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Interview with Holly Chapple of Chapel Designers

July 30, 2014 Bloompop Team

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Bloompop recently had the chance to interview one of our flower idols - Holly Heider Chapple of the namesake, famed flower design studio as well as the creator and head of the Chapple Designers florist collective. A creative powerhouse, Holly’s designs are elegant, natural, and pinned all over. With years of experience (she’s been a florist since the age of 24!) and an eye for gorgeous design, her work is at the forefront of floral innovation. We caught up with her just before her amazing work for The Knot’s Dream Wedding came out.

Bloompop: How did you get started in floral design?

Holly Heider Chapple: My parents were farmers and landscapers. We had a garden center through all of the years of my youth. My siblings and I were on a working farm from the day we were born, so it came naturally. From a very early age I was expected to design wreaths and centerpieces for the holiday season. I learned most of my mechanics and design sense during those early years. No one understands mechanics and foundation better then a farmer. It was my father who taught me how to make a centerpiece, a kissing ball, a homemade garland, and how to make a wreath by hand.

When my husband and I married, we moved to a beautiful property [in Loudoun County, VA]. It was loaded with lilacs, spirea, hydrangea, and peonies. I found myself turning to the flowers on this property and found myself looking at them as a designer rather than a grower. I wanted to stay home with the kids, but didn’t know how to design for weddings. I figured with the experience I had designing at Christmas and working at the family garden center I’d figure it out. I’ve been full throttle ever since I was 24 years old when I made the commitment to go forward with a career in wedding and event design. We remain at that same property today, now our little piece of land is an official agricultural business. Over the years we have added significantly to our gardens. 

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Bpop: Do you think you need to have formal training to become a great floral designer?

HHC: I think you have to have some backbone - knowledge of flowers and their care, that’s part of it. It was natural for me, because I had been immersed in it all my life. The mechanics of it are certainly important. 

That being said, yes, I think you can be a very good designer without formal training. It comes to some people. Beyond that, eventually you and your customers will get bored. To grow and change, you will need new inspirations, instructions, and ideas. Workshops and classes are great for that. I get such inspiration from my personal gardens, I definitely learn from other designers, and I am always reaching within myself to think of something new and different. There can be a sense of seeing the same things over and over again, and, to me, being a great floral designer is also about doing something different. My travels abroad have most certainly brought me the most inspiration and they keep me fresh and inspired. However, it took me 21 years to earn the privilege to either study or teach abroad. I think it’s important to remember that being good designer takes years of practice and persistence. 

Bpop: We absolutely adore your floral aesthetic. How would you describe your style? Do you think it has changed over the years? If so, how?

HHC: A loose and airy garden style with a formal elegance. It’s evolved over the years due to the fact that I am growing both as a designer as well as a farmer and working with local growers. Also, because of social media, I’ve started honing my look. When I was young, I made what we were asked to make - a bride would bring me a design, and I’d make something like it.  When I became active in social media, I started creating for creations sake. I filled the Internet with my work, not the duplication of another designer’s work. Once those designs were published via social media, brides started coming to me because of MY designs, rather than asking our studio to replicate what someone else had created. My designs have stayed formal, elegant, upscale. I don’t ever want “my look” to leave the realm of pretty.

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Bpop: You recently started a creative collective in Middleburg for events professionals. Can you tell us more about that? Is this meant as a one-stop-shop for weddings, ie do you collaborate with the others in the space on a single wedding, for example?

HHC: It’s a shared space, which allows me to have my name on the door in Middleburg, VA. When I am doing full event design, I will go to the members in this collaborative first to check their availability. We all began collaborating two years ago on Matilda’s wedding. Matilda’s family owns the Red Fox Inn.  So yes, it can definitely be a one-stop shop for weddings.

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Bpop: What trends have you been seeing for floral design in 2014 so far? Any colors, flowers, or styles? What’s your most favorite right now?

HHC: It’s definitely swinging back to more traditional, less organic. It was so wild and so understated for such a long time. You know, the rustic barn environment all the time. Now we are moving back to a more formal environment. It’s still very lush and full and beautiful, but the mason jars are certainly gone. So if we’re in a barn, it’s now about making that space more formal and elegant. Gold, lots of garlands, lots of hanging installations, etc.

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Bpop: Yes! Hanging installations. We’ve been seeing these a lot. They seem more complicated than the usual wedding flower fare. Any tips on that?

HHC: Well, you’ve got to have the right infrastructure for these types of designs. Barns or industrial spaces are typically easy to design in because of the exposed beams. In tents we ask the tent company to do the rigging for us. In addition to this the mechanics on these types of designs need to be very sound. This type of design does indeed take an experienced designer to pull off. Arrangements suspended in the air are certainly risky. 

Bpop: Tell us a bit more about the Chapel Designers Collective. How did it start? Who is a part of it?

HHC: What happened was, via social media, people were asking me for help and guidance and I would happily answer these questions. I didn’t realize along the way that I was building a tribe. At some point, I asked via Twitter, “who wants to meet me in NYC?” All of these people I’d helped or interacted with along the way responded to my offer and I found myself hosting my first conference in NYC. That event was amazing. Since then we have annually hosted events in NYC, and now added CA, Australia and Chapel Designer events at my studio in Virginia. Anyone can come to the conferences we set up. However if you want to actually be a Chapel Designer, you must have an active business, a website, and you must attend at least one conference. The conferences are crucial to developing relationships and trust. We’re inclusive by design. After conferences, designers that meet the above criteria are brought into a closed forum. In that forum we’re constantly helping each other with staffing for events, contracting, terms, sourcing, etc. All of that is discussed. I’ve also acquired discounts for members – vases, ribbons, etc. – perks for being a member. Actually, we should talk about a discount for Chapel Designers from Bloompop! We’re an all-inclusive group. The biggest thing is how we behave. We are constantly supportive and if you cause anguish within the group you will be asked to leave our closed forum. The support this group offers is unheard of in the industry. It’s amazing what we’ve seen in terms of personal growth from each of our members.  Some of this is a result of the fact that we have a list of attainable goals for each calendar year. Each designer must accomplish at least three things from our list in order to stay current with their membership. This isn’t me saying ‘you have to design like this’ – it’s the group encouraging the designer to do the things needed for growth and development. Get a new headshot, do a photo shoot, start a blog, update your website. When you get in a lull, it’s difficult to remember to do those things day to day, so having the goal list has been really helpful. 

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Bpop: This might be selection bias, but there seem to be a lot more boutique flower studios popping up these days than in the past. Why do you think that is?

HHC: People do not want to see a cookie cutter design. The artistry of floral design was being lost. In the past, we [the industry] were trying to simplify by having parent companies, and you were using the exact same flowers over and over again. Consumers no longer want cookie cutter. People want real designers. I want designers to listen to the intuitive part within them that tells them where to place the flowers. When the design feels like its loved and inspired, people will want it. I think this could save regular retail florists as well. No one wants manufactured looking flowers. It’s a natural element. We are creating the most unique and beautiful designs, and that’s creating demand. Those are the designs that are being featured on the web. It’s not the cookie cutter design you see being published or that brides or consumers are asking for. You put one of those types of designs up on Instagram and it won’t get any likes. We’re creating that demand as boutique studios, which in turn means there’s a bigger need for them.

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Bpop: Any words of advice to people thinking of starting a career in floral design?

HHC: Obviously look into Chapel Designers conferences! I would never, ever return to my life before this network of designers. Life was very lonely before them. This is a very, very difficult career. It’s becoming kind of cool to become a florist or an event designer, however new designers don’t realize just how much hard work this really is, even harder is to remain profitable. If you don’t really, really, full-heartedly love this, I think your designs show it and you won’t have the stamina to last. This is not an easy path. I’ve had women with amazing careers in engineering, interior design, fashion, etc. tell me they want to be florists, and I advise them that they really need to be sure this is for them. You have to be fully passionate about this, it almost has to be a part of your soul or I would not advise anyone to go down this path. Meeting everyone’s expectations in the wedding industry is complicated. Sourcing flowers has become more difficult as well. Because of the internet, brides are searching for specific blooms – supply really isn’t there yet for the demand that’s being created for these specific elements – café au lait dahlias, etc.

I have that passion in me, so much so that I think there’s something wrong with me – I cannot stop creating. If I were to lay this out rationally I don’t think I could justify this career to a normal person. I want to be very clear to any person who is trying to get into this: Yes, my entire family is living off of this now, but that’s working 7 days a week. The backend of this career is not glamorous. It’s not all playing with flowers. It is a ton of lifting, pulling, dragging, and running. It’s a super high anxiety career as you are begging for the promised blooms. As the founder of the business, not only do you have to be creative you have to be good at accounting, customer relations, marketing, and sales. It’s hard to sell flowers because clients don’t really understand the true value of flowers. I try my best to explain to the consumer how much labor and love goes into growing, shipping, sourcing, and designing flowers. Flowers are tended from seedling all the way to the event. It takes months of care to create a bloom. Once you explain all of these steps to a client it makes selling them easier, but my years of knowledge and years of experience make that explanation easier for the client to understand. If you are sitting down blindly and you don’t have all of that to recall to a client, it’s difficult to really explain the value to people. I can’t tell you how many times I worked through the night as a young woman. In the olden days I was alone in m flower shop thinking I was the only one in the world going through these challenges. But now, with this support network [Chapel Designers] – there has been such a huge transformation. 

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Bpop: Ok, our final question. This should be an easy one: do you have a favorite flower?

HHC: (laughs) Not going to answer that one. Everyone loves asking that - ‘what would I do if I were making flowers for my own wedding and it was happening today?’ I always say: a bushel basket with one of everything in it. 

Bpop: Haha, ok, I guess that wasn’t so easy after all! Fair enough. Thanks so much for the wonderful interview, Holly! 

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