A Blossoming Beauty Business – Fleurs de Villes

Fleurs de Villes founders, Tina Barkley and Karen Marshall, saw an opportunity to combine their passions of flowers, fashion and design into an international brand.

Interviewed by Michelle zerillo-sosa

Imagine original dresses made entirely of fresh blooms. These days, anything is possible. Don’t miss the chance to witness floral fantasies become high fashion. The third annual Floral Mannequin Series, brought to you by Fleurs de Villes Inc., will be on display at Vaughan Mills from April 19–23. An experience like no other, this award-winning event brings both floral and fashion enthusiasts together. City Life caught up with Tina Barkley (TB) and Karen Marshall (KM) to discuss how some of the top local Toronto florists and leading brands will bring their couture creations to life and much more.

Tell us how the idea first came about for Fleurs de Villes.
KM: As lovers of great content and beautiful things, we both came to a point in our careers where we saw an opportunity to build something that connected the two — through flowers. Tina had been passionate about creating flower market pop-ups, and I, as a lover and keen observer of the partnership aspect of the Chelsea Flower Show, always wondered how we could do a smaller, more bespoke version here. Those ideas and brainstorms quickly led to us realizing we could combine flowers, markets, fashion, design, partnerships and more to create not only an experience like none other, but also an international brand.

What do you love about your exhibits? What is the reaction that people have when they encounter these installations?
KM & TB: We love the creativity our floral designers bring to each show — their imagination, their talent and their passion. People literally stop in their tracks and engage: they “ooh” … they “ahh” … they photograph; they tell their friends; some come back every day; and so much more. No two shows are the same, and we connect 90 of the top florists in the country. We are so, so proud to support our florists, these entrepreneurs and these artists.

What are some memorable projects and events you have worked on?
KM & TB: Recently, we had the incredible opportunity to work with the Royal Ontario Museum [ROM] in Toronto, to help promote, in flowers, its Christian Dior couture exhibit. We worked with our floral design partner Elevated Events to create a stunning gown, based on Dior’s 1951 Autriche dress. With over 1,000 fresh flowers and weighing over 300 pounds, this dress was a stunner — and right in the lobby of the fabulous ROM.

Tell us about yourselves. Were you always attracted to a career that involved flowers?
KM: Flowers were always an interest, a fantastic and beautiful wonder in life, but I never thought I would work in flowers. I am a marketer, partnership curator and content creator by profession, working mainly in the magazine and digital media sectors for most of my career — from Western Living to Vanity Fair, Chatelaine, Maclean’s, Flare, Hello! Canada and more. Fleurs de Villes is a compilation of all of the things I have learned in my past career — and continue to learn.
TB: I grew up with European grandparents who had seven fruit trees and a full vegetable garden in urban Vancouver. Full of flowers, too, I had an early love and appreciation for flowers. As a lifestyle expert, flowers are a vital part of my “job.” Flowers have always played a huge role in décor, in styling and bringing spirit and life to spaces and celebrations. Bringing this show to life that makes such a huge impact on so many people is so satisfying.

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What makes your working relationship successful?
KM & TB: We are such a great balance. The first time we met [was] for a quick business thing, and the meeting lasted two hours, because we just hit it off. We can finish each other’s sentences and yet challenge each other and respect each other’s territory.
We are also both Gemini, so it’s like four of us in the room at any time. We are never short of ideas, of inspiration and a get-up-and-go attitude. Any challenges, we both just put our heads together and figure it out. We also have a great team of people who “get” us and can help implement the vision.

What is your favourite flower?
TB: Do we have to pick just one? Dahlias. Piano roses. Sweet peas.
KM: Peonies and magnolias.

“We are so, so proud to support our florists, these entrepreneurs and these artists”

What is next for your brand?
KM & TB: First, we are adding exciting fine food elements to a few of our shows this year — for our Vancouver show at Metropolis at Metrotown, and in Edmonton at Southgate Centre, we will be doing long-table dinner and high-tea events — all flower-focused, of course … then … the world. We have had interest from a number of international markets, [so] extending Fleurs de Villes abroad is a strategic priority. From the start, we wanted to create a timeless, international, world-class brand, and we feel we are really working to that vision and staying true to it. And with that, the response has been truly amazing.

How do you choose the locations for these exhibits?
KM & TB: We are always looking to work with partners who have lovely public spaces, who understand the power of floral art and are looking for something unique. Partnerships are incredibly important to what we do, so it’s not enough to have the space. We want to ensure our partners are aligned on the vision and what we project to the community.

What makes a beautiful flower arrangement?
KM & TB: Can you go wrong? Flowers make us happy, and we have a business to prove it. But a well-placed peony will always make it perfect. A ranunculus. A double tulip. We love texture and fullness in flowers. We love a tight bouquet even though the trend is toward more whimsical arrangements. We love all white, with a bit of lime … oh.

What flowers do you like to have in your home/garden?
TB: Sweet peas are a favourite of mine. My grandparents grew a whole wall of them every summer, and I grow them every year as a tribute, but also because the aroma … oh, the scent. I have an amazing collection of dahlias and love bringing the beauty inside.
KM: I am hydrangea-mad — my garden is full of all kinds of them … and in my home, orchids.

What is the source of inspiration when creating an installation?
KM & TB: The beauty of our shows is that we feature the inspiration of 15 different, talented florists. They are inspired by a brand partner, a vision, a couture gown, a connection to a painting, a story, a pop-culture element, a hockey team and so much more. We truly bring all of that to life across the country with this year’s 90 inspired florists.

Tell us about where you like to vacation and why.
KM: Europe is a favourite for me. Having lived in London for an extended period, and starting my life in Edinburgh, Scotland, I long for British country houses, tiny, winding roads through the valleys and great, ancient pubs and gardens, and the Highlands of Scotland. Conversely, I love the culture, people and colour of Mexico.
TB: Great minds think alike. I went to school in Paris when I was younger and spent countless summers travelling to many countries to visit extended family. Portugal is one of my fave countries, but Croatia, and [particularly] Dubrovnik, is where my heart is.

What is the last thing you purchased on your credit card?
TB: Café au lait dahlia tubers. They are my fave, so I just bought a bunch of tubers to plant soon. I love getting the garden prepped.
KM: Tickets to the Skookum Festival in Stanley Park [in Vancouver] over the Labour Day weekend. Florence and The Machine — yes.

What is the best compliment you have ever received?
KM: At our show in Victoria last year at Mayfair Shopping Centre, a woman and her 13-year-old daughter sought me out to simply thank me/us — for putting on the show, for supporting local Victoria businesses and for simply making so many people happy when they came into the mall. Brings me to tears every time I think of it. It was so heartfelt and so genuine and beautiful. She stood there thanking me over and over for about 15 minutes — it was an incredible moment I will never forget.

Favourite movie/book/song?
TB: Fave movie: Out of Africa. Fave book: Cutting for Stone. Fave song: Aretha Franklin’s “Think” — gets everyone in the kitchen dancing.
KM: Fave movie: Impromptu. Fave book: Jennie Churchill — Winston’s mother was a fascinating, strong woman. Fave song: “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire right now — my daughters love it, and I do, too.

Where is your happy place?
TB: A sunny, cool, crisp day anywhere (maybe my garden), with loved ones close by.
KM: The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa or The National Portrait Gallery in London.


photos courtesy of fleurs de villes

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