Sullivan Owen
hen we found out who was behind the pretty arrangements perched upon tables and desks around the office we wanted to know more. Here, Philly-based florist
talks ‘unruly’-style flowers, varietals to look out for, and how the last thing a wedding should be about is whose chuppah is bigger.
Sullivan Owen
We heard you used to be a display artist at Urban Outfitters! Can you talk about your beginnings with UO and how you transitioned into flower styling?
As a sales associate (in the nineties!!) I remember thinking how cool and different the store displays were compared to anything else at the time. The president of the company would walk the floor and chat with us pretty much on a daily basis. That had a big impact on me. I was still kind of a kid and it was the first time I realized that just a couple people—if they were really passionate about an idea—could create something hugely successful. I went on to manage display at UO stores in Texas, but eventually moved back to the east coast to get married. I did the flowers for my wedding and liked the process so much I signed up for classes. When a professor at my school told me I was good enough to do this full time that was it.
How would you describe your style to someone who hasn't seen it?
Loose, unstructured, and garden-like. A lot of designers are making wild and interesting shapes right now, but it's your material and color selection, and the way you combine color and texture that sets you apart. Like if I see one more mason jar centerpiece..#%*! I just came across this beautiful ivory snakeskin and I'm waiting for the bride who'd be into letting me wrap her bouquet with it.
What is a typical day at work for you?
On Wednesdays I'm up at three in the morning to shop for flowers. I like to physically shop and there's nowhere in Philly to do that, so I drive up to the Chelsea flower market in Manhattan. I focus on color or movement—like I love clematis because it has this great winding shape and tangles really well. I get back around 10, get everything into water, and then start organizing. We have recipes for certain things, so we'll clump what we need for them together, and spend the afternoon designing.
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Do you have a dream project?
Oh my god—to be Grace Coddington's floral stylist! She loves to use flowers in her shoots. I have no idea whether or not she does them herself...
What's your favorite flower to...
look at:
It's kind of clinical to describe it like this, but on a really well-hydrated rose there's this dewy quality to the petals that's almost luminous
work with:
Too hard to choose!
smell:
It's funny, I can only smell like a dozen flowers, I have some sort of block. But of those: sweet pea
introduce people to:
Fritillaria. They just put new varietals on the market and they're so beautiful
What's the least glamorous part about your job?
1 a.m. breakdowns after weddings. Moldy, mushy flowers. Freight elevators. Paperwork...
Where do your flowers come from?
It really depends. There's a huge movement to grow more flowers locally. In the summer months when there's a lot growing around here our supply is usually 50/50 local/imported, or from California. As far as imports go: South America, Japan, and Europe mostly. Israel is starting to export, and some Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa stuff, too.
Other than flowers, what do you collect?
I inherited a huge collection of antique medical bottles, candy boxes, old packaging, etc. A lot of weird things like tonics from the thirties and creepy medical oddities. It's empty, but I havea box for tape worms that people actually used for dieting!
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We hear you are travelling to Europe for business AND pleasure. What are you going to do?
I'm going to Amsterdam and to the flower auction right outside of Amsterdam. Then I'm going to spend a week in Paris studying with French designer Christian Tortu. My dad is going to join me for a few days in Paris too.
What is the flower auction like?
They move like 20 million stems a day! It's the world auction for that region and it's in a city called Aalsmeer. The way it works is there's a bunch of guys at desks in different rooms and the flowers come in on conveyers. They're in lots of 500-1200 stems and the guys at desks are all exporters. The guys make their bid based on what they think each type of stem is worth as the price rapidly drops—hence the term ‘dutch auction’.
Cool! So other than travelling, how do you manage the stress of running a small business?
I'll peel a bucket of poppy pods for like an hour and just let myself zone out. Our new studio is across the street from the Philly carriage-tour stables. I have a favorite white horse over there. It's a peaceful view...
If Justin Timberlake called up tomorrow and was like, I need a boutonniere, do anything you want. What would you do?
Hmm, JT has been sporting a clean, retro-inspired look these days, so I think a traditional English buttonhole style. The black and white Anemone is a favorite of mine and looks striking on a tux.
What about a bouquet for Princess Buttercup? (from The Princess Bride)
A wild petite bouquet of foraged Spirea, Sweet Pea, Lily of the Valley, Hellebore, and wild bines gathered in an embroidered ribbon.
Beautiful. Thank you Sullivan!

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READ MORE ABOUT SULLIVAN OWEN FLORAL & EVENT DESIGN