Couture blooms: Indie florists offering exotic blooms

Small, indie florists are offering exotic blooms, free-form arrangements and bouquets with succulents and herbs

The florist business in Singapore is undergoing a glamorous makeover. Independent boutiques, which tout themselves as couture or edgy, are popping up around Singapore.

Mostly set up by young women formerly from creative backgrounds such as fashion, design and journalism, their offerings range from lush bouquets of seasonal blooms to wild, free-form table arrangements that feature not only flowers, but succulents too.

These colourful blooms and chic presentations have garnered thousands of hearts on Instagram. Search #sgflorist and the hashtag throws up bespoke and ready-made options from florists such as Fiorella Bouquet, hello flowers! and Floral Magic.

Their beautiful works have captivated buyers and kept tills ringing, despite some of their prices being higher than those of the average mass-market florist. Prices of ready-made hand bouquets can start from $89 and go up to $600 for customised orders. Events can start from $1,000 and run into six figures, depending on the flowers used and the size of the event.

A bridal bouquet by Yi Lian Ng Floral Atelier. -- PHOTO: YI LIAN NG FLORAL ATELIER.

Unlike traditional florists, who may rely on preset arrangements and use more common flowers such as red roses, baby's breath and gerberas, these florists use more exotic blooms such as the fragrant David Austin rose, eustoma and alstroemeria, which is also known as the Peruvian lily. These cost more because they are seasonal and more exotic.

Mrs Fiona Treadwell, 31, who started her eponymous business 21/2 years ago after she could not find decently priced exotic blooms for her own wedding, says she often "goes with the flow" when it comes to designing an arrangement.

She uses succulents ("They are hardier in our tropical weather," she says); herbs such as rosemary and sage; and fruit such as apples and cherries.

She adds: "It depends on what clients want, but having succulents or even herbs and fruit in a bouquet makes it stand out. Also, the bouquet smells good and is definitely a conversation starter."

Ms Benita Aw Yeong, 26, quit her job as a journalist because she "wanted to cultivate a little more in her life beyond work".

While still working, she took a basic floral design course. But it was only after she started experimenting with her own bouquets and getting good feedback from friends who received her experimental work that the seeds were planted for her to become a full-time florist.

She started Florals by Benita four months ago and works out of a four-room Housing Board flat in Boon Keng, where she lives with her husband.

Her repertoire includes hand bouquets, vase arrangements, boutonnieres and pewmarkers for church weddings. Most of her clients, mainly in their 20s and early 30s, know of her through social media, or she makes contacts at events that she does. She already has 19 wedding bookings for floral arrangements till July.

Her prices start from $85 for a regular bouquet, which includes a mix of five varieties of flowers.

Ms Ng Yi Lian started Yi Lian Ng Floral Atelier three years ago, taking orders on the side while working as a fashion news editor. She quit her job early last year to focus on flowers full time.

The 32-year-old, whose extended family owns and runs a wholesale flower business in Tampines, says: "It was doing well financially and business came in consistently, so I knew it would continue to thrive when I had even more time for it."

Ms Ng, who is also a freelance writer and stylist, gets private orders as well as bookings for weddings and store events. She charges $89 for a small hand bouquet and $350 for a large vase arrangement, though prices for events can add up to a five-figure sum, depending on the set-up and flowers used.

Even old-time florists are going the indie route to stand out from the crowd. Take 16-year-old Floral Magic, which has a shop in King George's Avenue.

While it was started by Ms Lucy Siah, who bought over an existing florist with her sisters-in-law, the older women's children have now joined them - and are pushing out newer, chic floral designs and grabbing the attention of the online crowd.

Ms Siah's daughter Josephine Lau, 27, says: "We felt the change in direction was borne out of necessity for us to be noticed - be it against smaller florists like us or larger floral companies. This was also when we revamped our website and started dabbling in social media to present something significantly and visually different."

Some of these florists are self-taught (the Internet and social media are good sources of knowledge), while others attend courses.

The three founders of The Floral Atelier in Eng Hoon Street spent two months - a five-day week, with 10 hours each day - at the prestigious FlowerSchool New York early last year before opening their store in July. Ms Ng attended a two-day course there last year.

The Floral Atelier is opened by Ms Lelian Chew, 33, founder of The Wedding Atelier, a luxury event planning company with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore; Ms Peony Tang, 28, a former investment professional at The Blackstone Group; and Ms Deborah Tan, 33, a Parsons School of Design graduate. 

Ms Chew says it takes more than a "good eye" to create great arrangements: "We recognised very early on that floral design is as much a science as it is an art, and learning how to achieve structure, balance, form and space is crucial to being a successful florist. A good florist must know how to create something that not only looks good, but also has longevity and can withstand the elements."

The store counts well-heeled professionals and socialites among its clients. It does a mix of events such as weddings and celebrations. It also offers a weekly floral arrangement subscription service for $75 each week.

Many of these florists hold flower arrangement classes too, which are well attended by participants ranging from professionals to overseas florists.

But Poppy Flora Studio's Ms Sarah Lim, 45, who has interviewed lawyers and corporate professionals who want a change of career because they think being a florist offers a slower pace of life, says: "One cannot be too idealistic about it. Playing with flowers on the weekend does not reflect the hectic and tough life of a florist. It's a dirty job and you will be expected to clean the floor, dethorn roses, get cuts and do loads of laborious work.

"Looking at a beautiful arrangement is all rosy and lovely - but behind it is all sweat and grind."

  • This story first appeared in the November 2015 issue of The Life digital magazine in The Straits Times Star E-books app, with the headline 'Flower power'..

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'COUTURE BLOOMS'. Subscribe