In a yoga studio, concealed on the 39th floor of a bank building, a woman, wrapped in a sarong, sits crosslegged on the floor against a glass window framing the illustrious view of a golden sun sinking behind the skyscrapers of Singapore’s CBD area.
“My name is Katie Hess. I’m a flower alchemist,” she gently announces to the room. The studio is the hosting chamber for one of Hess’s travelling Flowerlounge sessions. Outlining the studio’s borders are petals of roses and orchids, neatly scattered to form symmetrical curves. As its name suggests, a Flowerlounge session is a ticketed gathering with a flower-charged programme, of which, as the event site declares, is “a powerful distillation of good vibes.”
Sweeping her gaze across the space, Hess continues her introduction, “I’m a woman who is just really interested in helping people bloom into their full potential using the help of flowers and Mother Nature.” The 30 participants sit in groups of six, each encircling a mound of Monstera leaves that bolstered two bottles of “aura mist”. One is labelled with “Boundless Wisdom”, the other, “Infinite Love”.
For the next two hours, they are to be sprayed liberally onto the face, or on top of the head as participants meditate and take turn to answer soul-searching questions like, “What would you like to be remembered for 100 years from now?” Later on, small vials of “flower elixir”, housing clear, scentless liquid, are passed around. Drops of them are to be dripped into cups of organic juice for the participants to drink. These are some of the goods Hess introduce under Lotuswei, her brand of flower elixir-based products.
Katie Hess is a self-dubbed flower alchemist and the founder of Lotuswei, a brand of flower elixir-infused products.
For almost twenty years, the Phoenix-based Chicago native has been travelling the world in search of special flowers. As a flower alchemist, the basis of her work is the “lifeforce” or “chi” of blossoming flowers. “An alchemist in the past would take, for example, metal and turn it into gold. In that sense, a flower alchemist is someone who helps us all look at the materials we have inside, and take the ‘scrap metal’ and turn them into gold with the help of flowers,” says Hess. According to her, flowers from different parts of the earth possess different types of energy. “Some flowers make us sleep, some make us laugh, some heal old wounds,” she explains. “Any possible problem you could dream of, there is a flower for it.”
Hess likens it to taking a breezy walk in the jungle or the woods. “You walk out feeling super fresh, a lot calmer, but it’s about more than just the oxygen. There’s something that the plants are doing for us,” she says. “It creates an energetic landscape in our system that is equivalent to us having spent a day in nature. It clears out all the toxins of modern life and helps you be at your best.”
Hess collects her elixirs by soaking a flower that is at its full-bloom apex under a full moon. The water that the flower is dipped in acts as the recorder of its lifeforce; accruing its supposed force into Hess’s library of flowers elixirs at her Lotuswei headquarters in Phoenix. Currently, she has about 200 in her archives.
At one of Hess’s Flowerlounge sessions in Singapore.
Centuries ago, when quackery abounded, jars of creamy substance, formulated by Medieval pharmacists, pledged not only youthful beauty for the visage but the soul, too. And anyone, with the dexterity of trickery, could be an alchemist. Throughout the 14th to 16th century, doctors would instruct patients to seek specific flowers in the wild and drink dew drops from their petals to heal what they regarded as mental and spiritual ailments. It was only in the ’30s that Dr. Edward Bach, an English medical doctor and homoeopath, introduced remedies using small amounts of natural substances like plants and mineral. Not targetting physical symptoms, Dr. Bach believed his formulations work on the emotions instead, which would then translate to physical improvements.
In the evolution of the second New Age wave, a collective fixation for the metaphysical is once again ushered in. While the movement’s antecedent was fired off by religious beliefs, today’s modern resurgence slants toward the pursuit of a lifestyle steeped in holistic wellness. Numerous wellness-infused spiritual practices have gushed into a generic space in the cultural mainstream.
Lotuswei’s aura mists.
If I glance down from my computer screen, its rectangular stand, once uncluttered, nowcasts speckled shadows: Its surface is littered with smooth rocks in a motley of colours, textures and translucency. These pebble-sized crystals are parting gifts from an “aura reader” who took a physical picture of my aura. She parsed the underlying meaning behind the resulting spectrum of hues that bled into each other, and bestowed rocks that claim to rebalance the chakras. In my half-belief, I would habitually realign them into a neat line and, as a colleague who habitually delves into the intricacy of metaphysical practices suggested, rinse them under running water every other week to have them “cleansed”. Then again, the pretty stones are, purportedly, tools to ease in a better state of being.
The selection of products that end up flanking my bathroom cabinet like the balustrades of a palace somewhat follow the same psyche. Perching next to a glass bottle of herbal facial mist, made with various raw, organic ingredients and essential oils, is a tub of sea salt body scrub, which, according to its label, “helps enliven the spirit”. Precariously flanking my sink’s outer edges is a flank of vegan skincare products — made from petals of jasmine to extracts of blue tansy — meant to purge my skin of noxious toxins amassed by the blue light emitted by electronic and digital devices I use daily. I like to think that I have a low tolerance for charlatans of the mind, but when it comes to creams I slather on my limbs and pat on my cheeks, I’m as impressionable as a passive, pseudoscience-prone young damsel in a Barbara Cartland novella.
If this sudden rage on half-mystic, half-folksy enlightened wellness products seem newfangled, their purported mission is not. Together, they hark a return to ancient-world ideas of tapping into the intangible sphere of nature. And the infatuation towards the pure architecture of flowers is one that is as old as mankind itself. As the earth blisters and withers, our obsession with organic food and locally grown produce has unequivocally risen. And for clear reason, our romanticisation of nature feels urgent in the face of environmental threats posed by humanity-driven climate change.
Hess masterminded Flowerevolution, a 54-card oracle deck that purportedly reflects its user’s current state of mind.
At Flowerlounge, participants giddily open up to each other; strangers, fuelled by flower elixirs, telling each other their innermost thoughts. At the end of the two-hour programme, Hess and the participants stand in a large circle. Each person is given a chance to utter a word that represents what they are feeling at the moment. (“Grateful.” “Honesty.” “Peace.”). One, who flew in from a neighbouring country to attend the session, tearingly admits how life-changing the session was for her.
A week after, on a Thursday, I meet Hess again. At 1880, a polished private members’ club, Hess greets me in her sarong, barefooted. She leads me to a spacious, dark room and lays out a stack of colourful cards. She asks me to go through the oracle deck — the cards feature vivid images of bright flowers — and pick out which draws me the most. I select nine. Flipping the card to its back shows a list of what the specific type of flower signifies. The black bat flower claims to activate “fierce compassion”, advising me to “advocate for yourself + others”. The pink lotus asks me to “look within”, while the African daisy encourages me to “be silly!”
Hess’ botanical treatment is a multisensory experience involving the rustling of leaves, the smudging of flower petals and the spraying of her floral aura mists.
“The flowers you are visually attracted to are the ones that will be most beneficial for you in the moment,” Hess says. Flowers are like mirrors of the self, she continues. She gestures towards a door that leads to the spa rooms of the members’ club. In one of the rooms, I lay facedown on the massage table, not really knowing what awaits beyond the fact that it will be an hour-long treatment that Hess devised based off the chosen cards.
With another practitioner, Hess barrages me with a multisensorial experience. What first sounds like the soothing rap of raindrops happens to be the rustling of leaves. At the same time, a shower of flower petals gradually move from my limbs to the crown of my head. Some are smudged unto the skin. A series of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) massage techniques, too, are executed.
At the end, having been lulled into a deep albeit short nap, Hess hushedly tells me that the treatment is over. I leave with a pleasant sense of bewilderment. Outside, I stop and sniff the whiff of the clouding scent. I smell good.
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