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What it takes to be a master florist and instructor

Urooj Goplani

“Say it with flowers- a famous line. Yet it takes a real gift for languages to say something that way.” Karl Lagerfeld

It was a usually pleasant and beautiful September day in England. There was no sign of rain and a crowd of people flocking to get tea from a trendy teashop in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods. The windowsill planters were overflowing with colorful flowers while carefully manicured topiaries greeted us at most doorstep. We stepped inside the flower shop where Akira, originally from Japan is now a full time teacher. He looks just like he did years ago when we last saw him- very artsy. He was very pleased to see that a student had come back to have a chat with him and know his life story in depth. He laughed and said “you’ve come a pretty long way I can see- my teachings did you some good!”

Q. How did you start your career?

A. It was an accident. I never thought I would go into floristry at all because it seemed too feminine a profession to take up. Back then, you have to remember, I was in Japan and women mostly took up floristry. I was creative and wanted to do something creative but just not floristry. But then one of my best friends who worked at a flower shop asked if I just wanted to try my hand at it- just for fun. With a little bit of coaxing, I agreed because I knew I could just back out when I wanted to because we were good friends and she would understand if I didn’t want to do it any longer. I did it for a little bit of time but then I quit. This was 20 years ago in Hiroshima. Within two months I realized that it’s a form of art and considered myself a designer and it felt very good and prestigious. I practiced and practiced and realized that it was actually very therapeutic and enlightening in a way.

Q. How did you end up in London at one of the most renowned flower boutique and school in the world?

A. I moved to England in my early 20s to learn English. My plan was really never to work and live in England. So I went back until a friend who lived in England worked in the fashion industry. She asked if I could move help her with her business. I needed money so I thought it wasn’t such a bad idea. But I quickly realized it wasn’t my thing. I started to study English again and would do some part time work. I passed the flower shop I work at today. I walked inside and it was a different experience for me. I saw there were props and vases that I had never seen before. I asked around and that’s when I learnt that even back then it was considered a luxury flower shop and school. After that I picked up a renowned newspaper in England (it wasn’t free like it is now) and there was an ad for a vacancy at that same flower shop. But at the time I really didn’t even want that job I just wanted to interview to with the owner of the company and tell my friends I had interviewed with her. I applied and did the interview with someone who wasn’t her so my plan wasn’t quite successful. But then one day I was at my part time job I got a call from the owner and she offered me a job. She apologized for the delayed response and asked if I was still interested. I started working and made my way up.

Q. How did you get into the teaching bit? Do you enjoy it?

A. Teaching is something I never knew I would get into. I do love teaching but I had no prior education on how to teach. So naturally I was nervous when I did make my way up to be a teacher. I got trained by the owner the business and one of the other employees who emphasized that teaching is all about being interactive and engaging your students. So even today I make sure a big part of my teaching is making my students touch smell and feel the flowers and tell me their emotions. Each student creates something different and unique even though we work with the same flowers and same recipes. They have their unique style and teaching is all about bringing that style out. The hidden talent needs to be unleashed. The most tricky part of teaching is trying to get someone with experience grow more. Yes, a lot of experienced professionals come to us. They usually come with a mindset that they will go out of the flower school knowing a lot more- basically a flower Einstein. But at flower school that is not our objective- to teach the fundamentals or the theory or the technicalities. Our objective is to teach you to think for yourself and draw inspiration from your surroundings and apply them to your work. I do love teaching and will never give it up. The career course is my favorite. It is four weeks of absolute creative fun and each day is something different so it is challenging as a teacher to come up with something unique for each day. But I love that challenge.

Q. What is the majority of the nationalities you get as students?

A. We get a majority of British people. A lot of people from China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Q. Would you like to experience a different culture altogether and move to some place other than England

A. Sure, I would love to but I think my work here has become quite intense and demanding for me to travel and leave what I do. For the foreseeable future I see myself teaching. There are several people who are looking to change careers. It is an absolute pleasure to show them how gorgeous the world of flowers is.

Q.Where do you get your inspiration?

 A. I go to museums a lot. Its an unusual place to look for floral inspiration but its a brilliant place sometimes to understand colors and textures. Another place where I love to get my inspiration is restaurants and food. Sometimes you see hard and soft elements together for example and that triggers something in your brain and your creative juices flow so easily. I observe and make a mental note and the next day I apply it to a hotel contract. For example, a topiary of red eucalyptus leaves on a crocodile tectured black vase. Really, it could be anything that gets you going. You just have to get out there and search.

Q. Do you ever get gifted students who know the craft even before you start to teach them?

A. Yes but very rarely. Maybe, in my career, just two or three. I think it all comes from perseverance and being in the industry. The more you’re in it the more you get to use your creative intelligence.

Q. What is in store for Christmas?

A. Lots of silver and gold this Christmas. Modern and traditional looks are both equally in demand. So we have to create both. Wreaths are a big hit as always and creating them is still fun every single year.  



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