Bold and Beautiful Florals With Rebel Rebel

Cool, creative and original floristry with Rebel Rebel

Rebel Rebel, one of the UK’s most exciting and highly regarded florists, has been creating beautiful, bold and creative florals for nearly 20 years. TOAST meets founders Athena Duncan and Mairead Curtin to learn more about their fascination with flowers, and to get their top tips for creating fabulous florals at home this autumn.

When I discovered that Rebel Rebel’s signature arrangement is ‘Flowers in a Vintage Handbag’ – I knew that I was in for a treat. You see, these wonderfully inventive London florists have a collection of classic 'Kelly' handbags from the 50s and 60s in which they place a temporary lining (to protect it from water damage) and fill it with beautiful seasonal flowers, before delivering it to some lucky recipient’s door. A gorgeous bouquet AND a stylish handbag - what could be better?

They just seemed like the perfect thing to put flowers in!” explains Rebel Rebel co-founder Athena Duncan.

Women like handbags and shoes and flowers. Shoes are a bit weird with flowers in, while vintage handbags just lend themselves perfectly to the task of showing off flowers to their best advantage. And after the flowers have died you have a handbag!

And it is this cool, creative and original approach to floristry that has made Rebel Rebel one of the most sought after suppliers of all things floral in UK today.

Handbag Peonies Cornflowers Jasmine By Rebel Rebel(Rebel Rebel Kelly Bloomroom Handbag, Peonies, Cornflower and Jasmine) 

Athena Duncan and Mairead Curtin met whilst working in the television industry and one day decided – as they describe it – to ‘leap into the unknown and start up a flower business’. That was in 2000 - nearly 17 years ago - and now these two talented florists together with their team cover pretty much every aspect of incredible floral work; they have a shop, office and workshop in East London, they deliver their dazzling creations all over the country, and have a hugely popular and highly acclaimed event design service.

We do contracts and events and weddings and funerals and flowers for shoots and bar mitzvahs and pretty much anything anybody asks us!” enthuses Mairead. 

“We’ve been in the business for nearly 17 years now and our ethos is as it has always been - to make beautiful things with a little bit of rebelliousness!”

Suddenly I understand the inspiration behind the name…

Well yes, when we started floristry was very stiff and formal and we wanted to shake it up a bit, but it’s also because there are two of us, and we like David Bowie!

As well as their successful TV careers, these two rebels have long had love for flora and fauna. I am told that Athena always had fresh flowers on her desk when she was a Production Manager and Mairead, originally from Wexford in Ireland, describes herself as ‘a country girl’, so flowers have always been around. 

She once had to dig her mother out of a bog on a Rhododendron hunt!” laughs Athena.

As well as the aforementioned (and completely brilliant) ‘Flowers in a Vintage Handbag’, Rebel Rebel’s other hand tied creations include the deliciously scented ‘Dance Me to The End of Love’, the timelessly romantic ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and the dark and seductive ‘I Put a Spell on You’. Their show stopping and playfully named bouquets are created daily using fresh and seasonal flowers and can be delivered next day nationwide Tuesday to Saturday.

Rebel Rebel Broadway Bird Bouquet

Rebel Rebel Best Of British

(Rebel Rebel Broadway Bouquet and Best of British)

In addition to their busy bouquet service, Athena, Mairead and their talented team can also be found regularly creating their trademark fabulous florals in various prestigious venues across London, from the imposing St. Paul's Cathedral to the historic Wilton's Musical Hall. They count Selfridges, Nike, Tate and Stella McCartney amongst their clients (to name just a few) and some of their recent work has included a beautiful hanging flower meadow for luxury diamond jewellers DeBeers at the Royal Academy, and a magnificent floral rainbow wall and enchanted forest for none other than BAFTA.

BAFTA Flower Curtain Close Up

BAFTA Suspended Urns Rebel Rebel

Rebel Rebel Suspended Tropical Urns

Rebel Rebel BAFTA Gladioli Red Carpet

(BAFTA Flower Curtain, Suspended Tropical Palms and Gladioli Red Carpet Entrance)

One of the first events we ever did was 80 tablecentres at the Grosvenor House hotel - we had slightly under ordered foliage by a factor of 10, so we spent quite a lot of time stealing it from people’s hedges!” laughs Athena.

The most enjoyable one recently was a launch for Burberry in their Regent Street store - they wanted to make Thomas’s Café look like an overgrown garden"

Rebel Rebel At Sketch Jenna Coleman Flowers For My Burberry And Burberry Black Stairs

(Rebel Rebel Black Stairs and Garden for Burberry, Jenna Coleman at Sketch for My Burberry

With this impressive track record and all these big names and high profile clients under their green-fingered belts I wonder if the pressure ever gets to the rebels - do they every feel nervous?

God of course! But if you don’t feel nervous then it’s not interesting enough! You’ve got to push the designs sometimes and that means making things you’ve never made before, so you can’t be sure that it will actually work. Mostly it does, luckily!” explains Mairead.

The ideal way to work is if someone comes with a rough idea of what they’d like, a ballpark budget and then lets us come up with the design. If clients are too restrictive it can be a bit dull. Also, it’s great if things aren’t set in stone, so if that day something glorious appears that would be much nicer than what we had suggested it is lovely to have the freedom to go with what is beautiful”

Other notable creations include a stunning Gucci floral scarf for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, imaginary flowers that you might find in space for the Wachowskis' 2015 sci-fi film Jupiter Ascending, and a full-size floral version of the unmistakable eye for the final series of Channel 4’s Big Brother

It is really fun and interesting to be given a project which you have to figure out what to do and how to do it, but you couldn’t spend your whole life reinventing the wheel. Just putting beautiful flowers together in a lovely vase is a joy as well!” explains Mairead.

Gucci Garden Hanging Chelsea Flower Show Rebel Rebel

Gucci Garden IV By Rebel Rebel

De Beers Light Event At The Royal Academy

(Rebel Rebel's floral installation for Gucci at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and DeBeers at the Royal Academy)

Whether it’s a challenging special project, large-scale event or simply one of their beautiful hand-tied bouquets, Rebel Rebel’s bold and beautiful style remains distinctive; they work by following the wild form of the flowers and foliage, emphasising and celebrating their natural grace, but as the name suggests they are rebels too, and so their style is also bold and experimental, using unusual, clashing colour combinations and presenting flowers in a unexpected way.

We find inspiration mostly from the flowers themselves and nature - we love and adore flowers. We are like magpies and seek out whatever is newest and most interesting in the market” explains Athena.

“We love British flowers and foliage and use them whenever we can, and we work with very talented and creative florists who all bring in new ideas and styles to the Rebel Rebel family. And of course we read magazines and go to exhibitions and are inspired by the fashion - it’s a struggle to try not to gape at too much Instagram!”

Recently I’ve heard several luxury florists and floral designers commenting on the use of British florals, and I’ve often wondered what the benefits are, apart from supporting local business, and the reduced carbon footprint of course.

We use British flowers whenever we can and when they are at their best, but we don’t restrict ourselves purely to local flowers. When in season they are much better than anything from abroad, and it would be madness not to use them!” explains Mairead.

At the moment the British Dahlias are incredible and not to use them would be a crime!  British flowers come into the market but we also get them from a local Essex cutting garden and sometimes from Oxfordshire. All through the winter we use British foliage but clearly as the cold weather comes the flowers peter out, and by November it is fairly thin pickings, so then we start sourcing from Italy and Holland”

And speaking of faraway places – Rebel Rebel host popular flower workshops not only here in the UK but in China too, and following the success of their evening workshops in Hackney and classes in Beijing they decided to open a flower school during the summer in their favourite part of Italy - Tuscany. 

The workshops here are for people who want to try hand tied bunches or flower crowns, and we also do private workshops for hen parties and companies too” explains Mairead.

“In China we teach at a school in Beijing called Cohim where other western florists teach, and in Italy it’s a four day workshop covering all aspects of floristry and it is also a gorgeous holiday in the sun, taking in the Tuscan countryside, food and drink. With Flowers!”

Where do we sign up? It sounds like Athena and Mairead might be living the dream, especially when in Tuscany, but having accomplished so much already – both here and now internationally - I wonder if there is anything left on the botanical bucket list for these two.

We really enjoy working on film and TV so a flower-filled remake of Il Gattopardo, or maybe we could be the flower consultants for TV on The Surprising Life of Constance Spry!” they both enthuse.

But the Holy Grail would be the Chanel catwalk in Paris!”

Rebel Rebel Bloomroom Handbag

Rebel Rebel Team

Rebel Rebel Roberta Einer LFW Show By Rebel Rebel

(Rebel Rebel Bloomroom, Installation crew, Robert Einer LFW Show)

If you’d like some of Mairead and Athena’s top tips for creating some Rebel Rebel-inspired florals at home this autumn, including how to make your very own ‘Flowers in a Vintage Handbag’ display, then check out their How To over on TheEdit now. 

Or to discuss your own floral design project or installation, take a look at Rebel Rebel's profile in our Little Black Book


Posted in Spotlight

by Sophie Farrah
on on 08 September 2017

  floral design, floral installations, flower display

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