In this week’s Florist Friday blog post, I’m thrilled to feature a very heart-felt interview with Danish-born Yan Skates. Read on to discover the captivating story of how Yan’s career has progressed from artist to florist…
Could you tell us what prompted you to become a florist?
As it turned out, it was one of those big life junction moments. I was a very active artist in Spitalfields Market in London, the centre of which was Sandra’s pub, The Golden Heart on Commercial Street, along with the YBA (Young British Artists) darlings like Tracey Emin and the Chapman Brothers. I was doing shows with Gavin Turk and Patrick Hughes at the Saatchi Gallery for Brian Eno’s War Child charity, café shows in Soho curated by Roland Mouret and doing the Art Supermarket in Harvey Nichols, plus so much more.
The Sunday market at Spitalfields had about 20 stalls of which most were vegetables and I got put in charge of running the flower stall. As a bit of extra money for canvas and paint, I got a one-day-a-week job at a Turkish flower wholesaler on Cambridge Heath Road in Hackney and Ali thought it was a good way of getting rid of all the leftovers at the end of every week by doing markets. I got Spitalfields and turned it into a weekly frenzy.
The local artist community were there from the start, with Gary Hume, Gavin Turk, Gilbert and George, etc., buying handmade bunches every week. We must have sold more than 100 hand ties every Sunday. This taught me speed. The days in wholesale gave me botanical knowledge, as we had to write chalkboard price tags every day. If you write out Bupleurum hundreds of times, you actually remember what it looks like.
So back to the prompt. In 1997, the condemned part of Spitalfields, which the 80+ artist studios were in and where I had a basement studio, eventually got closed down for the final excavations. So no studio. They promised, but nothing happened. The management at Spitalfields then offered me a shop, knowing me from the Sunday market, and I decided with a jeweller friend to make a go at a venture called Bespoke. She would make jewellery in the shop and I would make floral displays. As we were painting the shop inside, a restaurant that was opening around the corner came and asked us if we could do their weekly flowers and the rent was paid!
Could you tell us how your floristry career has progressed?
My floristry career has progressed and developed into several different branches of floral expression. The shop work turned into be too much about guilty husbands and funerals. So when some gorgeous young event managers turned up one day and asked if I wanted to help with the launch of The Lion King, I realised that this was the way forward. I realised that I enjoy full control over how flowers are presented. Doing a bouquet without knowing what it it’s going in or up against just isn’t me.
Now, with access to all the most fabulous buildings in London for parties and events, I sold the shop and concentrated fully on the event companies. The achievements in this field are many: Royals – most of Europe, celebrities – fun ones, brands – cool and edgy. But the biggest is to be able to say that I think I have been in nearly every loading bay of London venues…and the rest.
Then another life moment happened when my mother suddenly died at 56 in an accident. I lost my focus for a bit. During a supportive visit from my grandmother (she thought I was losing it completely and she might have been right), we went to a local flower arranging club, who were advertising their show on a high street near our workshop. I thought ‘cheap entertainment for the old girl’. Instead, I was blown away by the talents on display. Nothing I had ever seen before. I signed up immediately – first male member ever – and nan nearly bagged a very handsome 76 year old steward too. Being a fully signed up NAFAS member saved my life! Competing and going to demonstrations became the new obsession. Warning! This is seriously addictive.
And then there have been other new interests added to the list. Recently, we’ve started doing a lot of editorial fashion magazine work. The visual results are clearly satisfying the fine artist inside. A new passion we are pursuing. Then, there is the whole issue of a culture being based around images and visual interaction which is obviously of interest. So Instagram is being pursued very passionately along with the rest.
When did you start your business and where are you based?
Started the business in 1997. No retail. Based in Hackney and Surrey. We usually meet our clients in their own offices or if they want to come to our lovely gardens in Surrey, they are more than welcome.
What kind of floristry services do you offer?
Flowers for events and functions – launch parties, fashion shows, weddings, bar mitzvahs. Contract flowers – hotels, venues, country houses, private homes, galleries. Editorial – magazines and online.
Where do you get inspiration for your floral designs?
I have such a creative team with so many interests and backgrounds. So usually every creative meeting about any creative brief for an event turns out dozens of new ideas.
I don’t think we could ever realise all the ideas we get through.
How would you describe your style?
Ahh this is interesting, because I think this is actually a different question. We do NOT impose our style. For every event, we want the guest to think that the flowers and styling are just ‘So X’. For me, it would be a total failure if the guests came and said “That’s so Yan Skates.” We love everyone to love it, obviously. But if it doesn’t fit the occasion perfectly, it’s not good enough.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2014?
More NAFAS competitions. More hotel contracts. More photoshoots.
What is your favourite flower?
It will always be the rose – scent, any colour fashion dictates, easy for arranging (strong stem), all year round, comes in many sizes, loads of petals – it’s basically paint in a flower!
Thank you so much to Yan for all his help in compiling today’s post. If you’d like to see more of his breath-taking work, simply pop over to his website.
To keep up-to-date with Yan’s news, here’s where you can find him on social media:
(Images : Yan Skates)