by Laura Syvaniemi
A fresh-faced Emily Michele Smith meets me at the gate to her studio. I’ve walked the twenty minutes from Epping station despite Emily’s offer to pick me up, admiring the stillness of the residential area just forty minutes away from bustling Sydney centre. On my way I see roses everywhere; perhaps it is my interviewee who has inspired me to notice them. 26-year-old Emily runs Boutierre Girls, an Instagram sensation and one of Sydney’s most prestigious floral businesses.
It’s 10 am and Emily has already had four shots of coffee. She has apologetically rescheduled three times; her black van full of flowers is relentlessly on the move, catering to last minute orders. This week alone, she has also received three other requests for interviews.
The Boutierre Girls studio is a crisp white space that sets the scene for many of Emily’s Instagram photos. It’s the social media platform that sparked her rise to floral fame and features frequently in her speech when talking about Boutierre Girls. Emily has nearly 35 000 followers, a figure that is steadily rising.
The walls of the studio are covered with urns and vases, some filled with blooms left over from the morning’s deliveries. Emily is apologetic there aren’t more and automatically rearranges them, unasked, for a better photograph. We sit down at a grey concrete table where she fiddles with a massive nude Mayfair rose, gently peeling back its petals as she talks.
”I got up at 3.45,” She says as I ask her about her morning. ”I’ve been to the markets, bought all my flowers, come back and stripped everything down, made all my deliveries and delivered them. I’ve delivered flowers for a photo shoot as well. That’s about it.”
The early alarm is no stranger to Emily: she always gets up that time on Mondays and Wednesdays, when fresh flowers come into the flower markets. On Fridays it’s ”around 2.30”. Emily works seven days a week – the amount of coffee quickly makes sense.
The birth of Boutierre
Before Boutierre Girls Emily studied medical science at UNSW, spending her spare time making cakes and playing with flowers.
”I have chronic fatigue and was sort of bed-ridden for three or four years,” Emily explains. ”I would have weird hobbies and flowers was one of them. I started as cakes, and then I was like; I actually hate cakes.” She laughs. ”And the reason my cakes were so popular was I’d deck them out with fresh flowers. So I just got rid of cakes and did flowers instead.”
A florist, just like her first cake client, found Emily on Instagram and offered her a job. After two months, in 2014, she quit and started her own business. ”It’s been going nuts ever since!”
Due to her explosive rise in popularity, Emily had to leave UNSW and a brief period at TAFE. She now creates florals for weddings, as well as fashion labels and photoshoots, which she loves. Recently she had her first magazine cover.
”I’d love to move overseas and do stuff with big labels,” Emily says. ”If I ever did a job for like Balmain, I’d probably die. I still scream like a little kid when I get a job offer from a label that I’m obsessed with.”
The hours behind Boutierre Girls’ famed florals are hard work. When asked if people understand the amount of labour that goes into flowers, Emily laughs out loud. ”No! No way. Yeah, no chance.”
What might seem like a simple bouquet order means Emily has gotten up and gone to the markets, paid ten dollars for parking, bought the flowers, driven back to her studio, stripped the flowers, arranged the bouquet and then delivered it. ”That’s half a day’s work,” she explains.
And compared to big events, half a day for a bouquet sounds like child’s play. ”If you’ve got a huge job on Sunday, you pretty much don’t sleep from when you pick up the flowers on Friday through till Sunday. You just don’t have enough hours in the day.”
Go big or go home
Two phones on the tabletop beep with the occasional incoming message, which Emily checks in stride. She talks about the physical demands of the job: the rigging, knotting, public liability and fork lifts – ”They’re really hard to drive!” – that come with the floral installations she creates.
Bigger, faster, harder, better. I ask Emily if she ever feels out of her depth.
She laughs. ”I’ll book a job and be like ’I have no idea how to do that, but sure!’. By the time it comes around it’s so easy. I find that with pretty much all of the florists: most of us have no idea what we’re doing when it comes to designing big crazy things on roofs and stuff. You just do whatever works and make sure it doesn’t fall.”
As the artist behind installations such as Samantha Wills’ stunning floral walls, the first of which Emily still recalls as ”her baby”, it’s safe to say clients are in good hands. She loves using roses, anthereums and orchids – all of which feature abundantly in her work and Instagram account – but has a hard time picking her favourite jobs.
”Every second wedding I’ll be like ”this is my favourite wedding ever!” because I love whatever I’m doing at that time,” She says. ”Whatever flower I’m working with is my favourite flower.”
Weddings, from which Boutierre Girls currently gets most of their work, are notoriously tricky to execute.
”My worst nightmare would be for a bride to be disappointed on her wedding day,” She says of the high pressure jobs.
”No matter how organised I am, in every wedding something goes wrong. Things just happen on the day that you don’t expect. But the bride will never know and you just learn to recover in, like, five seconds. I’m really good under pressure and every single time it works out. Every single time we manage to get it done.”
From traffic jams to sudden heat waves to brides having given her the wrong date for their wedding, the Boutierre peeps have been there. When going gets rough Emily enlists the help of fellow florists, many of whom she is close with.
”We’re all pretty good friends. Even overseas, we’re all pretty tight through Instagram. I can stay anywhere and know that I’ll be able to find a flower friend and be like; I’m coming over!”
It’s the love of flowers that unites them and makes the long, sleep-deprived hours worthwhile.
”I just love flowers. I always have,” Emily states simply. ”I love it. There’s always work stuff about it, but I’m lucky that I can earn a full-time salary doing this. I see people in offices and I could never do that. I just don’t know how they do it. I literally don’t know.”