November was a month of inclement storms and cold viruses and restless nights. Wreath commissions and home decorations for Christmas came flooding in and we exhausted every single inch of space of the studio that we are rapidly outgrowing, frenziedly amassing crates of moss from Finland and acquiring an inordinate stockpile of miscellaneous accessories that formed decorative pyramids of random objects on the worktops ~ rusty cowbells, peacock feathers, bunches of pepper berries, dried artichoke heads, blown quail’s eggs, beeswax taper candles; I could go on. At some point in the month a colour palette evolves - mostly lichen, slate, copper, mustard and tobacco, and I develop an inexplicable appetite for rather elderly shades of peach (why?). Our wreaths are going no-where without being properly dressed for the occasion and we return from London streaming with silk sari trims, embroidered ribbon, lace ribbon, sequinned ribbon, velvets, taffetas. I decide that in another time I would have been the proprietress of a shadowy little ribbon shop on the corner of a particularly Dickensian street, lit with dimly gleaming lanterns, the purveyor of endless spools of ribbon-y delights. In another life.
There is a certain kind of alchemy to laying the final slip of tissue over a wreath cushioned in its box before it disappears into the night. My favourite is promised to the dining table of a townhouse in Holland Park, a delicate little nest of lichen and feathers and those tiny speckled eggs encircled by alder cones ~ hard to part with, sentimental as that may be. It is delivered by courier and I have the loveliest message the following day from our client. She tells me that it reminds her of the birds' nests she once built as a child, hoping that a wren or a thrush might make a home there, that it smells of our native hedges. Next week we will be designing decorations for a photoshoot for the House & Garden Christmas issue 2016. Strange to be working a full year ahead. I wonder where we will be this time next year, and what we'll be working on then.
In the thick of festive preparations I forget to eat regularly and survive on sporadic top-ups of primula and Mum’s seedcake. I forget my name and what day of the week it is. Cups of tea are left unsipped. I am hell-bent on the sculpture shape of whatever wreath I am working on, the misty silhouette of thyme, pine, tangled moss and dogwood. The studio smells of cedar and cinnamon. A great many wreaths are wrought; wreaths for shops and parties and front porches and photo shoots, minimalist, abundant, fruity, feathery. On my bedside table and on the chair beside the bath remain half-finished biro sketches of leafy circles and skeletal laurels.
Last month I felt very disillusioned with social media for a time. Resultantly our Instagram feed turned almost entirely brown which I am only now remedying. I felt sick to death of linen, plethoric images of aprons crumpled to perfection and rustic Irish tablecloths, overwhelmingly bored of eucalyptus of every variety and beautiful blowsy bouquets in far-off shoots, and bride-models with immaculately curled hair that would be sullied by no wind on earth. Yawn! Of course, we never have perfect hair. Our hair does what it wants (primarily Emma Watson as Hermione Granger circa 2001) and no endeavor with Elnett will make the slightest jot of difference to that. Much as I love Instagram sometimes there are just too many ironic V signs and potty-mouthed captions (Question: does profuse online swearing make one cool? Answer: probably), the nauseating (also meaningless) hashtags, and just the general sameness. I unfollow a few accounts, and then feel irrationally guilty for doing so, as though I have committed a crime. But then, on a rain-misted afternoon I drink a cup of tea and vicariously enjoy a moment in Jaipur, and a beautiful garden in Los Angeles, and an espresso in a Milan market, and I’m devoted all over again.
Most weeks Jess and I have a ‘team meeting’ on a Monday morning (yes, just she and I, though we frequently toy with the idea of adding a fox terrier/German pointer to the workforce) where we discuss orders and tinker with designs and plan for upcoming projects. Jesse more often than not has an agenda, written neatly into her taupe Moleskin, because that’s just how she rolls. We start with item one and then spend a considerable amount of time discussing the latest episode of The Bridge and Saga’s leather trousers. We buy bulbs and choose what we want to grow for next year's brides (more on this soon). I have recently developed the courage to say ‘no’ to jobs that aren’t us, that we wouldn’t be suited to, or we just outright wouldn’t be inspired to do and there is a certain thrill to just taking on the projects that we love and the clients that we are excited to work with. Last year we did a lot of work for the sake of experience (on top of distractedly holding down a day job) but we know where we are headed now, and the key to staying on track is sticking to our guns. We will never be the Amazon of this industry, or in the Interflora category, and we don’t want to be; we aren’t a florist with a shop, we don’t want to churn out wedding bouquets in minutes or replicate the same designs time and again; we want to grow and be challenged, but remain true to why we started. What comes naturally to us is taking time over what we are creating, telling a story, researching thoroughly, sourcing carefully, finding exactly the right ribbon or vase for a client, foraging unique branches of speckled leaves and strange vines that we do not always know the names of.
At the end of November Jess turns 28. We celebrate en-famille here at the cottage, with roast chicken and prosecco beside the fire. I decorate a cake with coconut cream and sprigs of gleaming redcurrants. I attempt to write her a rap-poem based on 50 Cent Go Shorty. It isn’t successful. Instead I blurt a rather schmaltzy tribute that she nevertheless deserves. She is my sister, after all, my best girlfriend, my business partner. She introduced me to a life-enhancing Mexican hot chocolate recipe for which I will be eternally grateful. Barring mushrooms and primary red we agree on most things.
I bought the most beautiful party dress that has reduced me to being a fifteen-year-old girl again and wanting to dress up in front of the mirror in Mum’s pearls and heels. Some clothes are very nostalgia-inducing in that way. When I was three, possibly four, I had a navy blue velvet dress just the same. My parents have a photo in one of the albums and I am sitting on a window-sill with my hair all shiny and freshly brushed – without exception at odds with the surrounding pictures - presumably pre-birthday party. The dress has a smocked bodice and wide white collar; on my feet are buckled Mary-Jane pumps. It only took me twenty-seven (possibly twenty-eight) years to find a replacement (via Spanish label Masscob), but I am feeling very Wolf Hall inspired this season and perhaps that was the catalyst. Silk velvet, the fabric of my dreams. And so I leave you.