Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Seasons for flowers

As Egypt’s florists gear up for Christmas and the new year when they do much of their annual business, Dina Ezzat discovers some other encouraging trends

Seasons for flowers

It’s time for poinsettia, with the red potted plants making a strong appearance across larger and smaller flower stores alike and in Cairo as much as elsewhere in Egypt. It’s also time to buy a Christmas tree in the shape of an evergreen conifer, usually pine or fir, or maybe an artificial one in plastic or some other material.

“Christmas has always been a prime season for flower and plant sales,” said Sayed Al-Fakharani, owner of one of Alexandria’s oldest flower stores, Au pavillon de florelle. In the store, sitting on Fouad Street in the harbour city, Al-Fakharani, the second generation in the business that was started by his father in the 1940s, has been seeing a demand “that has been growing for years now” for floral Christmas decorations.

“Christmas used to be a high season for us, especially in this part of Alexandria where the foreign communities used to live, as did many westernised Egyptians until at least the 1950s,” Al-Fakharani said. 

Prior to the “departure of almost all the foreigners from Alexandria that started a little before the 1956 War and reached its peak with the 1967 War,” Al-Fakharani said there were always special preparations for the many florists of the city at Christmas time, and later many of them went out of business as a result of “changing social norms and increasing economic challenges”.

Seasons for flowers

“We used to get the trees ready early, poinsettias too, but we also needed to prepare all the flowers that the residents of Alexandria at that time were keen to decorate their houses with,” he said. Today, with the “increasing prices of flowers, especially as we are now dependent on imported flowers as planters have been going out of business, we are now more focused on Christmas trees and poinsettia simply because they are less expensive.”

The changing seasons of flowers and potted plants is something that seems to be agreed upon among those who have been in the business for years. Roupen Noubar, co-owner of the Heliopolis flower shop Florabel, is another second-generation florist as he comes from a 70-year-old business.

Like Al-Fakharani’s store in Alexandria, Noubar’s shop is in the heart of an old district, this time on Baghdad Street in Heliopolis where there used to be a strong “foreign presence that had a daily interest in flowers” until the 1960s at least. “It was not merely seasonal, as anyone who has been in the business for a long time or who has family in the business will know. Flowers were for every day, at least for some people,” Noubar said.

Seasons for flowers

Since then, the ups and downs of the business have led to many attempts on the side of the florists to cope in terms of what they have to offer. During the tough years, there was an effort to sell more potted plants that could be a less expensive option, though for many they still remained expensive.

Noubar acknowledges that the current economic problems the country is facing has led many to opt for some more “purposeful object” when considering a gift for an engagement or a newborn baby rather than flowers. However, “on the other hand, due to the greater openness in Egyptian society since the 1980s and now the unlimited openness as a result of the Internet,” there are new trends and seasons being acknowledged as needing flowers, he said.

“Take for example the Valentine’s Day celebrations. This is a new trend that has emerged over the last 10 years or so, but today it is a time when we sell a lot of red roses,” Noubar said.

Seasons for flowers

The uncontested season for flowers and potted plants, according to both Noubar and Al-Fakharani, remains Mother’s Day, celebrated in Egypt on 21 March. This is when all types of flowers and plants find their way off the shelves of florists with unaccustomed speed.

According to Noubar, there have been new trends that have replaced old ones. Up until the late 1970s, it used to be fashionable to send flowers and chocolates or flowers and wine for the Christmas season or for a dinner occasion. Now, it is essentially flowers and chocolates for Christmas, flowers and candles for wedding anniversaries, or flowers and dried fruits and nuts for Ramadan.

Injy Taymour, founder and owner of Fleurinjy, is perhaps the name that has been most associated for the last 15 years with innovative flower trends in Cairo. Unlike Al-Fakharani and Noubar, she was not born in the business. She studied business at university and decided to harness her university degree to a passion for plants coming from her maternal grandmother and breaking what in the early 2000s was still a social taboo for a woman from a well-off family to become a florist.

Taymour did not see the good old days for flowers withering away in the 1980s and afterwards, and nor did she see the change of taste from big flower arrangements slimming down to more sober bouquets of fewer but perhaps more expensive flowers. Her catalogue does not include the wedding arrangements that are in the collections of Au pavillon de florelle or Florabel, and instead she focuses on smaller arrangements that bring together flowers, candles, and maybe a few small accessories to fit a wedding or Christmas dinner.

“For me, this was the whole idea of taking up this business. I wanted to take my passion for flowers and do something out of the ordinary. It worked because there is a market for it now,” she said. 

In her early attempts at innovation, Taymour turned the skin of a watermelon into a vase and accessorised toy animals with white and pink flowers for the baby showers of boys and girls. She had to tone down her research to meet the needs of clients, however. “Some clients would want something more traditional, so we worked with them to help them create something that would accommodate their taste but would still have the Fleurinjy signature,” she said.

Seasons for flowers

For Taymour, like for Al-Fakharani and Noubar, weddings provide occasions throughout the year for creating flower arrangements. Even at small family weddings, people still opt for at least one bouquet. As has been the case for decades, brides like to keep the bridal bouquet they carry in the wedding photograph, and they will also throw a bouquet for one of the bride’s maids to pick up.

Taymour said that this aspect of the flower business had inspired her to pursue many forms of innovation as every bride wants to have something special. “This is part of the growing wedding-planning business that is attracting more and more people,” she said.

Part of this innovative approach saw Taymour start the first ever flower-arranging school in Egypt some eight years ago not far from her flower shop in Maadi. She did flower-arranging segments on TV shows and found that there was so much demand for it among viewers who wanted to learn more about it that she decided to start the school. This has now been helping many people to feel more confident about flowers, especially flowers for weddings.

The eight-week course at the Fleurinjy school includes a theoretical part in which she teaches students what they need to know about growing and cutting flowers and a practical part dedicated to the art of arranging them. 

“Even though I had the perfect base through helping my grandmother, there was still so much to learn. I did this through books and videos, and now I am happy I can share my knowledge with other people,” Taymour said.

For florists and floral designers, it is the expansion of the number of people working in the business, either through the many kiosks that are spreading in big cities or through those entering the more professional side of the business, which is bound to keep flowers booming.

“It is true that we have seen many flower shops close over the years and other stores turning into other businesses, but it is a joy to see some new stores, even very small ones, open up to sell flowers and plants,” Al-Fakharani said.

For Taymour, now is the time to build on this renewed interest by organising “an annual flower fair for all those who export, plant, design and sell flowers. This is something that I would love to see happen one day,” she said.

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