23 Aug Creative Women: Supernatural Floral Design
Both Knysna-bred now Cape Town-based, Emma Frost and Jessica Ellis joined forces in early 2013 to launch Supernatural Floral Design; an outlet for their shared passion for all things natural, wild and a little bit extraordinary.
Their unique and artful floral designs, which they create for anything from weddings to fashion editorials, are no doubt a reflection on their backgrounds. Jessica being a Fine Arts graduate and self-confessed aesthete and Emma, an art historian and Gustav Klimt mega-fan.
For our current Creative Women series we tagged along on a rainy week day morning as they visited their favourite places, and proceeded to quizz them on their floral career so far.
First things first, how do you become a florist?
With a lot of passion and determination. There is no real way to study to become a florist in South Africa so both of us undertook internships at established florists- Emma at Flowers in the Foyer in Stellenbosch and Jess on and off for 7 years between travels and studies at Ecozest in Knysna- learning the tricks of the trade through our talented and inspiring mentors. It’s a decision you need to be really sure about before you delve in- it’s not as glamorous as it seems.
How do you want to be different to people’s general idea of a florist?
Like any type of design, floral art trends are constantly evolving and there are always new and exciting ways to take your art further. South Africa is such an exciting hub of creativity and we want our designs to be recognised as part of it. While we love working on events, weddings and our daily deliveries we have also really enjoyed collaborating with other young creatives who we feel inspire us to keep experimenting beyond the realm of traditional floral design.
You’re both from Knysna, do you think this has had any effect on your career choice?
We both grew up with parents who own successful family-orientated businesses through which we have learnt that success comes from honesty, reliability and consistency.
What have you learnt since opening your business in January this year?
The most important thing we’ve come to realise is that your dream job is still a job.
What are your working styles? Are they different?
Jess’s style is slightly masculine, a little graphic and modern. She loves interesting textures and shapes. She likes to take her time and is something of a perfectionist. Emma is more wild and whimsical. She loves to play with colours and movement. Some may say she rushes, but she likes to think she’s abnormally efficient. While our styles are fairly different we feel they compliment each other; it is as a result of this that a style specific to Supernatural is also developing as our business grows.
To what extent can a piece be planned and what is making as you go?
It depends what the occassion is. If it is a wedding or a corporate function, we like to plan months in advance so we can get every little detail done perfectly. If it is a shoot or a once-off order, it is something of an organic process. Certain blooms lend themselves to certain compositions, so it is in this sense the flowers themselves dictate how they are used. It all depends on what’s in season, what works well together, and what you want the final outcome to be. And of course our medium is living so there is only so much one can do in advance!
What are the biggest challenges when starting your own business?
We think one of the greatest challenges is that you never really rest from the stresses that come hand in hand with owning your own business- Supernatural is always on our minds. Other small business owners will agree that it is tricky to know when to stop working and make time for yourself.
Remembering that you are a part of a team is equally as important and often the most challenging aspect of our business. It requires a lot of compromise and patience but when you celebrate achievements together it makes it all worth while and there is no greater reward.
And the biggest challenges specific to your line of work?
Getting people to overcome the idea that flowers are a luxury.
Who are the best clients?
People who have an appreciation for flowers and for design and those who trust us to do what we feel we do best.
What’s something you didn’t expect to be doing?
Trying to convince a customer who flat-out refused a bunch we had been commissioned to make her, to let us deliver flowers to her home. Who wouldn’t want flowers?!
What are you good at?
We’re working at being good at everything we put our minds to, but perhaps the thing we’re especially good at is remembering not to take ourselves too seriously and that it is very important to have fun in amongst all the hard work.
Who inspires you to be better creatives?
Our amazingly creative friends- from jewellers to bakers to printmakers! Fellow floral designer friends and mentors.
And, who are the creative women who inspire you?
Certainly no florist would be able to answer that question without mentioning the First Lady of floral design, Constance Spry – the British floral designer of the 1920s who rejected stiff, wired designs of the time for more organic arrangements made up of unusual flora, vegetables, grasses, berries and foraged greens and often in unexpected containers and vases.
Another inspiration woman is trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and her incredible Bloom publications which provide a rich resource of inspirational images, while American florists Amy Merrick and Sarah Ryhanen are creative women in our own field who will will always look up to.
Jess, you studied at Michaelis, and Emma, you are a former English teacher; what are your favourite floral moments in art and literature?
Some of our favourite moments include the ancient Greek tale of Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection causing him to become so besotted with himself that he could not leave, and soon died. Shortly afterwards, Zeus took pity on him, turning him into a narcissus flower- what is better known as the daffodil. We are also obsessed with the Old Dutch Master’s style of painting floral still lifes- the dark background, white aerial light and unbelievably beautiful blooms in different stages of decay. Another favourite would be the story of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet- depicted so beautifully by John Everett Millais. A young girl who died picking flowers by the riverside. How tragic!
Imagine: your ultimate brief by your ideal client in your favourite time period, your choice of season and your optimum collaborators.
An old industrial space with exceptionally high ceilings and exposed systems would provide the backdrop to an off-the-wall dinner party hosted by Yoko Ono and 100 of her closest and weirdest friends! We are in love with any work by our floral crush Azuma Makoto, who challenges every notion of traditional floristry with his weird floral sculptures and laboratory experiments. Collaborating with him would be the ultimate dream come true!
Any future projects you can tell us about?
We can’t divulge too much, but keep an eye out for us in print around the beginning of October!
While spending the day with Jess and Emma we visited Soil 4 Life, an incredible non-profit organisation teaching people how to build the soil and grow healthy plants, so that families can sit down to plates of safe, fresh nutritious food, all year round. Visit their Open Garden tomorrow.
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