This May, Fleurs de Villes VOYAGE arrives in Toronto, a floral trail throughout the Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood featuring 35 installations inspired by iconic global destinations and created by Toronto's amazing floral talent. We chat with one of our fantastic returning florists, Maria Shea from Dereves Floral.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST DISCOVER YOUR LOVE FOR FLOWERS?
Nature and flowers have always been close to my heart, and I studied Environmental Design in University to deepen my connection. While I thought I'd become a landscape architect, I found that my passion lay in crafting creative installations and working with couples. Knowledge in planting materials, perennials and annuals so easily translated to fresh flowers. Founding Dereves Flora in 2016 was so fulfilling, especially while balancing motherhood later in life. It has been my main channel for creativity and expression. My life is enriched by art, sustainability, and of course, my work. Floral design was the perfect way to merge all of my passions into one and I’m so happy to be where I am today!
WHAT TIPS AND TRICKS CAN YOU SHARE WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE KEEN TO ADD FLOWERS TO THEIR HOME DECOR?
Go foraging! Have you ever considered foraging for garden clippings and flowers from your own garden, neighbours or even local ravines? It might feel a bit suspicious, but trust me, it's worth it! Simple branches, filler flowers, and textural elements found in nature can be used to create intentional and beautiful designs. Last wedding season, I frequently visited my neighbour's spirea bush, which they trimmed regularly, so it was a win-win for both of us. Also, there's nothing better than a large glass vase filled with green foliage adorning your dining room table.
WHO INSPIRES YOU FROM THE WORLD OF FLORAL DESIGN?
Ruby Barber has always been a source of inspiration for me. She is a celebrated modern florist and designer based out of Berlin and Milan who has created many large scale installations for brands throughout Europe. Her studio, Mary Lennox, really pushes the boundaries of creativity and has truly revolutionized the way large installation design is seen in North America. Think clouds of floral, constructed landscapes and sets, all of natural elements. It really speaks to my landscape design soul and European background. When it comes to installations, editorials, and photo shoots, that's where the most creative leeway is found. This is the direction our brand is headed in and we hope to expand beyond Canada, flowering soon in California, and bringing European sophistication and innovation to the west coast.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WHEN CREATING A FRESH FLORAL DESIGN FOR FLEURS DE VILLES?
The toughest part of building a fresh floral design is definitely the mechanics “behind the skirt” of a mannequin. After a few tries, we felt more confident with achieving long ballroom gowns, and even a ballerina costume, but there was a lot of experimenting along the way. We used things like plant pouches, and even a concrete boot from Home Depot. We needed a lot of drilling and tools that probably weren't the first thing you'd think of when imagining a floral mannequin! But we loved the challenge, and now we're way more confident than when we started. The creative expression this allows is also amazing; you can do almost anything you set your mind to if you just think outside the box.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU SEE PEOPLE MAKING WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING FLOWERS?
It turns out that a lot of brides tend to stick with good old timeless white flowers for their big day, because inherent expectations and wanting to be traditional. As designers and planners, we see this a lot. We feel the tension between their own personal sway towards colour, and wanting to make other people happy. But, hear me out: why not go wild with some vibrant colours and unique designs? I’ve received some sage advice recently - to channel your true personality and don't hold back. If you hear your inner voice shouting "I want flashy flowers!", don't ignore it. Embrace the avant garde and show off your creative side, let your designer and florist help guide you. Trust me, your future self will thank you.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OBSTACLES YOU FACE WHEN WORKING WITH FLOWERS AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THEM?
Sourcing beautiful, sustainable blooms. As an industry, we've made incredible strides and now have access to so many independent growers. Plus, we get to choose which growers we support, both in terms of sustainability and ethics. For instance, we're proud to source flowers from Rainforest Alliance certified growers who carry sustainable farming practices, and more often, local growers. These are the kind of partnerships that can make a real difference in the world. That being said, we do face many limitations, especially during the winter months when local product is not available. However we’re excited to explore different climates, including SoCal on the West Coast. With local year-round flowers, we cannot wait to see what's in store!
CAN YOU SHARE ANY TIPS FOR NOVICE FLORAL DESIGNERS LOOKING TO IMPROVE THEIR SKILLS?
Going hand-in-hand with foraging, don't be afraid to ask your friends and neighbours to take some clippings of their shrubs and flowers! You could even offer to make arrangements for their own homes. You can do so much with just one variety of flower or greenery; think monotone and simplified arrangements. Look into the elements of design, but don't feel confined by them. A lot of modern florists bend the rules of design elements and find ways to incorporate other design techniques, such as ikebana and their personal style. Don't be afraid of colour! Mix and match complementary colours without fear. While we love abundance, in cases where you can't get much, go for ikebana-inspired arrangements. Purchase a flower frog and design a vessel of your choice - these designs thrive in simplicity and here, less is more. There are also some great books out there, such as The Flower Recipe Book that teach basic floral design and use common flower varieties you can find in your local flower shop.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SUSTAINABILITY AND ECO-FRIENDLY PRACTICES IN THE FLORAL INDUSTRY?
I was so quick to confront the environmental impact of the floral and wedding industries – to think about the carbon footprint, packaging, pesticide run off, and water requirements. The more you know behind the scenes, the more jarring it is. It can take multiple international trips for just one box of roses to make it to a wedding from Ecuador or Colombia. They arrive to us in boxes, overpacked to guarantee lifespan and avoid damage on planes. Then, factor in transportation, refrigeration, or the use of toxic floral foam in studios. Coming from an environmental background, this was so alarming to me, so we are now putting a lot of emphasis on minimizing the impact and on cheering on our fellow floral industry friends who are also making great strides in accomplishing this. In our practice, we are reconsidering our packaging and discontinuing floral foam use, and implementing sustainable alternatives anywhere we can – from supporting Rain Forest Alliance certified farms to mostly local growers. We also became members of 1% For The Planet and I’m super proud to be doing our part in alleviating the industry's environmental impact through donations and support. It doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a good start.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF RUNNING A FLORAL BUSINESS?
I think this is a common one. At some point in any business journey, you'll ask yourself - how's my work-life balance going? I remember feeling so burnt out after a wedding season, month, week. Don't get me wrong, working with flowers has it’s perks as opposed to doing mortgages (I’ve done that, too). However, working in the wedding industry comes with an inherent sense of urgency. There are always deadlines, and not just any, but couples' happiness is at stake. In most cases, your own happiness might come last. But last year, I experienced my 'a-ha' moment. I realized I didn't have much of a life outside work, and I needed to build a world where my business and personal life could coexist. Where I could expand my empire while enjoying a life filled with my favourite people. Getting here felt like such an accomplishment, more than any other metrics of success.
WHAT IS YOUR TOP FLORAL TIP FOR OUR FLEURS DE VILLES GUESTS?
Ask questions if you see the florist! Take your time to appreciate the finer details. I know for a fact that florists are eager to discuss their creative process and always happy to share tips. There is so much detail and attention that goes into every mannequin, not to mention intention. For example, our Emily Carr mannequin had a bodice made of moss in various swirls and shades of green to embody the west coast of Canada that she proudly represents, as well as the technique she uses in painting. I personally spent about 30 hours working on her bodice. Everything has a certain meaning, and so much time and loving attention has gone into making it, we're delighted to share it all with you.