Not at Your Home: Let the Flower Bloom with Floral Artist Agnès de Villarson
When spring blooms in Manhattan, tulips flourish at every Park Avenue intersection. Not far towards the West, the pink and white festival of century-old cherry trees attracts tourists and New Yorkers alike in Central Park. Nature always triumphs when Spring offers at its dawn its annual spectacle. For the floral artist Agnès de Villarson, it is the promise of a busy season of New York galas, weddings and boards of directors, all with flower compositions on the tables.
A French version of this interview has been published in Le Petit Journal (click here).
Thank you for not inviting me to your home Agnès de Villarson. Are there flowers in your living room at the moment?
I have a bouquet of bright yellow tulips and apricot lilacs, a much-needed reflection of the sun because if there is a lot of love in my home at the moment, there’s also a form of anxiety that these flowers can soothe a bit.
An anxiety related to work or to the confinement itself?
We are four living in an apartment, a few-month old toddler, a 15-year-old boy, a 23-year-old woman, me as well as a little dog whose name is Napoleon and a rabbit whose name is “Mister Rabbit,” (Monsieur Lapin). Still, it’s not easy to live as tight community mixing different generations, rhythms and different habits if you’re not used to it.
How are your days like?
My son’s online school sets the pace of the day. As for me, I work. We all get together three to four times a day for meals, and board games that we took out of the closets.
We were all caught off guard
How has your business been impacted by the stay-at-home policy?
I woke up one day with 3,000 unused tulips, anemones, buttercups, orchids, clematis and pea scents in my floral workshop. These beautiful spring flowers were to be the base of 80 bouquets for a major client. The day before, at 8 o’clock in the morning, the client had confirmed that their event would be maintained; three hours later, everything was cancelled. On the same day, other high brand stores on Madison Avenue let me know as well that cocktails and product launch parties I was working on were also cancelled. We were all caught off guard.
What happened to all these flowers?
Throwing them away was not an option. I wanted to give them first to hospitals and nursing homes, and I soon found out that wasn’t possible. So, I called my neighbors and friends and gave them as a gift.
Once these 3000 flowers were distributed—and now without a customer—you decided to put your business on hold.
Yes, and I thought it only would last for two weeks. I started by asking my staff to stay-at-home but made the commitment to keep paying them. They’ve always been there for my business. It was my turn to be loyal to them. I also hoped, as many did, that the pandemic would quickly be contained in New York. Without a client, I took the opportunity to clean out my files and finishing everything I was avoiding to do in the past.
And now what?
I ended up accepting that this situation can last and that I have to devise scenarios, including to be ready when social and business life resumes.
What about professional alternatives adapted to this confinement situation?
I’ve seen all around me what struggling people are doing to stay active and the great initiatives they are launching in such a typical New York state of mind. Movement creates the movement, and I, too, wanted to participate in a new form of economic life.
I have to devise scenarios, including to be ready when social and business life resumes
On Instagram, I’ve seen a lot of dismal images of flowers being shoveled and thrown in the garbage. I thought of local producers. They cannot stop their tulips from growing in their fields and they too are facing an economic drama. Still on Instagram, I would post recent pictures of bouquets—I wanted to give my social media “blooming” colors. I received in return a lot of comments, and all of them mentioned a lack or desire for flowers. So, I pooled together all of it: local flowers that were no longer finding buyers, my need to work and a demand for bouquets, and respecting strict health measures I began offering a subscription service for weekly compositions, initially to my friends and clients.
Why are flowers essential?
It’s a discovery to me. Spontaneously one may think that they are not essential to our daily life. But flowers are actually an extraordinary luxury item, one of the pleasures of life that people don’t want to give up at the moment. That not only fuels me with a lot of hope for my business, it above all fills me with joy because it’s about beauty.
How do your new clients react?
They have sent me both photographs of the bouquets they have installed in their homes and some particularly touching notes, including this one: ‘The beauty of the pleat of this flower!!! Small things and great pleasures!’ Another text I received evokes how children have noticed the presence of flowers.
May 1st is approaching. It’s a French tradition: we offer people we love a sprig of lily of the valley. Will you have some for your subscribers?
Of course, and it will be an American lily-of-the-valley, which I find on a farm in New Jersey.
Why does this flower mean so much to us?
The lily of the valley is an ephemeral flower, the flower of a day. It bears such a special, unique scent, which is almost impossible to reproduce well. It is a divine flower, a message of love with a touch of happiness.