In our most recent “Take Five With…” we were lucky enough to (virtually) sit down with Richard Eagleton, the CEO of luxury floral designer, McQueens Flowers. Started in 1991 and synonymous with style, simplicity and beauty, McQueens is one of the most respected and admired floral design companies out there. Look no further for their status within the industry than the fact that they have done the flower arrangements for the Vanity Fair Oscars after party for 25 years as well as frequently decking the halls of some of the most renowned London hotels.
We spoke about the changes in the florist industry, how he relaxes by cooking and what to look for in your Christmas wreath this year!
How has 2020 been for everyone at McQueens?
I think that our collective memories of 2020 will cover the entire spectrum of experiences from positive to negative – although we’d all agree that it’s been a year like no other. Denied the opportunity to do the job they love during many months of lock down, I was amazed by how resourceful the team was in finding creative ways to keep themselves busy – from gardening to knitting, languages to photography. Although the team are mostly now back at work now and we’re all busy with Christmas installations, I think it’ll take much longer for people’s mental health and wellbeing to recover, and I don’t think anyone will look back on 2020 with fondness!
With people spending more time than ever at home, have you seen a change in what people are wanting for their flower arrangements?
It’s not so much a change in what they buy for their arrangements, it’s that they buy at all – and that they buy online instead of popping into the shop! McQueens Flowers has always been an online go-to for sending flowers to someone else, but we’ve seen a dramatic shift in people buying flowers for themselves to arrange at home. Our subscription service has been a lock down hit, delivering a wrap of flowers every two or four weeks to arrange at home, although it’s our party collections that have taken us by surprise. It would appear that we no longer need an excuse to dress our dinner tables with flowers – even if we’re not allowed to have guests!
What flowers are the best for lifting spirits?
The power of flowers to lift our spirits shouldn’t be underestimated! When we receive or handle flowers or plants, our brain releases Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins – chemicals that make us feel happy, safe and confident, boosting mental health and wellbeing. When asked what I thought the role of flowers would be post-pandemic? Restorative and preventative healthcare was my reply! If I had to single out specific flowers though, I’d say Tulips for their huge variety of colours and patterns and their gloriously unruly behaviour in the vase. As my colleague Sophie advised me “A tulip can’t be tamed, but should be embraced!”.
What makes a good Christmas wreath?
With such a wide variety of wreaths available, the pressure is always on when we design our much-anticipated Christmas collection – there’s so much more to wreaths than a few sprigs of holly and some pine cones! Once you’ve settled on your choice of colour palette (we have three this year), try to make sure your wreath is made using natural materials and definitely without the use of floristry foam or single-use plastic frames. More and more wreaths are fully compostable these days, so watch out for those too.
Do you have any top tips for people making their own wreaths?
Keep it natural, get the size right for the place you’re hanging it, and make sure it’s nice and full. No one likes a thin or gaudy looking wreath! Responsibly foraged foliage, nuts, berries and pine cones all add to the enjoyment and sense of achievement of making your own wreath, and your garden can be a rich source of foliage – as can your baking cupboard and fruit bowl!
What are your favourite seasonal flowers?
Anemones. Not just for their bold, simple elegance and gentle colours, but for their absolute confidence to burst into flower just as we all go into winter – reminding us all that spring isn’t so far away!
How can flowers be incorporated into decorating the house this Christmas?
There was once a tradition of dotting Roses into Christmas trees – which is definitely something we should all bring back! Even the simplest of lunch or dinner tables becomes a special moment with the addition of a few flowers – but don’t think you have to produce some elaborate arrangement. A few jars and bottles in different sizes with a couple of blooms in each dotted along the centre of the table is perfect! And if you fancy going for the 5* hotel look, pop one or two of your dining table flowers into your guest cloakroom to carry the theme through.
What is your favourite Christmas tradition? / what do you love most about the festive season?
Perhaps more of a family tradition than a national one – boiled free-range gammon with creamy parsley sauce and buttered boiled potatoes on Christmas Eve. Delicious, and now an annual tradition in our family. I love to cook – and for as many people as possible, so I always look forward to spending time in the kitchen at Christmas. I’m happiest when I can hear everyone chatting away while I’m cooking.
Do you have a favourite Christmas trend?
I do, and it’s very much a trend for this year. Modesty and kindness. In a year when we have all been denied the opportunity to be with our families, and Christmas will be very different, I see a huge shift away from gaudy excess and showing off towards modest creative ideas that are much more about making us feel good than look good – ideas that are kinder to our planet too.
How do you relax/unwind?
I cook, play piano, and go to the theatre a lot – but it’s using my DIY skills to restore our small listed house in Norwich that enables me to completely switch off.
What does 2021 hold for McQueens? We heard about your exciting new retail spaces!
We’re feeling very positive about 2021! What began as a small flower shop in London’s East End has grown to become one of the most admired and respected floral design brands – with teams in London, New York and Seoul and more international locations in planning. We opened a concession in John Lewis’ flagship store on Oxford Street this week, and we’re already off to a flying start there.
But the bravest and most exciting step in our 30 year journey is that we signed a long lease on a London property in the middle of lock down, and will open the McQueens Flowers Atelier and International Flower School on North Audley Street in the heart of London’s Mayfair on Tuesday (8th December). Set across two floors in one the area’s most elegant heritage buildings, it will become the Company’s flagship location and the UK’s largest floral emporium – offering a vast array of flowers and floral accessories and gift items, and providing a brand new purpose-designed home for our world-renowned flower school. It’s an exciting week for us all!