states giving lectures, radio interviews and attending social events.  She made notes on whatever she saw growing that was new to her and piqued her interest. She also visited Christmas fairs and markets gathering ideas for her Christmas arrangements.

Once more in New York, preparing to depart for England she met with society hostesses Josephine Forrestal and Mrs Ogden Mills who persuaded Spry to assist them in setting up a shop in the city. They would provide the capital and Spry would send some of her London staff to train a team in New York to run the shop. The following year a shop was acquired on 52 East and 54th Street and architect Harold Sterner was commissioned to design and decorate it.

Constance Spry Inc. shop at 52 East 54th Street, New York, USA. Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

Pieces from Syrie Maugham’s New York shop were selected to accompany the all-white interior. Spry returned to America to oversee the shops opening in 1938. She had brought with her some of the Fulham Pottery vase molds and a manufacturer was found in Brooklyn to produce a range for the US store. Constance Spry Inc. opened with a sophisticated cocktail party on 4th November.

Always one to make connections and share her interest in plants with others she corresponded with the distinguished rosarian Robert Pyle of Star Rose Growers who put her in contact with other rose enthusiasts and nurserymen in France.

Spry's US travel itinerary, 1939

Spry toured the US again in 1939, her schedule was punishing comprising of 28 stopovers in different cities between 29th January and 1st March. Despite the depression the store itself initially flourished with society hostesses regularly ordering flowers for their homes.

The store also received high profile commissions such as an order of flowers from the Museum of Modern Art for their landmark exhibition ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’, 1941 which saw Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s experimental furniture added to the museum’s collection and showcased to public.

With no end to the war in Europe in sight Spry was unable to return to America, the shop languished without her guidance and was eventually sold.