It is a new year, 1st January 2018.
2017 was an extraordinary whirlwind. I still can't seem to compute how much has happened this last year and how life-altering it has been. Jess and I flick through photographs, recapping the last twelve months. So many flowers.
In summary. Accompanied by some of our favourite images from 2017.
In January our beloved family Bengal cat was run over on the road beside our parent's last house in Oxford. She was too young and it was a heartbreaking knock to begin the New Year with. We both drove up separately from London and walked around the house feeling her absence in every room. It was a grey time but slowly colour trickled back into our lives, with the first tulips and narcissi blooming in the cutting garden, harbingers of spring on their heels. Having our own flowers again - fat, flirtatious tulips the frailest anemones and ice-white ranunculus was a simple joy and coaxed us back to work.
There is one photograph, taken in February, of the peeling red backdoor of our studio, leaning wonkily on its frame under a dirty window, and beyond the sunlit rubble and dusty overgrowth of the yard. It was freezing that day; the space was a dark, cobwebby cavern with a cold echo that only derelict buildings have, from years without human care. I remember Jess and I looked at eachother and thought sh*t! We sure had taken on a fixer upper.
Work began almost immediately and is still ongoing but in summary we have almost fully renovated now - a new floor floated in, glass doors and windows installed, an office space, a mezzanine floor and all new plumbing, electrics and lighting. The garden, a stony, scrubby patch of land under the extended overground platform of the Hammersmith & City line above at Shepherd's Bush Market, is next year's project and will hopefully by the summer be a pretty, leafy courtyard where we can catch the rays and grow plants for cutting. So far, we have some climbing roses, camellia, a small fuschia tree, a palm and lots of heuchera. Rather an incongruous mix at the moment. At one end, we have built a greenhouse where our seedlings for this year are slowly germinating and throwing up their fragile, hopeful first shoots.
2017 was the year we found Camille. Back in March we advertised for help on Instagram and shortly after we met in a pub one evening on the Goldhawk Road. We sat at the bar and before we were halfway through our drinks knew that we would get along famously; we'd all reminisced weepily about lost cats together within half an hour so were clearly going to become firm friends. We did, and she started working with us on the 'building site' soon after. Having this sunny, loyal lady with us has given Jess and I such a wonderful reminder of what we're trying to create at Aesme and why. It must be a bit odd, coming into a small family business but somehow she just seamlessly fit right from the start. Camille loves flowers in the same way we do, she goes into a sort of trance-like state, arranging a bowl or a vase of flowers. She whistles frequently while she works. She wears beautiful vintage clothes. We've shared some fun and stressful times over the past few months, lots of coffee, lots of takeaway burritos and odd hours. We listen to Martha Wainwright, Leonard Cohen, BB King. Once or twice, when we've all been working together in the studio, I've thought: this is going to become a happy memory. It felt like the beginning of something good.
Wedding season ensued and it has been more or less non-stop since with a little lull in September when I escaped to Wales and explored the wild beauty of Pembrokeshire's coastline. Spring became a hot summer and then a misty autumn. We began making local deliveries, teaching classes, hosted the first pop-up at the studio. The cutting garden brought us so many beautiful flowers and we worked hard on sourcing the best of British from further afield.
Along came Mavis, of course. How could I forget? My darling Irish Terrier who is never far beyond my shadow these days. People always say that dogs are the greatest human companions but I never fully expected the bond that we'd develop. She is a plucky little creature, a strange, strong character - very intelligent, and with a permanently quizzical expression emanating from piercing coal-black eyes, a little close together, under long eyebrows that would befit an ancient, sage grandfather. She has a wonderful, dark tipped beard which misleads most into thinking she is male (hey, ladies can have beards too!), long, slender legs that give her a faintly aristocratic air, and a salt n'pepper brush of a tail. Irish Terriers were bred to be the working dogs of farmers or gypsies and were extremely popular in the earlier part of the century but they fell out of favour after the Second World War when everyone wanted to put everything related to the war years as far as possible from their minds. During the Great War they were used as messenger dogs in the trenches and became mascots to their regiments - there are many letters documenting their extraordinary courage and devotion, running messages, laying telegraph wires, digging for survivors. The first time Mavis 'guarded' me, she was a twelve week old puppy, still quite tiny, and she got between me and an Alsatian on the street who presumed to stray too close. Needless to say, we all absolutely dote on her, she is spoilt rotten and is growing into quite the little madam.
One thing I've learned this year in what has been one long lesson. At a certain point, and I don't remember when exactly this was, I realised that we were somehow going to have to become businesswomen in order to make the work/lifestyle goals we had a reality. I'll put my hands up and say that I am a dreamer, an 'ideas and concepts person' and perhaps before that has precluded me from being very good at the nitty gritty. I've also always been flighty, easily restless. Sometimes I've been a quitter. In any case, I overlooked the fact that if you run your own business you are going to have to get very good at the nitty gritty and you can't quit or flake out for a second. Because from the beginning you are the boss and the employee, the sales, the marketing, the customer service, the labour, the accountant, and then on top of that, you have to be the creative vision too, setting the course. This year Jess and I have somehow managed to keep all the plates spinning between us and it has been surprising, fast, frightening, exhausting and definitely character-building. But the two of us have a really special bond as sisters, and as co-workers. Aesme is the sum of our parts. We created it instinctively, and now we're learning the mechanics, how to build it up, piece by piece, level by level, from an artistic-led experiment, a creative pipedream, into a professional business that can sustain us and itself going forward. The last few months we've both tangibly felt that coming to fruition, like a vague pencil sketch becoming an architectural plan of what we want to build. Things are becoming easier, week by week, project by project. We started designing flowers for events three years ago but only this year have I felt that it has been possible to really begin.
2018 will be a new chapter and I expect it will have many delights and challenges in store; it's certainly shaping up to be a busy one. I'm going to try to hold back more time for writing and arranging, nevertheless. I didn't have enough time last year to spend a lot of creative time in the studio purely as experimental practice. Paying the bills took over and while that will always be the necessary priority, I've missed the cathartic experience of creating with no deadline, just for the purpose of enjoyment and honing a design. There is a light that we get in the studio in the mornings, in the summer it creeps over the threshold and bathes the floor in a golden glow. I'm dreaming of that, of buckets of flowers fresh up from the garden, and a few hours clear to spend with them, a flower frog, and a pot of strong French coffee.
Throughout January we are taking some time out. It is the quietest month of the year and a good moment to pause, catch up on much-needed rest and spend time writing. I have a stack of books to read and have promised Mavis a lot of long walks, whatever the weather (she might be courageous in the face of an Alsatian but she's pathetic about the rain). January is a dreary month but London is always beautiful and I'm excited to have the time to meet friends for leisurely lunches, see some exhibitions, wander down lanes I haven't taken before, look up at all the extraordinary architecture under the white clouds. A little time to catch my breath. Our tulips are showing cautious tips through the frozen earth in Hampshire, the ranunculus and anemones slowly emerging in the polytunnel. And so another cycle begins. Happy New Year one and all, may it be a healthy, happy, successful one for you. x