BESPOKE is the new buzzword for all who seek an alternative to mainstream retail. Even as people opt for customised shoes, bags, travel experiences and even cake, why wouldn't flowers be far behind? Sure it's a lot easier to pick something off the website of a major floral gift shop, but there's nothing like having something that's designed with your own personality in mind.
Even as the flower business is dominated by major players and high-end floral designers, a small but growing number of independent florists have appeared in the market, each offering a unique spin on flower arrangement. They're hard to find, though, given that they're such tiny outfits. Most don't even have a website, but the web-savvy will be able to find them through their Facebook or Instagram accounts.
Amy Yap is one such florist. You can find the owner of One Olive on her social media account one_olive, or at her shop in Tiong Bahru. A majority of her clients ask for bespoke bouquets and table arrangements, she says. "Clients share with me the recipient's details, such as what flowers they like, and then I personalise the bouquet with the right colours and textures." With bespoke bouquets, more exotic flowers such as proteas, pincushions and scabiosas can be used.
Marketing director Maria Lee, is one who's sold on bespoke flowers. She used to choose her mother's birthday bouquet from an existing selection at her florist. But no more. "My mum loves pink and white flowers, and she created a bouquet using a mix of pink and white hydrangeas," says Ms Lee. "The bouquet is so much prettier and mum knows that it was specially created for her."
Enjoying all the creativity
YILIAN Ng spends her working hours putting together a fashion magazine. At night, and on the weekends, she is putting together flowers. The fashion news editor for the local edition of an international fashion title runs a floral business on the side, and she gets a real kick out of doing both.
"Completing an issue of a monthly magazine is immensely satisfying, especially when you know how much there is to do to just get an article completed," says Ms Ng, 31. "With flowers, it is very fulfilling to know you have made someone's day."
She began dabbling in the floral business earlier this year. Her extended family has been in the flower wholesale business for the last 30 years, and "I've been playing with flowers since my primary school days, so going into the floral business is a natural progression".
She describes her style of arrangement as "a bit of wild foliage touch to tightly packed arrangements. I'm generous with the quantity of flowers because I like the way they look when they are packed together. There is a lot more statement and impact aesthetically."
Nearly half of her clients are corporate clients who want flowers for their events or VIPs. She does a mix of both hand and table arrangements. "Both have different challenges but table arrangements are actually easier because they provide a base for you to work with while hand bouquets have to be perfected while the entire arrangement is in your hand, which can be quite literally a handful," quips Ms Ng. She charges from S$135 for a hand bouquet and from S$155 for a table arrangement.
Some of her favourite blooms include David Austin roses because of their sweet scent, lavender, peonies and hydrangeas. "Most florists shy away from chrysanthemum balls but I love using them because of their symmetry and they are fun to look at and are very lasting," she says.
While clients indicate their colour and flower preferences, they give Ms Ng free creative rein when it comes to arranging. "I love the arts, fashion and design so I'm sure my interest in these areas have influenced my floral designs one way or another," she points out.
Recently, a client wanted her to create an arrangement that was inspired by fashion so she picked out a Chanel Fall/Winter 2014 look and created an arrangement influenced by it.
Ms Ng confesses that she has never had any formal lessons nor attended workshops in floral arranging. "I just enjoy putting stuff together, just like my day job. It is ironic now that I conduct a monthly floral workshop at The Beauty Candy Apothecary in Cluny Court," she says.
Despite Ms Ng's belief that she can make a better living by going into the floral business full-time, she has no plans to do that. "Right now, I'm still enjoying all the creativity I get in both my day job and as a florist. I think when you are a truly creative person, you'll want these sources to be present at all times so you can continuously be stimulated and inspired. It's a very pleasurable feeling, to be inspired and creative on most days."
Vintage and rustic feel
BIRTHDAYS, anniversaries, weddings . . . these are just some occasions when people order flowers. For Catherine Strickland, one of the funniest reasons a client ordered flowers from her was "an apology for getting drunk and spoiling book club", quips the founder of Flower Girl.
The granddaughter of a floral artist, Ms Strickland was regularly doing floral arrangements voluntarily for her children's school chapel, friends and charity functions. "I noticed a real demand for my relaxed natural style using Australian natives and European blooms. It was then that I decided to open the business formally," she says, adding that she has a family love for flowers, as it is something that she has grown up with.
"I studied design for many years, and worked in interior design firms. Flowers, design, your home - they are all linked," she says. "I undertook floristry training, and now spend my time using beautiful flowers to complement designs of private homes and events."
She has both private and corporate clients, and her orders range from hand bouquets to large arrangements for private homes and cocktails and dinner party events. A hand bouquet starts from S$90. Ms Strickland also gets requests to create fascinators for ladies attending the Australian Melbourne Cup lunches.
"My style is loose, natural with a vintage and rustic feel," says Ms Strickland. Paying tribute to her roots, she uses Australian native flowers, "for their exciting shapes, textures and longevity in the tropical heat". Some of her favourite blooms include Lucedendron, Kangaroo paws, Pincushions, and Queen and King Proteas.
Clients can choose an existing range of arrangements from her website, or get bespoke bouquets. It can be as simple as having "a little bit of blue for a baby boy or Mum's favourite hydrangeas, and I'll come up with a bespoke bouquet", she says.
She also offers floristry workshops, but what's also popular is her "Little Flower Girl" parties, for girls aged seven to 13, where they learn the basics of floristry and make their own floral headpieces.
"There is great satisfaction in creating something unique - and even more satisfaction seeing faces of the recipients or attendees of an event when it looks so beautiful. I feel very privileged to hear so many messages of love, thanks, kindness and joy that accompany a bouquet," says Ms Strickland.
Uncompromised beauty and style
JASMINE Chan considers herself her toughest customer. When she creates a floral bouquet, not only must it be tailored to the recipient, it has to be a bouquet that Ms Chan herself is happy to receive. "This, to me, is what makes flower arrangement fun," she says. "How do I make an all-pink bouquet not cloyingly sweet, because I am not such a person? Or how do I make a bouquet that I would like out of red roses, a flower which I am not fond of?"
A lawyer by day, Ms Chan's venture into floristry was borne out of a hobby of playing with flowers and gifting bouquets to friends and family. She toyed with the idea of marketing and selling her bouquets, and started Hu.ey this year. Hu.ey is colloquial speak for flowers.
Ms Chan, 28, picked up floral arranging skills from workshops. "Beyond this, the entire process of putting together an arrangement has been self-taught. Knowing what works in a bouquet is essentially an exercise of style and aesthetics, so it's the process of creating various arrangements that has taught me the real lessons," she says.
Of course, it helps that clients typically start by letting her know the recipient's personality, such as whether they are fiery or ladylike. Ms Chan describes her bouquets as unconventional yet arresting. "Unconventional as there may be unexpected combinations of colours and textures. At the same time, I do not think that beauty and style should be compromised. So even though they're not conventional, they get your attention with their style and elegance." A hand bouquet costs from S$80.
"I get my inspiration from the flowers available in the nurseries, and select blooms for my bouquet from there. The spontaneity of working with whatever is available each day helps ensure that all my bouquets are unique, and adds to the creative process," she says.
She spends about an hour at the nursery each time, just picking out flowers, which is why she limits herself to a few orders each weekend. "This gives me a lot of freedom to work with individuals and have fun with their ideas," she adds.
Her latest challenge is making arrangements for men. "I have received queries, and am hoping to come up with something that even the male species would be happy to receive," she says.