four couture tree dresses
Photo courtesy of Lee Johnson-Lowe.

The Lord Baltimore Hotel is inviting designers to participate in its ninth annual Couture Tree Competition to welcome the 2023 holiday season.

The historic, award-winning hotel will display the trees for the public to see from Nov. 27, 2023 to Jan. 6, 2024.

Businesses, nonprofits, individual artists, and groups from Baltimore and beyond who are interested in participating must submit their original design sketches by Nov. 1 to Lee Johnson-Lowe, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

The competition is Johnson-Lowe’s brainchild, and he has been in charge of the undertaking since its inception.

The idea for the “Couture Tree” competition came to him while he was employed at a boutique hotel before he came to work at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.

“I saw this idea online, not even in the US, somewhere overseas, one couture tree. I thought, ‘How cool would it be to do an exhibition?’ The general manager said no,” recalled Johnson-Lowe. “When I started at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, the general manager and I were very in sync in terms of creating experiences for the guests, and he was like, ‘Heck yeah!’ The owners of the hotel found out about it, and they got super excited about it, too.”

He explained that a couture tree is a blend of fashion and a Christmas tree. The base of it is a tree concept, and the upper part becomes a dress form. Johnson-Lowe does not put any limits or requirements around the designs, though.

“The beauty of this event and competition is the fact that there are no parameters. We do ask for them to submit a concept, a sketch, or a verbiage of what they have in mind,” he said. But that is primarily to establish that the artists are truly committed and have a sense of what the competition is about.

“Have people gotten creative with it? Absolutely. We have a light artist…we have a glass artist, last year we had one that was done in a box form, people are really stepping out there and daring to do something different,” Johnson-Lowe said. “Some people use live trees, evergreen, flowers, some use fake. Quite often those are done by a florist, or someone who aspires to be one. That is one reason I’ve never limited the design.”

Johnson-Lowe told Fishbowl he expects between around 25 artist submissions. There is no limit on the number of submissions, however, and a person or group can submit more than one design.

There are two voting categories: the first is for individual designer, which can be a single person, local group or business, and the second category is for non-profit organization. The winner in each category receives a $500 grand prize. Entrants can enter both categories but can only win the grand prize in one of the categories.

Artists begin the installation of their couture trees at the hotel on Thanksgiving Day and must be finished by the end of Sunday of that weekend. Johnson-Lowe noted that many of the artists, however, have already begun working on their trees, and installation is a matter of putting it together at the hotel for the exhibit and competition.

On Dec. 4, local business partners will gather at the hotel for an event where voting will take place via secured ballot on the best design in each of the two categories. Winners will be announced at the conclusion of the event.

Businesses, nonprofits, and individual artists from Baltimore and beyond interested in participating are encouraged to submit their original design sketches to Johnson-Lowe at by Nov. 1.

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