Design Notes · · 17 min read

Fearless Design: Aline Borges, The Florist

The power of composition, and the importance of community.

Fearless Design: Aline Borges, The Florist

Liam speaks with Aline Borges, a Zürich-based floral designer who’s made the leap from fashion coordination for magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar to independent floral design and installations. The conversation covers what it’s like to move between different creative fields (and countries), how to think about composition to tackle almost any creative challenge, and the courage it takes to start on a new venture.

Liam: Aline, welcome to Design Notes.

Aline: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank for the invitation.

Liam: Sure. Um, to dive right in, I want to know a little bit about your current work and the whole journey that led you there.

Aline: Wow, that's (laughs), that's already one podcast just for that (laughs)-

Liam: (Laughs).

Aline: ... but, no. Um... So, I'm a florist, I come from a background of fashion. I was working 15 years in fashion in Brazil as, uh, executive producer, creative director, fashion coordinator for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire and other, um, important, um, magazines. And what I used to do is I used to take care of all the images and all the editorials in the magazines. And, uh, when I decided to move to Switzerland six years ago, I thought would be also a great opportunity to change career as I was changing my whole set up. I used to grow up with my grandmother that had a huge garden with lot of flowers and she, she told me a lot about how to take care of the flowers, how they are, what they like, but of course that was in Brazil, that's another weather and environment. Um, so I came to here and I decided to do that and I went to the UK for a year to study floristry there before starting the business and it worked. So, I'm happy.

Liam: I have a lot of questions-

Aline: (Laughs).

Liam: ... I wanna follow up on. First, I would like to n-, understand what it was like for you to make the jump between two creative fields that, you know, at first glance feel quite distinct from one another.

Aline: Yeah. That's a interesting question because in my view they are not so distinguished as you may think. Because when I work with photography I wasn't like a-, any specific, um, um, person as a photographer or a stylist, or a makeup artist. I saw... I was the coordinator of the project, I was the creative director. So, I was seeing the, the whole picture as one. So, I learned a lot, um, over the years and I, I t-, I say that because I didn't do any, um, important university or I don't have a, um, MBA or anything like that. I learnt doing it. So, I start my career being a photographer, uh, a assistant photographer, then I was assistant for a stylist, then I was a model, then I was... So, I, I learned a little bit of each of the, the steps then I became what I became to see the whole thing.

When you see the whole image as one, you start to understand where you can get better and how to, um, decode the, the, the image that you're seeing. And florist is more or less like that. You need to understand what you are working with and then you need to understand what is it that you are seeing. So, it's about texture, it's about colors, is about depth, it's about, um, length and it's about, um, how do you, um, see the whole information that the flower is giving to you altogether, how they combine together. So, it was not that difficult a jump. Once I understood that, um... Because my specialty is not, um, doing small things, is doing, uh, installations and, um, uh, whole set ups for, for events, for weddings, uh, um, installations in, in museums and, and galleries. So, you see the space that you have to work with and you understand how can you work in that f-, m-, space that you have.

So, you put what you have, uh, available at the time. So, I, I don't think was that difficult. I- it's quite interesting actually.

Liam: Right. It strikes me as you're talking also that in both cases you're working with living subjects who are dynamic (laughs) entities.

Aline: Y- yeah. Yeah, yeah. Most of the time... Th- th- the flowers are, I would say, are a bit more sensitive because they just die (laughs)-

Liam: (Laughs).

Aline: ... really fast. So, you need to pay attention in more on th-, uh, how warm or how dry the d-, the space that you are working with, uh, will be and how can you make sure that they will be comfortable in the space that they will be and so on, so.

Liam: How did you make the decision to specifically pursue the floral arts? How did you l-, reconnect with that kind of interest?

Aline: Yeah. So, it sounds a little bit like crazy but I was really doing researches when I moved in here. I took kind of like a sabbatic time, um, to understand a little bit the environment that I was in and to make a research of the city and the country because I moved to Switzerland... Like I didn't know Switzerland at all. I know, I knew from Brazil but I never been here before. So, I came and visit and a-, in the three days that I was here decided, "Okay, I'm moving in." So, when I was here I needed to, you know, understand where I was and what is it that the city, in my opinion, was missing. And one thing... I always thought as myself, "What is it that I would like to have that I cannot see it here?"

So, I thought as, as a client and I said, "Oh, I would love to see, you know, to have a nice, um, store that I can buy beautiful flowers like in the English style," because in my opinion, this is the style that I, I could consider the most free style that leaves a little bit th- th- the flowers the way they are in the nature. So, it's, it's more, um... It's like you bring your garden inside of the house. So, this is what I wanted to see and I tried to find out this in Switzerland and I could not. So, I decided to do that. But it was a huge research of other fields as well. And one day I just w- woke up and I said, "I... You know what? I would try this. I would do this course in the UK and see how it goes." Because, you know, the flowers are very sensitive, so you need to have the hand for that. Is not that, "Oh, I wanna..." You know, probably had a plant in your house that you tried-

Liam: Mm-hmm.

Aline: ... and it died. So, they very sensitive, so you need to see as well if you are good working with them and if they allow you to, to do this with them. So, I just decided and I w-, I pursued and, and it worked for me. So, yeah, that, that's pretty much how was it.

Liam: Yeah.

Aline: (Laughs).

Liam: I'm (laughs) really interested to dig into the, the program that you completed to learn this art-

Aline: Yeah.

Liam: ... and what you learned there. I mean, you mentioned like knowing all the qualities of the flowers, that they are living entities, so those qualities are changing, they're different from flower to flower even in the same species. Like-

Aline: Mm-hmm.

Liam: ... how was that? How did you learn those qualities?

Aline: Yeah. So, what I learned with my grandma, it was a living garden, so that's a completely different thing to work with cut flowers. Um, so the school I did unfortunately... One of the schools I did doesn't exist anymore because after COVID they shut down, unfortunately because they're really nice. This school is, is not specific for how to learn the techniques in flower, floristry. They teach you as well about, um, things that are, I already knew a little bit from the fashion field, which is color palette and, um, texture, how to work them together, and they were, uh, very focused on installations. So, when you work, uh, uh, an installation you need to really understand the technique because 90% of the installation is regarding the pre, um, structure that you do to receive the flowers in. So, that's the most important part of the installation. Because, um, when you understand the difference of the spaces that you have and you build an installation ready for that kind of, um, flowers that you wanna receive.

But, anyway, so the flo-... Th- th- th- the school, um, it was in, during a year and you learned how to take care of the flowers, how the seasons of the flowers are, what flowers are in, in which season, the names of the flowers and what flowers do you have are not so important. So, you, you need to understand the base of the flower is. If it's soft base, if it's a hard base, if it's made of wood, if it's like, um, um, a-, one that is chewy like for example the, the tulips. They, they, they have one specific type of, um, um, base and, uh, um, as a hydrangea for example that is h-, a little bit woody and you need to cut it. So, they teach you how to take care of each of these type of flowers instead of like, "Okay, let's look at the tulips. How do we take care of tulips?" No. So, so it, it was a really nice school. Um, and then it was interesting because I was there for let's say five days a month, then they left, uh, leaved us to, to do some homework. And then we came back with the pictures of what we trained at home, uh, like homework and then we came back and went to a next, n-, next level. So... And I had a teacher, he was amazing and he used to say, "You know, the best part about learning the rules is to break them."

Liam: Mm-hmm.

Aline: Once you understand the rules and you understand why is it that you need to understand that rule, you can work in a way boarder way than just, you know, being inside of the rule. So, that was something that always stick in my head like, "Okay, I can do this with the flower but what else can I do with it?" So... Yeah. So, it's really, it was really amazing school.

Liam: Can you tell me about a project where you broke the rules creatively?

Aline: Well... Yeah, I ca-... I have some. I did, uh, an installation in a, uh, uh, um, brand called COS in Hauptbahnhof, in, in Bahnhofstrasse-

Liam: Mm-hmm.

Aline: ... here in Zurich. It was a b-, huge installation on the top of the ceiling that I needed to work with, um, uh, baby breath which is a little, tiny flower. Uh, so, b-, my intention was to be build like clouds, uh, look like installation. So, I was working with the, I would say, 3,500 stems of it, um, and while I was working it I had, I learned how to do that installation in a way in the school but then I arrived there and I had, I would say one and half hours to finish everything. Because they... The flowers were alive and it was a project that we were doing with, with, with the brand and they said, "Look, you need to do on the say because we just have this window for you to do the, the installation. And after that this door will be open for the public. And you need to be here to tell the people what is it that you did and everything." I was like, "Okay, that's not going to work. I cannot work with this structure."

So, I needed to change everything in my head and think like super fast what is it that I could do to make it work. So, I just did a completely n-, other technique that I would do for hand-tie bouquet for example. So, this kind of situations it's, uh, happens a lot, so.

Liam: When you're talking about building these installations, I'm always really curious what the stuff is that designers and artists are working with, what is the other stuff that you're working with besides the flowers that, that helps these spaces and installations kind of come together.

Aline: Well, it really depends on the project I would say. I have a right arm person what I work with that understand my way of working. So, when a project come in we kind of have a, a chat and she gave her point of view and I have mine. But it really depends on the how much weight do we need to carry, where is it that it will be, how long we will have to, to, to make the installation. This will define the size of the crew. But it's not a 100% florists, um, it's, it can be, you know, hands-on people, people that wanna learn as well. Because I am a person that I learned everything doing, so I do believe that people that wanna learn things they wanna learn doing as well. So, I get really a lot of people that just wanna, you know... I s-, I received a lot of CVs and people, "Oh, I would just love to just to, you know, be part of one day of one installation that to do to understand what is it that you're doing." I, I, I invite these people sometime but, uh, of course we have the professional people and, uh, sometimes even companies to build the structures depending on the size of, and what we are talking about if it's a huge project or if it's just a store, or... Yeah, it depends.

But it's all kind of people, it's not, I'm not in a box with that at all.

Liam: Yeah. And still thinking about how the flowers are alive and the kinds of design constraints that that places on you, um, as well as the fact that, like you said, you prefer to, to work with the flowers like they would be in nature and, you know, you grew up learning in, in a living garden. How do you think about the ways that you're kind of recontextualizing the flowers, like the natural world into the built environment or into some other situation where you wouldn't normally see them? How does that influence the work?

Aline: I think that the flowers, they speak to you. So, um, when I'm doing something, I look at them and I, I let them speak to me, what is it that they are telling me on that space. So, when you see a garden, even if you see for example, um, a natural garden like a, a, a wild garden, that's the word, um, you see for example little bit of pu-, roses here, you see some, some other flowers there, some hydrangeas in the other side. You don't see them all like mixed around, you know. They, they all come a little bit together in bunches. So, the things I wanna always think about is how I would see them in the nature and how I would see them put together in a way that they look like that they were in the nature. So, try to put the same stems of the same flower together with the others and, um... I heard this from a friend once, it's like organized mess.

Liam: Mm.

Aline: Um, because it is. But also, the space that the flowers will be. When I know the space, they influence a lot. So, it really depends on the day as well, the mood, the season that we are in. It's really an organic, uh, work. So, for example, I prefer to choose my flowers, uh, that I will work with looking at them, um, and not just buying some, some flowers randomly. I choose them, they speak to me in that time. Th- the ones that I will work in that period of, of time which is two days because they, they cannot be more than that, um... It's, it's all connected to each other, it's very organic. And sometimes it could be that first thing that they do is that... Okay, we will have the focus flower, and then we get the, the secondary ones but then we have so many beautiful flowers together then we wanna put them all together. It works as well because w- w- what we learn in school is that we need to have a focus flower which will be your main flower that you will work with and then you need to h-, work with the around flowers on this first flower. But I don't think this is nice. Is like all the flowers are important, why do we need to have the secondary flowers? Why w-, why wouldn't put them all as important ones-

Liam: Mm-hmm.

Aline: ... because that's how they are in the garden? So, that's more or less how I, I think in my head. But it really depends. I can, I... It doesn't have a formula for that.

Liam: I'm also thinking about, um, you know, the, the work that I've seen from your studio. I, I guess I am thinking about the relationship of the work to the specific place where it's happening. So, in this case, we're in Zurich.

Aline: Yeah.

Liam: I feel like a lot of your work I've seen flowers that, um... You know, Switzerland has a lot of wild flowers (laughs). But I'm seeing ones that, that I might not necessarily be exposed to any other way and I'm curious how you think about that, like the flowers that you're bringing into the environment.

Aline: Is a symbiosis connection. It's a, it's more like a visual, um, connection to me than a thinking process. And I also believe that when you think too much it doesn't work. You need to see it and you need to feel it at the moment. I don't know how s-, to explain that. I think creatives understand what-

Liam: Yeah.

Aline: ... I'm talking about. It's more like a, "Okay, I like this. I don't know why and I, I don't know if it will, will work but I would try it out." And in the beginning was a lot of trying and some errors, of course, but, um, after a while, it just becomes something very organic, very automatic. A- a- a-, n-... I can't explain it.

Liam: Yeah. It makes intuitive-

Aline: (Laughs).

Liam: ... sense. Um, I'm also realizing many... You know, on this show I talk to a lot of folks who do all kinds of creative practices, design practices, art, but I'm realizing that your specific art has something that can probably never be expressed in other disciplines which is fragrance.

Aline: Oh, yeah.

Liam: I'm thinking about the fact that flowers beyond all of the visual qualities that we've talked about also have a fragrance.

Aline: Yes.

Liam: And a-, I wonder if, if that's part of, part of your thinking, how you feel out the flowers, what impact that has.

Aline: The good thing about cut flowers is that they don't have much fragrances and we normally try to avoid the fragrances because people have normally allergy of the pollen because-

Liam: Mm-hmm.

Aline: ... the scent comes out of the center of the flower. I work with small forms and of course big ones because, um, when you work with cut flowers you need to go for quality and to go for quality you need to, to go for professional, uh, farmers that work with cut flowers. So, they already developed the flowers without scents because of people that don't like the scents and it's... As my bouquets are normally... You cannot choose the flowers that you are working with and my clients needs to trust and, in what I'm doing, I try to make as best as I can to of course not give them something that will give them allergy or fragrance.

But I had, uh, situations that I worked for example with a lot of roses together, and it could be challenging. And, um, I think the fragrance, uh, subject it's, it's something really interesting because we are not there yet to decode fragrances and smells as we are with images for how it's pleasant to everyone. So, I think will be very interesting in the future to see how it will be developed but we don't try to work with the scents as much as we can to be honest.

Liam: It's like a whole other dimension of the flower.

Aline: Yeah. Yeah.

Liam: And has-

Aline: Because it's, it's, it;s very sensitive. It's like perfume. You don't have one perfume that everybody likes. It's like even the flowers, you don't have one flower that everybody loves.

Liam: Yeah.

Aline: I mean, peonies I would say is the, the most loved one. But even though they can have a scent, it's a very strong one when, when is it there. So, it can be disturbing actually.

Liam: I think there's an aspect of your work that certainly as someone who worked as a freelancer at one time, and I'm sure many of our listeners as well (laughs) will, will be wondering like how you successfully entered this new field, and set up the business, and, uh, you know are able to market it and, in my opinion, be really successful about that. I mean, we were speaking before the show about your website and how the aesthetic of it is so tight because again, you have so much experience developing these aesthetics and managing all the different parts of an installation which, you know, in the German language I think metaphorically the internet is like a room that we walk into, so I would consider a website to be a space as well (laughs). Um-

Aline: That's, that's true.

Liam: What, what was that like and, and how do you do that? Just on a more practical side I think-

Aline: Hmm.

Liam: ... people would like to know.

Aline: Yeah. That's a interesting question. It's, it's just... I mean, people ask me over and over, "How, how did you do it?" I mean, first thing I really think is that I wasn't afraid at all. It doesn't, it didn't really matter for me if I would be successful or not, I was doing what I, I really believed that could work. That was the first thing I, I really went through. Second of all, if I knew that build, build a business in, in Switzerland would be a little bit complicated, I wouldn't have done it. So, I just didn't know how difficult h-, it could be. I just, you know, went for it. I jumped in with my head and, you know, the only thing that could happen wrong is it couldn't work, but it did. So, you need to leave the fear aside and you really need to believe that you can do it. That's the first thing I believe. And I start my career as freelancer, doing everything you can imagine, as I told you in the beginning.

So, you need to learn a little bit from the experts. And I, I really believe in, in self-learning and everything I wanna learn to be honest I just google it and a-, it's there. You can learn absolutely anything you want nowadays in the internet. So, I would do it more research before starting something, and of course I have this aesthetic sense I think since always. Since I'm a little girl I used to, to choose my, my outfits and I always had a great sense of, um, color and, uh, and, and space, and texture, um, so it, of course this helped me a lot. But I think learn, learn, read, uh, research. This is really, really important for you to even understand what is it that you wanna do that what is it that you like because in the beginning for me for example, in my career in fashion, executive production, it doesn't have a course that you go... At least not... I'm 43, so 25 years ago it didn't have any course that I could do that would teach me how to do what I did back then.

So, it really was me being curious, being fearless that helped me to do that. And changing the field, of course I was a little bit like, "Oh my God, what I'm doing? Aline-

Liam: Mm.

Aline: ... are you crazy? You have such a successful career in fashion, what are you doing becoming a florist?" And also, I received a lot of critics. People saying to me like, "Are you sure you wanna do that in Zurich? Like this will not give you any money," "Are you crazy? You have plenty of florists out there." Is just... You cannot listen to these people because if they were, you know, knowing what they were saying, they would, they would be doing-

Liam: Sure.

Aline: ... as well, but they are not. They are all like working for some companies that they are not happy with w-, you know, whatever. But I just didn't listen, and I went fearless, and I did it. And when I started, um, one thing I realized is of course I'm a English speaking person in Switzerland-

Liam: Mm-hmm.

Aline: ... and this is... It's not easy, especially in the start because I didn't know anyone, I didn't had any friend and, uh, I just thought about reaching out the women group of people that I was admiring when I moved in here. Because, um, I had this, this time I said to you, uh, that I had like a, kind of like sabbatic to try to understand. So, I, I, I saw a lot of women in this, um, city that I s-, "Oh, she's doing something really nice. She's an artist, she's great in this," and I said, "Hi, I'm Aline." I sent messages in, in Instagram and, uh... Because I'm, I'm very imagetic person, so Instagram was my platform five years ago, so, I was reaching them and saying like, "Oh hi, how are you? And, uh, I'm doing this. Would you like to collaborate?" And that's how it started. And then Zurich has an incredible community of women that are doing and pursuing what they love, so I think I was embraced pretty much in the beginning. So, I really appreciate that, it helped me a lot. And that's how it started. Yeah.

Liam: That's fantastic.

Aline: (Laughs).

Liam: I think that's a great notes to close on.

Aline: Yeah. Thank you.

Liam: Thank you again for joining me today.

Aline: Oh, thank you for the invitation, was a lovely talk.

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