Whitney Bromberg Hawkings
Saul Taylor / May 12, 2019
If you’ve ever received flowers from Tom Ford, or anyone else in the fashion industry for that matter, it’s likely they came from Flowerbx. Whitney Bromberg Hawkins spent two decades at Mr. Ford’s side and knows a thing or two about how the industry works and what it likes. So when Louis Vuitton needs some subtlety in a spectacle they turn to the queen of the single stem bunch for blooming marvelous results every time.
Working with Tom Ford must have been an education.
My first job when I graduated from school was working as his PA at Gucci in Paris. I worked my way up to become his right hand. I basically never left the office. It was 1998, when he was acquiring Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, McQueen, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta — all the brands which formed the Gucci Group. He was in Paris for YSL and London for Gucci and he said, “Will you travel back and forth with me?”. You can imagine it was just the most exciting thing for a girl in her twenties. When he left Gucci he asked if I would leave with him and head up communications for his brand, Tom Ford, which of course was a no-brainer. I happily worked by his side for almost 20 years.
Where did the idea for Flowerbx come from?
When I was turning 40, I thought, “What’s my 10-year plan? Am I going to be the communications director forever?”. And then I had this idea. Everything in my life was online — my clothes, groceries, beauty products — but there was no solution to buy my kind of flowers. I just wanted to buy single stem bunches to put around my house. I also found that when I was sending flowers on behalf of Tom or to anyone in the industry, I was always asking for no filler, no mixed bunches, just 10 white hydrangea or 30 peonies. I never wanted those fussy bouquets that most florists were offering. If you don’t have a cylindrical vase that’s six inches tall and six inches wide, then you don’t have anywhere to put them. The fashion world knows that single stem bunches are really beautiful. Arguably, a mixed bouquet can be done well, but more often than not, when you send flowers online they’re done badly.
What was your business model?
I realised that all the flowers in the UK and across Europe come from auctions in Holland and there’s a way to go straight to the auctions to cut out the middle men. Flowers normally go to a flower market, they sit for two or three days before they’re marked up and sold to a florist. Then they sit for two or three more days, they’re marked up again and then sold to you. I thought if we can cut two or three steps out of that supply chain then we can offer extraordinary freshness because these flowers are six or seven days fresher than they normally would be and better value.
When did you start doing events?
The combination of being pregnant with my third child, turning 40 and realising it was a now or never moment, made me launch Flowerbx. I didn’t anticipate being an events business at all. I thought we would be a direct to consumer online flower company. That said, our clean aesthetic, our website and the way we approach flowers, is the way one approaches a fashion brand. Everything is branded and consistent. And because of my 20-year relationships in the fashion industry, we quickly had credibility among that crowd. Elizabeth Saltzman — a big editor at Vanity Fair and now one of the most famous stylists in the world — told me Michael Kors was running an event in London at the River Café and I was doing the flowers. I was like, “We don’t do event flowers!”, and he was like, “You’re doing the flowers!”. All he wanted was an explosion of peonies across the restaurant, which of course we could do. So we became the florists who do the super-clean, beautiful, considered type of events.
What gives you the edge?
All of these events are exciting because we can do something new. The reason we were able to do new things was because we’re not trained florists. So there’s nothing to unlearn. We approach it from a design and fashion standpoint — from what is beautiful and sculptural — instead of how people traditionally do flowers. We now operate in 21 countries across Europe and we’re launching in New York. We’re lucky to get these fashion clients who use us constantly across their brands.
How do you market yourself?
Instagram has given flowers a great moment. It has been hugely helpful for us. Flowers lend themselves so well to marketing themselves. When we launched the company I sent a bunch to 10 of my closest friends who happen to be people with a big following and all of a sudden we had a business — from just 10 bouquets that I sent out to fabulous people.
Who’s on your team?
Our creative director was at Burberry and before that he was at Mr. Porter, so he comes from a very strong visual background. All of the creative team do. The head of events in the UK worked at the British Fashion Council for six years, so he was the first on the fashion side of things. The person we’ve hired in New York — I’m not really allowed to say yet because she hasn’t left her job — but she’s coming from a prestigious department store. I think it’s important for me to hire people, more than florists, who are really strong visually. They’re all creative perfectionists.
How do you approach a new brief?
The easiest way to work is when someone emails and says, “I’m having this party, there will be x amount of people, there will be these types of tables, they will be round or square, here’s the budget and we’re thinking pink.” That’s my dream. Unfortunately, that’s rare. There’s usually a lot of back and forth. Our proposals are very sophisticated because we need to treat flowers like a fashion brand. We’re also transparent in all our correspondence. A lot of our competitors aren’t, so we have a breakdown per table or per vase: x amount of vases, x amount of stems per vase. Then we go back with a superimposed visual of how those vases may look in the environment. We take into consideration the room where the event is, the invite, the look and feel of the host et cetera. Then we go back with a proposal. We have a real dialogue with our clients before we deliver.
Any tips on home arranging?
First tip, I would say, is keep it tonal. Any pinks look beautiful together. Where you can go wrong is when you start putting too many colours in. Go from pale pink to hot pink to mauve, keep them in the same spectrum. Also, if you don’t know what you’re doing, single stem bunches are always the most effective. And really respect the environment. Less is more with flowers. It’s great to have a lot of flowers but you don’t need to overcomplicate the design which is where a lot of people go wrong.
What flowers are having a moment?
Peonies are everything right now. They’ve just come back in season. Our sales go through the roof, so we love peonies. It’s because they’re only around for two months — we can’t get enough of them.
What makes a great event?
First of all the right people — a mix of interesting and smart. Not those with the most followers on Instagram but really interesting people is key. The food is important. Food, wine and flowers are the key elements to a successful dinner party. Great food, great drinks, great people, great flowers and you’re golden. Then the rest, who cares? Oh, and lighting is also key. Everyone looks beautiful in candlelight. Candles and flowers make everyone look beautiful.Back