We caught Holly Hipwell, self-appointed “Chief Flower Enthusiast” and Flower Bomb pioneer on a ‘quiet’ day. In Holly’s perpetual orbit of Sydney, for her blossoming florist business The Flower Drum, this means a sliver of time when she’s in her studio crunching numbers.
On high rotation as one of the country’s leading florists, you can understand why. Her seed to sycamore story – and the reason she can’t make plans – is an unconventional one. Before 2010, Holly’s resume boasted a bunch of non-flower related careers like helicopter hostess and PR darling, and her weekend trips to the markets were never seen as anything other than a bit of floral fun.
“I never had any pressure to fast track what I was doing because I had another job, so I just kept flowers as my hobby. I was just doing everything for the love of it.”
It was once she started blogging the results of her weekend experiments on The Flower Drum back in 2010, that she bagged her first high-profile job – creating forty faux flower heads for mannequins in storefronts countrywide for Alannah Hill.
“I would work all day in my office job and then go home and make them all night in my teeny tiny apartment,” she laughs. Now, after nearly four years working as a florist full-time, Holly can count ASOS, J Brand, ModelCo, Etsy, Fairfax Media and Vittoria Coffee as clients.
Between workshops and weddings, shopfronts and styling, at the heart of it all is Holly’s staggeringly early morning trips to Sydney’s Flemington Markets at least twice a week from her Avalon home, an hour away. Before she heads inside, she takes stock in her car, sifting through inspiration notes and client briefs before the assault of beautiful blooms has its chance to influence her process.
“I’ll sit there and try and visualise the scene, then I march in with my little pistol fingers… and do a run through of the whole market.”
Then, combining her impression of the flowers at hand and her brief, she narrows down her choices on the basis of three criterion: freshness, price and shade. With that in mind, how does she juggle a client’s expectations along with her creative whimsies?
“That is truly the biggest challenge,” she confirms. “You might have an idea before you arrive and then you get there and you’re like, ‘oh my god! Look at these hydrangeas!
“Generally most of the time people say, ‘I just love what you do and I’m happy to [be] led by your creativity’ so it’s lucky but there are sometimes people where I’m like, ‘Nope! Stick to the brief!’”
Knowing where to start is fundamental when differing creative opinions – and brides – are involved. Holly’s first step, even before she considers going searching for inspiration, is to grill the client with as many questions as she can. What counts, she insists, isn’t the how – it’s the why.
“I always ask, ‘What’s the purpose for there being flowers?’ And from there, you can usually tell how much they really care about [them]. If someone is as crazy about flowers as I am, the style’s going to be kind of different.
“Just reading someone’s personality is the best way to do it,” she says. “Some people are a little more jazzy than others. Sometimes it’s like, ‘I need to meet you! I need to figure out if you’re a ribbon person or not!’”
Deciding against formal training in favour of continuing to walk to the beat of her own (flower) drum, Holly now finds herself in the unique situation where her style dictates her clientele, not the other way around.
“I think my style is representative of the fact that I don’t have any training, because it doesn’t look like everybody else’s,” she points out. “I was really creating my own style and creating a demand for the way I was doing things anyway.”
In a nutshell, Holly’s preferred method of construction is working from the bottom up.
“I do work, sort of, on a technique of having accents. So you’re working to a base and you’ve got these little pops of things that come out and get your attention. And when you do little those accents, they become that much more special [and] your eye sort of floats around.”
Counting the colour yellow and any shade of gerbera as enemies, there isn’t much else Holly is adverse to in her job – even if holidays are out of the question.
“With bridal clients, they assume that you’re available on the phone 24/7,” she reveals. “It’s hard to make the time for me and my own stuff.”
Luckily though, she has no regrets – early mornings, non-existent holidays and long days aside.
“I’m pretty lucky because generally, I really love what I do – if it’s the actual physical side, not the paperwork side, I’m so happy. If I didn’t like it, I couldn’t bear it!”
It’s that same hunger to get her hands on new projects that keeps Holly firmly shackled to her secateurs.
“I don’t really want the business to get any bigger because I like having that personal touch on everything.” Which may explain why the she was happy to hand-cut endless fake flowers infested with wire, solo, for that first labour-intensive retail display for Alannah Hill.
“I couldn’t even drive after that,” she laughs. “Every rose may have its thorn but every fake flower is full of wire.”
Holly’s steps to creating your own Flower Bomb:
*4 or 5 bunches of carnations (you can use other plump juicy flowers if you wish. But trust me, carnations work best!)
*1 pair of scissors
*1 ball of Oasis foam (available at the Sydney Flower Markets)
*1 jar (to prop your ball up on)
AND some spare time.
1.Gather your bunches of carnies and chop their heads off! Be sure to leave the stems about two centimetres long from the head and cut them on an angle so they are nice and pointy.
2.While you are on a chopping spree, soak your oasis ball in a tub of water. Let it submerge in the water and then whip it out after a minute or two. Sometimes they get too soggy and become unusable.
3.Start at the top – the top could be the bottom and vice versa, so pick a top and roll with it.
4.This is where it gets complicated. Pick up one of your blooms and just stab it into the foam. Push it in (gently) as far as it can go and continue stabbing. Keep going, ensuring the flowers are level all the way around. You can get tricky and do designs with different coloured flowers but I am very much into “blocking” at the moment.
5.If you have any buds that aren’t quite open, just give them a little squeeze and a little puff and a little wink wink, nudge nudge and they should fluff open!
6.Before you know it your bomb will be complete! Roll your hands over it to secure the flowers in place and pick some string and tie it through the loop of the net. Loop the loop and… HOORAH! You are done!
Read the original story in Issue 20 of The Collective