This interview was a super fun one for me, as I recently got to meet Susan of Passionflower at the Floret workshop. She is an incredibly talented and special lady, and I was thrilled to learn that she would be willing to take over our feed and answer a few questions! I so enjoyed getting to know her, and experiencing a hands-on workshop designing flower halos and floral cuffs in person at Floret. Susan was also a part of FlowerHouse Detroit, so read below to find out more about herself as well as her experience with FlowerHouse!
Above photo: @amanda_dumouchelle
So to start out, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you found yourself in the flower business!
I like to say that I became a florist by accident! I’ve always been fascinated with nature, but never thought I’d become a florist. It happened about 13 years ago. At the time, I had a hobby making jewelry for friends. One such friend asked me to design her wedding flowers in addition to her wedding jewelry. Not knowing what this would entail, I said yes! When I had her flowers in my hands, I knew I’d found my passion. One friend’s wedding turned into many, and gave me my start.
After I practiced on my friends, I moved on to a busy floral studio where I worked for 2 years. I also free-lanced for many talented florists, read every design book I could get me hands on, and absorbed all the learning opportunities I could find. I knew that I had something unique to share, and over time, I started to feel creatively stifled. In 2010, two events gave me the push I needed to try this out on my own. My father suddenly became very ill- this really drove home the importance of seizing the day, and not taking passions for granted. It became clear that I’d need to be brave, and take a leap if I wanted to share myself with the world. The other event was a very fortunate one! My husband’s wine importing business had acquired more warehouse space, and there was a perfect little rectangular room that they didn’t have a need for. With lots of encouragement from friends and family Passionflower was born!
For the first 4 years, the studio focused on weddings- doing around 50 per season. This past year, I decided to pull back on weddings a bit, and focus more on my current passions- living jewelry, wearable floral art, and professional floral instruction. Future projects include a line of home decor for flower lovers, and eventually a book.
Living jewelry is so beautiful and intriguing, but not necessarily that common, besides flower crowns and some other forms of headpieces. How did you get into living jewelry?
I was inspired after a session with the wonderful Francoise Weeks at a workshop in California two years ago. I made a floral ring, and the photographers covering the conference liked it and asked me if I would make a collection of floral jewelry for an upcoming fashion shoot. Of course I said yes, but was heading back to Michigan in a few days, and they live in California. I told them I would make some pieces and ship them overnight. Well, when I got home, I had to figure out what to use that would survive the trip and still look great. Succulents, of course! They are perfect- sturdy, resilient, and they look beautiful for days-even weeks out of soil. The reaction I got to these pieces was so exciting- it prompted me to open an Etsy shop, and I’ve been shipping succulent jewelry throughout the US ever since!
Who or what (or both!) inspires you when you’re in the studio creating, whether it’s living jewelry or a wedding centerpiece?
I’m very inspired by the materials I use. The flowers and foliages must be interesting and beautiful on their own for me to feel charged while arranging them. If I’m excited by the collection of elements in front of me, the arranging doesn’t feel like work- it feels like a choreographed dance- each element taking it’s perfect place and supporting its partners.
What trends are you seeing in wedding flowers right now, and how do you incorporate them into wearable pieces for the bride?
I’m seeing loose, artful, gracefully arranged pieces that look a little wild…I love this! For me, a little on the weird side is a wonderful thing- arrangements should stir something inside you! I’m also seeing a lot of berried branches, vines, and interesting foliages- I definitely love to incorporate unexpected foliages and textural elements into my wearables.
Education is such an important part of our industry, and it seems like you are very involved, both on the learning and teaching ends. Tell us about your experiences with floral education, and how they have helped you evolve into the designer you are today?
When I first became interested in floral design, I found it very difficult to find learning opportunities. I devoured every design book at the library, watched every online tutorial I could find, and searched for an internship. I eventually found the Michigan Floral Association, and was thrilled to learn that they have a certification program. I went through this process, and got my certification in 2008. I met many inspiring florists, worked with them, and absorbed all the knowledge that they would give me. But I have to say that the real turning point for me- the point at which I began to really delve into my passion was when I connected with The Chapel Designers. This group of generous, talented, supportive, driven, flower-obsessed florists blew my mind wide open. I instantly felt at home within this group, and the knowledge I gained from spending time at these conferences, and working and getting to know these people has propelled me further than I thought possible. Another life changing experience was the workshop I took with Francoise Weeks two years ago. I actually won the workshop through a giveaway on the blog Botanical Brouhaha! I had spent years establishing my business and trying to please brides, and this workshop forced me to slow down and make beautiful, unusual floral art pieces just for me. It changed the way I approach design, and re-kindled my love for fashion and jewelry. It changed the way I looked at myself and my business! I’m so pleased to say that my journey has brought me full circle- I was once a young, hungry floral design student searching for knowledge and professional instruction, and now I’m teaching and sharing what I’ve learned over the years with others. I’ve created a one-on-one teaching program for professional florists, and have taught six students so far this year. I also assisted at two Floret workshops, and will teach at three of these next year. I’m thrilled to be teaching at the March Chapel Designer’s conference in New York City, and at Mood Flowers in Glasgow Scotland this spring.
Right alongside education is the importance of community and collaboration. You’re involved with Flower House, an incredible project in Detroit in which an old, abandoned house will be filled with local flowers and plants for a weekend installation, and then deconstructed and converted into a flower farm and design center. How did you get involved, and what is your role in it?
I became involved because the creator of FlowerHouse, Lisa Waud is a good friend. At first, we’d chat about this grand idea over coffee…but pretty soon, it became clear that Lisa was really going to make this happen! My role has been a supportive one- listening to Lisa’s amazing ideas, adding some of my own, and helping push the project forward. I’m incredibly impressed by what she and the FlowerHouse team have accomplished, and am thrilled share in this goodness.
What do you think this new flower farm and design center will bring to the community of Detroit?
It’s a very exciting time for Detroit. The city is experiencing a rebirth, and FlowerHouse is a physical representation of that. I love the idea of re-purposing the land in this way. There are many ways to bring vibrancy and value back to abandoned spaces, but an urban flower farm? It might just be the most inspiring, creative way!
You are sharing a room with Francoise Weeks which is exciting! How do you see the two of you collaborating together to create a beautiful, living space?
Francoise and I work very well together- we share a similar aesthetic, and both love creating surfaces that look like tapestries- alive with intricate texture. We shared ideas for our kitchen space early on- she conceived a free form dripping “chandelier” made with berried branch, vegetables, herbs, foliages and delicate flowers, and I a table and chairs encased in foliage that will look as if it’s growing out of the floor. We are lucky to have many talented hands at the ready- florist volunteers that will help us bring this dreamy surreal kitchen to life.
And to wrap things up, what is one piece of advice you’d like to go back and tell yourself during your first year of designing?
Be yourself! Think about what you have to offer- what excites you most, what makes you dance around, what you most enjoy doing. These are your passions. Follow them fiercely! Make sure to take the time to develop your own aesthetic- be more “you” than you think you should. It’s our individuality that makes us stand out- it should be celebrated.
And if you hadn’t already seen it and need more dreamy Passionflower inspo, drop everything immediately and rush over to our Instagram – her takeover was totally insane! And be sure to check out Sue’s Instagram as well!