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January 19, 2019

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Flower power adds magical touch to lives

LIVING in a bustling city, it’s easy to feel disconnected from nature. Of course, there are urban parks and greenbelts offering greenery. And then, too, there are flower shops that challenge us to add the color and brightness of nature to our daily lives.

“Flowers are always a good idea.” The words are written on a board hanging on the wall of a florist named Phlower Studio. It’s a green oasis in a co-working site next to Fuxing Park.

“Live bloomingly” is the slogan of the flower shop, whose name is a combination of “photo” and “flower.” Before becoming a florist, shop owner Olivia Wang was a photographer specializing in taking photos of prenuptial couples with film instead of a digital camera.

“Few people appreciate film photos,” she said. “Their aesthetics are distinctive. For them, I made hand-tied bridal bouquets, which led to my desire to open a flower shop.”

Her shop is one of aesthetics, too. A measuring cylinder serves as vase, collection boxes from an antique market in Japan decorate a wall. A concrete pillar is kept bare and beautiful in its simplicity.

Wang gave herself the nickname Wang Xiaobao when she was in university and wore her hair in afro style. In Chinese, the afro is called baozha, or literally “explosion hairdo.”

Entering the flower studio on a wet, rainy day, I immediately brightened at the sight of colorful plants.

Ranunculus from Holland, roses from Kenya, kangaroo paws from Australia. The shop is filled with many varieties exotic to China. One of her recent favorites is Hippeastrum, a relative of amaryllis.

“What attracts me most is not only the beauty of Hippeastrum blossoms, but also the whole growing process,” she said. “At the beginning, the buds are closed tightly. Then, they gradually start to bloom and become bigger and bigger. One Hippeastrum might have two to three buds, and, therefore, I anticipate their blooms one by one. The flower can last up to more than 10 days.”

Wang said she believes plants have their own characters.

“You can’t spoil flowers. Just treat them ordinarily,” Wang said.

Born in 1984, Wang was an intern at an advertising company after graduating from college. She quit the job partly because she didn’t like getting up early and enduring the commute rush.

Before moving to its current location in 2017, the flower shop was located in an old house.

“It wasn’t suitable for a flower shop,” she said. “With 20 to 30 square meters, the room was too small and humid, and the electrical circuit load capacity was too low.”

The shop was later transformed into a studio and closed to the public. Only online orders were accepted.

“I missed the interactive atmosphere with people and thus decided to reopen a physical store,” said Wang.

It’s a bit hard, she admitted.

“Today’s shop tends to be commercial, and I might not be good at running a business,” she said. “In reality, I just want to pursue what I like doing.”

Most of her customers order flowers through the online shop instead of visiting the store in person or contacting with her personally through WeChat. The lack of personal interaction undercuts the purpose of a physical shop, she said.

“Previously, I could get an idea of customers’ hobbies and preferences through their WeChat moments,” she said. “Many of them have become my friends. But now I have regular customers that I don’t know anything about.”

Although few customers may walk into the shop, it has become a community center in the shared office building.

During my stay, a mother hugging her newborn visited the shop with a colleague for nothing more than a chitchat. A middle-aged man who heads a company in the co-working space came in to buy several flowers and bid farewell to Wang because his firm was moving out.

Hou Menghan, a florist at Phlower Studio, handles customer relations. During a brief conversation with her, we were interrupted several times by phone calls from deliverymen and customers.

Born in 1994, Hou majored in auditing at a university in Shandong Province. During one holiday, she went to Beijing to learn floristry and later came to Shanghai to work with flowers.

“I really enjoy the process of creating floral designs and arrangements,” said Hou.

Sharon Xu is responsible for team building at Phlower Studio. She quit a corporate job to join Wang.

“I didn’t have much exposure to flowers before working here,” Xu said. “Now I find more joy and a sense of ritual in my life through flowers. For example, I will decorate my room with flowers in the coming Spring Festival.”

Xu’s favorite flower is Ranunculus asiaticus, a species of buttercup.

“Flowers have become part of my life,” she said. “I observe them every day, and am always surprised by their changes. No matter what the species of flower, even common ones like carnations and lilies can have an impact on our lives.”

According to Wang, her staff are down-to-earth young people who pursue their dreams.

Wang herself is a travel enthusiast. Every year, she takes a three-week trip with her parents and then a solo trip. During her travels, she takes photos, visits exhibitions, design stores, flower markets and vintage shops, and idles away hours in cafes. Wang said she gains inspiration from her travels.

She showed me a photo featuring pink architecture and blue sky taken on a recent trip to Budapest. The color scheme of pink and blue inspired her to do flower arrangements in similar hues.

Flower lovers seem to have a passion for life.

Cheng Fangyuan, owner of a flower studio called Misty Flower, also likes to travel. He was in Thailand learning scuba diving when I stopped in at his shop, so I contacted him via WeChat.

His small, colorful world in Shanghai is located in a big shopping mall called Daning Life Hub. A small garden filled with plants surrounds the flower shop, bringing admiring nods from passers-by.

“I think of a flower shop as a space that allows people to empty themselves. Floristry tends to calm people,” said Cheng, who was born in 1990 and established Misty Flower in 2014.

“When I am pruning plants or designing, I don’t think of anything else,” he said. “I get inspiration from films, advertising designs, photos, sculpture and paintings.”

As a student, he studied sports and did part-time work in a friend’s flower shop during the summer holidays. That set him on a new course. He also teaches floristry in his studio in Jiading District, attracting students of all ages and walks of life.

“Some trainees want to have their own flower shops and come to learn skills,” said Cheng.

“Some people simply like plants and want to creatively add color to their everyday lives. Think of us as a group of people who want to warm the world.”

• Phlower Studio

Address: Room 12, 109-1 Yandang Rd

Open: 10am-10pm

• Misty Flower

Address: 2nd block, 1878 Gonghexin Rd

Open: 10am-10pm


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