But the jewelers are doing more than placing their name on pretty arrangements that match their design ethos. In fact, the flowers that Faraone Mennella and Scognamiglio sell are exclusive to the Faraone Mennella family and bred by Renato himself. Farmen, his Torre del Greco company, specializes in creating new floral hybrids and ultimately owns the rights to each one. “You can’t go more unique than this,” Roberto says. “I’m not putting my name on flowers—no, this is my gene, made by us.” The Farmen business is actually done via seeds—not blooms—which are shipped to approved growers worldwide. The Faraone Mennella Fiori bulbs at Takashimaya, for instance, hail from a farm in Connecticut.
The result? Flora that’s far from ordinary. “Look at this one,” Faraone Mennella says, pulling up images of custom-bred pansies on an old Compaq laptop. “It’s almost like the Yves Saint Laurent ruffles.” Indeed, the flower in question, one lush, giant velvety confection, looks as if it’s been shot up with steroids. Another pansy resembles a full-skirted costume cast off from a Baz Luhrmann film. That one is dubbed the Moulin Rouge.
“It’s going to be an explosion of color, like the jewelry,” says Scognamiglio, adding that Fiori’s debut collection consists only of pansies. “Renato manipulates even the shape of the leaves and the little streaks in them.” It’s not all about aesthetics, though. The Farmen team also isolates the genes that make one plant hardier than another, ensuring that all of its designs are as sturdy and stalwart as possible. For the Fiori customer, this translates to desktop bouquets that won’t wilt a week after arrival.
As with any such creative enterprise, there are copyright matters. The jewelers note that Farmen registers each new floral breed with the Holland-based Fleuroselect, the international organization for the ornamental plants industry. Since 1980, that body has recorded nearly 100 original Farmen species, including 200 color varieties of the pansy. “Nobody can just get the seeds,” remarks Scognamiglio. “It’s very strict. This industry gets more protection [than fashion].
“This takes so much research. It can take 15 years to fix a gene,” Scognamiglio continues. “It’s not like knocking off jewelry in your home,” Faraone Mennella chimes in. “You need the genome. Even if you do manage to steal the son, you still need the father and the mother to cross them. You have to make sure it’s not just a fluke.” He adds that his father works closely with a local university, Università di Napoli—the Farmen fields are filled with doctoral students—while his sister is an agronomist in Torre del Greco.