With their megawatt smiles and shining optimism, it’s no wonder Alex Cole and Laura Davis were able to spin disenchant- ment into their dream job. The result? Patchouli Design, the latest in Toronto’s blooming floral scene, where flower shops have been popping up faster than daisies and the city’s bloom girls have been Tumblr-ing, Instagramming, and appearing everywhere from TV screens to The New York Times.
The good friends, both in their early 30s, who, according to a studio-mate, are near carbon copies of each other (“blonde, gorgeous—one teeny-tiny and one tall”), met at the University of Guelph, where Cole was a double major in sociology and anthropology and Davis was studying business. They bonded immediately. Davis remembers coveting Cole’s style after eyeing her in a vintage, faded-blue yacht club shirt.
The pair reconnected post-degree, when they found themselves downward-dogging at the same Toronto yoga studio. Cole had a job in business development at Unilever and Davis was slogging it out downtown as a banker. Walking home after class, they realized not only that they were living in the same neighbourhood, but that they shared a history of jobs at florists (Davis had even interned with a traditional European floral designer) and both wanted to flee corporate life for something more meaningful. “Work is important; you spend a lot of time doing it,” Davis says. “[And] we both just adore flowers.”
Last September they opened their doors, or rather their studio—they shun bricks-and-mortar for by-appointment-only. Though they do individual deliveries, Davis says, “Our focus is not one-off bouquets. We are interested in the party. The events that shape people’s lives.” They’ve been run off their feet ever since.
Their business occupies a roomy red-brick-walled space in Toronto’s east end. With their studio-mates, a dress designer and two hairstylists, they make, she says, “the perfect creativity trifecta.”
Their degrees—Davis’s commerce, Cole’s arts—are complementary. “The worst thing we could argue about would be red roses over pink.” Cole is hydrangea-crazy, says Davis, who herself is on a lisianthus kick: “They’re delicate and romantic.” Other eras and ephemera inspire them. “Right now Alex is pouring over vintage children’s storybooks. And we both love collecting old teacups.”
Patchouli Design is romantic, but it also has a clean edge (read: lone poppies taped to brick), so why the flower-child name? Cole said the word “patchouli” out loud and there was no turning back. “It’s an essential oil from the mint family, fresh and clean.” Though its earthy scent has been associated with the original festival dressers (um, hippies), they don’t mind. “We see it as positive. We like vintage things, we like that kind of free-flowing way of being.“
Their days are scripted according to big events. “Everything has to be fresh and we work well into the night before a wedding,” Davis says, in the “time warp” of their windowless, sous-sol studio. The flower business is rife with 9-1-1 situs. “The [blooms] are fragile so you have to constantly think on the spot and be creative. That’s the fun of it!” Davis laughs.
The daily variety requires them to be whip-smart number crunchers, creative independents and sometime therapists. They’ve encountered their share of Bridezillas, including a self-declared “non-traditional” bride who gave them a strict “no flowers” dictat. “She wanted only vegetables!” Though perplexed, instead of talking her down, the duo rose, or rather kale-d, to the challenge, with crinkled greens, artichokes and dates that won over the attendees and kept the bride aglow.
Mornings often begin at the 6 a.m. flower auction. “There are clocks and buzzers and, like any auction, serious, terrible pressure!” Back with buckets full, they ease into their designing, brewing pots of tea and listening to Lana Del Rey, though by evening it’s Rihanna and Italian takeout.
“Flowers are just another expression of fashion!” Cole says. She favours menswear with a twist: stovepipe jeans, an oversized men’s shirt and gold-toed black boots. Davis “can’t help but wear silk all the time,” and gauzy tops in (surprise!) flower prints. (Patchouli’s flowers come dressed in butcher paper, tied with bakery twine, and a velvety ribbon in the patchouli plant’s minty colour.)
Tangling with life’s major events is stressful but thrilling, and Davis says, “It brings us a lot of joy.”