with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair

when i first saw our may catalog photos, my eyes were immediately drawn to the amazing floral headpieces on the models.  this type of lei is called a haku lei, and they typically have a base of braided leaves into which other plants and flowers are woven, and are worn on the head or around the wrist or ankle.  our art director told me that when they were purchasing the leis, the woman making them was very particular about what flowers she used and what they symbolized. in researching them, i read that traditionally you could tell someone’s tribe, family, age, and the circumstance for which the lei was worn – for instance a wedding or special ceremony – just by looking at it.

i’ve been to hawaii once in my life, and i was pretty young, but one thing i remember very clearly is the smell…everywhere we went, the aroma of tropical flowers hung in the air, and the flowers there were unlike any i’d seen in philly.  here’s a look at some of the beautiful flowers used in leis and what they symbolize.

leis are traditionally given with a kiss, and should not be taken off in the presence of the giver, as that is considered disrespectful. they should never be thrown away casually or tossed in the trash – if possible, they should be returned to the spot where they were gathered, or returned to nature by hanging in a tree or burying.

haku leis are mostly plant based with flowers mixed in, and one of the most common plants used is the ti plant.  the ti leaves have a beautiful mixture of green, purple and pinkish shades and are believed to be good luck.


plumeria flowers are one of the most popular for use in leis and also come in many shades ranging from light purple and hot pink to orange and yellow.  the plumeria flower is also a symbol of relationship status –  if a female wears one over her right ear, she is seeking a relationship; over the left ear means she is taken.


the unique ohia blossom is actually a species of flowering evergreen tree native to hawaii and can be red or orange in color.  it is believed to be sacred to pele, the hawaiian goddess of the volcano, as well as laka, the goddess of hula.


the hawaiian ginger flower has an alluringly sweet and delicate fragrance – leis made with ginger are often made during the day and worn that night, and thought of as an evening lei symbolic of love and romance.  the perfect flower for a lei worn by our “ginger” girl!


the pua ilima flower is the official flower of oahu, and so is commonly used in leis on that island (where our catalog was shot).  they are also thought to be a symbol of love.


these are known as “cigar flowers” for their tubular shape and the bit of white at the tip that looks like ash. they make extraordinary leis often reserved for special occasions – and if refrigerated, they can last up to a month.


orchids are often used in leis where their green, white and purple petals are woven in a stunning spiral pattern.  orchid leis are often given as a thank you or to visitors as a welcoming gesture.

aloha :)

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13 years ago

Ah I used to make these all the time when I worked at a florist, I also worked at a garden center and would usually stick hibiscus in my hair only to discover ants crawling out of the flowers. SO tip for using wild flowers in your hair: give them a little shake upside-down first and flick them with your fingers to shake any little buggers out. hehehe.

13 years ago

These are so beautiful! Orchids are my all-time favorite flowers….fragrant, simple, gorgeous!

Recipes Fashion Marriage

13 years ago

I really love the images from the May catalog – I commented on the post when you first showed us a sneak preview, but something really resonates with me about these striking images – I’ve never been to Hawaii but these images really make me want to go there. The flowers are so vibrant and alive. I love the creativity your team comes up with! I posted some images from the catalog on my blog – check it out if you have a chance!


13 years ago

I cannot get enough of this post. LOVE IT.


13 years ago

will you do the makeup for may catalog? i loved last months!

13 years ago

this is such an incredible post – i just learned so much and the photos are so so beautiful! xx

13 years ago

I was walking home from my bus stop earlier, and I saw this bush of little white flowers! Each of the branches was ridiculously long, and full. I curled them into little headpieces for myself and around my dog’s neck! :)

13 years ago

Please post a how to video for those gorgeous braids in Elsa’s bangs <3

13 years ago

the pua ilima flower, i think, is the same with the gumamela we have in the philippines. mirror images, they are so they’re likely one and the same.

such a beautiful post, informative post :) flowers are just so pretty in the tropics (and everywhere else)~

13 years ago

I was also going to ask about the braids in both girl’s bangs. Can you please make a tutorial!

13 years ago

I think they have done a video on the braids before?
I tried it my self when I saw it in an older catalog.
All you have to do is go like youre doing a french braid, but only french braid on one side.
(So grab hair from one side)Then you just make the hair loose to make it hang over the forehead!
I hope that helps:)

13 years ago

So absolutely beautiful. The Pua Ilima flower looks like a hibiscus flower only it’s yellow.

El Pico
13 years ago

Your photos are lovely, and the lei are obviously made with skill and aloha. However… In the Hawaiian language there are no plurals. The word for more than one lei is “lei”. Also, the photo that is captioned “pua ilima flower” is, as gilly suspects, actually a large hybrid Hibiscus with flowers as much as five or six inches across. The flower of the ilima plant is much smaller, perhaps an inch across, and is used for very special lei because it takes so many blooms and so much time to make. The word “pua” means flower, so “pua ilima flower” is redundent.

Dani7elle (Silent 7)
12 years ago

Im getting married in Hawaii in a few weeks, IM IN LOVE WITH THESE! Is there anyway someone could tell me where they where purchased? I wanted to wear 1 on my big day…Thank you so much!

10 years ago

Dat Zeppelin…