We sat down with co-founder Karen Marshall of Fleur de Villes to find out how she’s transforming the way we connect with flowers and the world around us – one petal at a time.
Founded by entrepreneurs Karen Marshall and Tina Barkley in 2017, Fleurs de Villes (or ‘flowers of the cities’) creates bespoke events and experiences using floral design. With backgrounds in marketing and publishing, the pair realised they could use their experience to offer something unique to the global consumers and brands they worked with. Since their first show, they have built an enthusiastic team
and developed partnerships with local florists, designers, nurseries and global brands to create immersive experiences.
Why did you decide to start Fleurs de Villes?
I worked in publishing and media for over two decades. I saw that the media world was changing and there seemed to have been a missed opportunity to connect humans to humans, and humans to extraordinary art in a simple way. I saw an opening in public shopping spaces when I was working in that world and knew the experiential side of retail was lacking.
What is it about flowers that engages people from all around the world?
From our experiences living abroad, Tina and I have made note of changes and cultural differences and we think that the one unifying thing is flowers – everybody loves flowers. It’s a very democratic element to work with but it’s also very luxurious and that speaks to people. Whether you’re a luxury shopper or not, you can view flowers as a luxury. Tina and I really focus on bringing the best floral experiences to life in each market through top florists, which is interesting because you can see different cultures and markets through the florists.
How did the Fleurs de Villes shows start in London?
When we launched our company in Canada two years ago, we had shows in six cities and we wanted to go abroad. We set our sights on London as the first launch and connected with Covent Garden. It made sense to be in Covent Garden with its historical background of the market. I think it’s special for the florists, it’s something that they haven’t done before and there aren’t too many flower shops around anymore. We ask these top florists to create lovely mannequins designed with their approach to art but also a nod to the brands who sponsor them.
What happens during the Fleur de Villes celebrations?
There is a big kick-off celebration on May 15th with a lovely VIP night and then the event continues for five days. There will be all kinds of floral activities and lots of ways to interact with the mannequins by getting the public to vote on their favourites. It’s a difficult decision because every mannequin is unique.
What are your main plans for the business in the future?
We would like to expand into different markets. We would like to do a show in Manchester and Edinburgh so that we have at least three shows covered in the UK. We’re launching in the US this Autumn – in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York and are doing more shows in Canada. We’ve also been approached worldwide – we’ll hopefully be in Australia, Asia, the Middle East as well as Europe. We’ve also seen a lot of requests for creating different products so we might grow into a variety of different areas.
Following your instincts appears to have played a large role in the success of Fleurs de Villes. Would you agree?
Yes. It’s all about passion and we have a real passion for the business and emotion that comes from people’s connection to flowers. We always say flowers make us happy and happy humans are the world’s best advertisers. So, brands that align themselves with us get to communicate with people in a different way.
Flowers and nature can be quite grounding in the chaos of the modern world. Therefore, there is a strong wellness factor to your business too – does that resonate with you?
Our very first show was a lovely experience. I was called to customer services in the shopping mall and I thought, “oh gosh! What’s happened, have the mannequins blown over?” There was a lady there with her 13-year-old daughter. She wasn’t having a great day, but she spent over an hour at our show and her spirits just lifted. I get very emotional with this one – she was crying and wanted to thank me for changing her mood, spirit and reminding her of the true meaning of life. And that was our first show! We get people in tears all the time.
You began Fleurs de Villes after working in publishing . What advice would you give someone hoping to change career paths and start their own business?
I call this my mid-life crisis but it’s not really! I find in life there are links and there’s a ribbon in your life that connects everything. Tina and I both come from marketing backgrounds and we could see there was an opening in this field, and we decided to take the risk. Being brave in that sense is a difficult thing to do – my advice is to be brave and to follow your passion and gut. Don’t think about money initially but make smart choices about who you’re aligning your brand with. If you can align yourself with people with the same passion and perhaps a different skill set, good things will grow from that – pardon the pun!
What three words sum up your work?
There are three words that I live by and they all start with the letter P. They are passion, purpose and possibility. Regardless of what you do you have to have a passion for it. Purpose because you might love what you do but you must have some purpose for it, and we like to see possibility in all that we do. And polish – polish yourself and your work so that your offering is different to others’ work.