It’s so exciting when we have new members join the Stylebook community of local shops and lifestyle experts, and I am particularly pleased with this new contributor. For years Helen Olivia has been my go-to florist. I’ve never not been thrilled with their quality and creativity, so when Rachel Gang, who owns Helen Olivia with her husband, agreed to share her expertise and insights with Stylebook readers, I couldn’t wait to get started. I sat down with Rachel to learn more about the creative force behind all those beautiful flowers…
My husband, Chuck, and I bought Helen Olivia in October of 2013. We stumbled into buying the shop a little by accident; I was searching a website with businesses for sale and fell in love with the shop. Chuck actually wanted to buy a gas station, or something much less hands on. Thankfully, I won that fight! Since 2013, we’ve grown the business in every direction from weddings to hotel contracts. While we work on plenty of high-profile accounts, our heart is in working with locals for every day orders.
Balance is a tricky thing in the floral industry. On one hand, offering such a diverse range of services means that we’re always busy and working on something new and exciting. On the other hand, forward planning can be tricky, especially when last minute events pop up all the time. We try to stay super organized in the shop and have the most incredible team. We seriously couldn’t do it without them. My husband and I also have a great support system at home; we have an au pair and both of our parents are local. It takes a village when you’re a small business owner!
Working with brides is one of my favorite parts of my job, and without question where I’m able to be most creative. I love getting to know our Helen Olivia couples, and working with them to create a look that feels custom and unique. We also have so many opportunities to collaborate with other creatives from planners to photographers, which is so much fun.
There is a lot of pressure when there’s only one day — and one shot — to get everything right. Flowers have a mind of their own and don’t always perform the way you want them to. Just last week I had buckets of cherry blossom in my office with space heaters trying to coax them open for an event!
Before buying Helen Olivia my husband and I both worked in the events industry for a large firm that handled a few hundred events a month. It was a whirlwind, and helped us to realize that we really wanted to own our own business. I don’t know what I expected, but I like to think the shop has surpassed every expectation I had. I pinch myself every day that I get to work with flowers for a living and with the clients that we have. In any given day I might be building a flower wall at the Four Seasons or setting up an event at an embassy or hanging a floral chandelier from the ceiling of a venue. I love that I’m always on the run and that each day is a new adventure.
There’s no question that the current trend is everything lush and garden-y. We’re loving working with trailing greenery and lots of dusty and muted flowers. I would say the hottest colors are mauve and emerald, but we honestly have weddings booked in every color palette over the next year.
Our brides have been really focused on crafting a unique wedding, and we’re more and more working in uncharted territory. Recently we built a massive 8-foot tall, round arch out of driftwood. Next month we’re building huge lemon trees for a wedding. I love when we’re making something custom that doesn’t exist yet on Pinterest.
Happily, I can report that mason jars and burlap are a thing of the past, as is the color palette of blush and gray. Finally!
I feel like each week I have a new favorite flower — I just love them all! For my own home, I tend to be pretty boring and stick to neutral whites and greens and nothing “overdesigned.” I’m known to have a vase full of simple white delphinium or white lilac on my kitchen island. I also have a growing plant collection. My husband tells me that our house is beginning to look like a jungle.
This question makes me laugh. Everyone assumes I have an incredible garden at home, but the truth is that I’m a terrible gardener. It’s not for a lack of trying — I’ve killed countless plants over the years. Now I stick to evergreen bushes and grasses that I can’t kill, and look at my neighbor’s yards with envy. My mom is actually a master gardener and I grew up in a home with incredible gardens, which is where I first found my love for flowers. I do enjoy container gardening, and always keep beautiful planters on my porch and back deck.
Yes! Definitely a busy time here in the shop. We handle close to a thousand (!!) flower orders for the holiday in addition to events and corporate orders. The best advice is to always shop local. Alexandria is home to some amazing flower shops who can help to craft a custom and seasonal arrangement that’s perfect for mom. When sending long distance, avoid the big guys like 1-800 and FTD who take huge commissions off the top.
For the actual design, I always try to give complete creative license to the designers when I place an order because they know what’s freshest and looks best together. Remember, you would never tell a chef what ingredients to use for your dinner. Lastly, be nice to your florist! Most of us are bleary eyed, exhausted, and over-caffeinated around big flower holidays.