Combing creativity and passion, Moyses Stevens' Head Florist, Mai Kittipanwanich has nurtured a blossoming career at one of London's oldest flower shops. This is her story.
Regent Street is home to impressive flagship stores; buildings where you can spend a whole day, and still have more to see. Weaved between these stores you can find the smaller, but no less important, unexpected treasures of Regent Street. Therein lies the beauty of the street: the diversity of brands, products and people.
Take the Floristry boutique Moyses Stevens, for example: it sits two streets down from All Souls Langham Place, north of Oxford Circus. Here, unlike its larger neighbours, there is only one person single-handedly representing the 140-year-old company on a regular day: head florist Mai Kittipanwanich. “This is a busy street so we get new people all the time. We get lots of people just popping in without having planned a visit,” Mai says. “Many of them don’t even realise how long we’ve been here. They say, ‘Oh, I work around the corner but hadn’t noticed you!’ Then they start coming back every week!”
Flowers are addictive like that, the contrasts of fragility and strength and diverse colours and scents turn them into a language in themselves: “Different flowers mean different things – it all depends on who you want to give them to and what you want to tell them,” Mai explains in a nearby café: “We all know red roses mean you’re in love and that white lilies are for funerals, but the world of flowers is a lot more layered than that, there’s even a term for the language of flowers: floriography.”
Mai came to be fluent in floriography through fashion. Initially she moved to the UK from her native Thailand to study footwear design. “I studied at London College of Fashion and did an internship at Kurt Geiger afterwards.” But fashion can be a tough business to break into. “I didn’t want to wait around for too long before I got the dream job.” Today she is in no doubt she chose the right path: “Working with flowers plays into my design sensibilities. I like using my creativity every day, and being able to design. This job allows me to do both.”
According to Mai, there’s plenty of overlap between fashion and floristry: it’s all about styling. “The most important thing is that you choose the right flowers and the right colours. Colour combination is very important in order to make one flower work with another. Picking out similar tones, or a pop of contrasting colour, helps. Just like fashion, styling flowers to individual tastes is an art. Luckily, there are at least schools where you can learn the technical side to floristry. “I took a month-long course at McQueens in Bethnal Green. That’s where I learnt the foundation of the job, everything from hand-tied arrangements and buttonhole designs to posies, which are small bouquets.”
Mai stayed with McQueens for a while, completing an internship in one of its stores and learning more about the retail side of the business. But there was always one place that she wanted to end up working: Moyses Stevens. The company has been around since 1876; within floristry circles it’s an institution. “They were at the top of my wish list. Now I’ve been working here for just over a year, so it’s like a dream come true.” Mai started out in the head office, where she honed her understanding of the business and brand, before being sent to manage the Regent Street store. It’s a big responsibility, and this isn’t lost on her. “It was challenging at first because, to be honest, I didn’t have lots of experience… But I learned quickly on the job and today I’m happy and comfortable!”
Each day, she decorates the store with flowers as people rush past to make it to work on time. She spends her morning prepping bouquets for the week ahead before the busy lunch time rush. “There are the bouquets I make for the shop, but a lot of work goes into the pre-ordered arrangements that a lot of businesses around us order.” Mai relishes the challenge of injecting some of her own personal style into these orders. “It’s about balance: importantly it’s a Moyses Stevens bouquet first and foremost, that’s what the customer is buying, but, I’m the one making each arrangement, so a little bit of my personality goes into it as well.”
The Moyses Stevens style is a traditional type of floristry. With its 140-year heritage, the business has become synonymous with classic British flowers, like garden roses. “It’s about greens, pinks, whites… We create grand explosions of colours with that wow factor!”
You can find Mai among the flowers of Moyses Stevens, every week day from 9AM to 7PM, at 324a Regent Street.