As a craft, floristry dates back to ancient Egypt when cut flowers would be placed in vases to create highly stylised arrangements for religious events. Since then, flower arranging has gone through various movements: the Greeks and Romans preferred them as adornments; in ancient China they were an integral component of religious teaching and medicine. Arrangements became hugely popular during the Renaissance period, beginning in Italy and later spreading to the rest of Europe. One of the most interesting movements in the history of floristry occurred in the 1930s when evangelical florist Constance Spry modernised populist ideas about decoration in the home.
Floristry has undergone significant changes over the past few decades. Founded by Kally Ellis in 1991, London florist McQueens has established itself as one of the pioneers of a new style of British floristry, focused on beauty, elegance, simplicity and innovation.
In the first installment of the Modern Cultural Curators film series, Stefan Heinrich's short introduces Ellis at McQueens' headquarters where she candidly discusses her childhood, passions, motivations, philosophy and the importance of her team.
McQueens is a fine example of the modern, British florist. Ellis, whose heritage is Greek, has been in floristry for 22 years and has experienced lots of changes within the industry. "In the early days, it was all about that dirty word 'arrangement' – mixing flowers together with that ubiquitous green foam," Ellis explains. "Displays were really stiff and structured. We have tried to replace it with something more natural. Flowers are beautiful in their own right."
Her focus and philosophy have enabled her to continually elevate McQueens' operations: having first opened as a small shop, it now runs as a 35-strong team from the headquarters in Clerkenwell,. A mixture of nationalities and ages, they create hand-tied bouquets and displays for customers at the shop, at Claridge's hotel and at the Vanity Fair post-Academy Award party for the past 18 years. They also run a successful flower school, attracting students from all over the world.
"Flowers are so important in everybody's lives", enthuses Ellis. "They're so uplifting. For everybody's well-being, we should always have flowers around us."
Text by Laura Bradley
Film by Stefan Heinrichs