By Latasha Ngwube
Flowers have always been a part of our lives in some way. Wedding bouquets, birthdays, gestures of affection, horticultural clubs, Valentines’ day celebrations, leisure gardens, parks, condolence gifts, care packages…you name it but chances are you can’t escape it. As an integral part of nature’s landscape or the ‘piece de resistance’ as one could call them, they are also a billion dollar industry as jobs have and are being created daily from these natural masterpieces.
Here in Nigeria, it is no longer uncommon to find people taking more than a passing interest in floral designs, arrangements and so on; as all over the world people have made it a point to master this craft so well that they have become celebrated experts.
Jeff Leatham is one of those who have achieved superstar status from this craft with a celebrity clientele list that includes Oprah Winfrey, Eva Longoria, Elie Saab, Tina Turner, the Kardashians, Madonna and Kylie Minogue. Luxury brands such as Givenchy, Hermes and Burberry have him on speed dial. So you may ask yourself, “How did this man find his way to Nigeria?” The answer to that is a lady called Sade Awe, Founder of The Bridal Circle, whose area of specialization is planning and execution of luxury weddings worldwide. Her formidable vision and vast network of friends pooled resources to bring Jeff to Nigeria for the first Floral Masterclass of its kind.
Vanguard Allure’s LATASHA NGWUBE spent a riveting whirlwind of a weekend with Jeff Leatham, Sade Awe, Oghogho Asemota, Moji Akinkumi, Ata Ashiru, Yewande Rwang-Dung and the rest of the wonderful team who worked tirelessly to present the wildly successfully Floral Masterclass, aptly tagged #TheJeffLeathamExperience.
JEFF LEATHAM – The Rockstar Florist
Florists don’t normally enjoy international renown but Jeff Leatham is a star andHollywood favouritethat has created a niche for himself in the world of floristry and design. Born in Utah,he started off with a career as a model and after 3 years of working as amodel in Paris, he started working part-timeas a florist in 1996 at the Four Seasons hotel in BeverlyHills. 20 years later and Leatham is the artistic director of the Four Seasons worldwide.The Hotel George V, Paris, the crown jewel of the Four Seasons luxury hotel group, is the epitome of luxury. The George V is renowned worldwide for it floristry, and its use of dramatic flower interior design and this is largely due to the hotel’s artistic director Jeff Leatham.
Good question! In the beginning it wasn’t about flowers, it was a question of work, and then it turned into a question of respect and then into question of creativity and then a mission of mine to inspire.
The Jeff Leatham experience it seems to be a phrase that follows you wherever you go. What exactly does this moniker mean to you in your own words?
It’s called the Jeff Leatham experience because that’s what I hope it is. I think life now, in 2016, is so full of things that are expected. You are expected to go to work, expected to have a job, you are expected to do things. I think when you have an experience in life, it’s something you tend to remember a lot more- I hope. So when I get together with people and when I spread my kind of Leatham gospel so to speak, that it is called an experience. People leave feeling enthusiastic, inspired and hopeful.
How did you first meet Sade and what’s the relationship been like?
I met Sade in Paris years ago at the George V like most of my most special relationships that happened at that hotel. I’d heard about this amazing group of people that she puts together. She is the most passionate woman for what she does, putting people together in the event business. For her it’s not about money, it’s about connections, it’s about communication, and it’s about putting great people together and inspiring people and that’s why we connected so much because we have the same values.
What was your reaction when the idea of coming to Nigeria first surfaced?
Sade spoke to me about it and I was very excited. She told me “don’t be scared, it’s okay, Nigeria is amazing”. I researched it and as time got closer I started researching a lot more. A lot of people have preconceived notions about anywhere that’s far away, so it’s been a pleasant surprise for me. It really feels very safe. It’s very cosmopolitan, very chic and all the people that I’ve met both at the masterclass and dinner reception have been really stylish. I also think there’s a lot of talent in this city.
The Masterclass you held was highly anticipated and celebrated. Personally, how would you rate the success of this event?
For me, I was nervous because initially when Sade spoke to me about the event I thought there were literally going to be hundreds and hundreds of people! She told me people in Nigeria could sometimes be very last minute so I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout at the Masterclass. At the beginning of all my classes and my experiences people are always very quiet and reserved. That’s why I always start with dancing because it breaks the ice. It’s all about breaking the ice. People know that they are going to be there for a couple of hours, its creative fascination so to speak. I call them floral concerts because at the beginning of a concert you just sit there and then halfway into the concert it gets really amazing and you love it.
What has been the highlight of this trip to Nigeria for you?
The people, the connections, the love that I have felt while I was here that’s one thing I’m probably going away with.
On a lighter note, how do you relax?
My biggest luxury in life is sleep because I’m always on the move, always travelling. My mind is constantly creating and racing so if I have a moment to sleep then I indulge myself fully.
So what is on your shopping list right now and what is your current designer obsession?
Right now I have the new Marilyn Monroe collection from Dries Van Noten which is amazing because I love my girl, Marilyn. I love Tom Ford, Yves St Laurent, classic designs that never really go out of style. I think that’s important to me.
In the world floral arrangements, is there a “Unicorn” bouquet or arrangement that still eludes you?
I always wanted to float thousands and thousands and thousands of rose petals down the Seine in Paris. That’s probably one thing that I’ve always wanted to do that I’ve never done before. It’s kind of like a dream and I have to be very careful because everything I dream and everything I put out always comes true. For me it’s about creating thigs that really make people think.
MOJI AKINKUNMI – C.E.O ANGELIKA’S HOMESTORE
Angelika’s, a home and gift store is a lifestyle hub featuring a wine shop and an array of exquisite and creative decor accents and tabletop pieces thoughtfully designed by some of the world’s most appreciated luxurious designers. Angelika’s offers a range of high-end dining, kitchen, home accessories and gifts as well as everyday pieces to complete your home.
How did Angelika’s Homestore start?
Angelika’s was born from my passion for events and table design. It all starts and ends with a beautiful table! So, whether it’s a dinner with friends and family or a wedding party, the most time is spent around a table, so a table-top store was inevitable for me since I was not going to be a full time event planner.
Who are your core clientele?
My core clientele is the middle-class Nigerian; from Law School students to CEOs and, of course, the expatriate community.
What has been your biggest challenge in day-to-day operations of the business?
The biggest challenge for us has been staffing. In our business, it is extremely important that the sales team share my passion and can communicate, effectively, knowledge of the products with our clientele.
Could you share briefly, your level of involvement in the Jeff Leatham experience?
My involvement with ‘the experience’ was ensuring that all aspects of table designs tied in well with the floral experience. We were also responsible for the supply of all the tableware pieces at the event; from monogrammed napkins, ruby red glasses and statement gold crockery. We also had the pleasure of tablescaping for the grand dinner event. We were also proud to host all the press events at the store. It was, indeed, a great honour.
In your own words, please complete this statement: Jeff Leatham is …
… An extremely humble human being. I see no barriers when it comes to Jeff. This, obviously, is translated into the creativity of his work. A true rock star indeed!
SADE AWE – CEO Bridal Circle & Curator of the Jeff Leatham Floral Experience Lagos
Spurred on by a mission to create a seamless partnership with clients and to provide superior and insightful service, Sade has revolutionized the luxury wedding industry. Her desire to provide only the most exquisite products from the most celebrated designers and artists within the luxury community has sent her to the far ends of the earth on a quest for the ultimate in wedding glamour. As a result, brides have only to search within the parameters of The Bridal Circle itself to encounter the best the world has to offer. With the creation of The Bridal Circle, Sade makes herself available to brides across the globe as a personal concierge, ensuring that the weddings of their dreams materialize before their very eyes. When she’s not networking with her elite wedding partners, blogging, poring over sumptuous photos, attending fashion shows or assisting brides with their opulent wedding plans, Sade loves to travel. Gorgeous hotels and resorts, couture boutiques, golfing and treatments in some of the world’s most luxuriant spas, are some of Sade’s greatest loves.
Your resume is impressively vast. How long has it taken you to get to this point where you are?
Less than 5 years actually. My background is I.T and I was a consultant for over 15 years. I started out inspired by my younger sister who was getting married. She wanted to get married in Brussel and I couldn’t find a lot of things I was looking for so I started talking to people asking them what was missing in the online luxury brands, what would they like to see etc. I basically put on my analytical thinking cap and started talking to different luxury vendors to find the missing gaps in the market. In terms of how fast, I think it’s all about who you meet. I’m able to connect with people really well and I’m a woman of my word so integrity and reputation opens the door and people begin to trust you. If you do one thing right then people start to believe you are solid.
What inspired the idea of this event?
Jeff Leatham is a well renowned floral designer and he’s brilliant so it was very easy. A lot of people had remarked on how amazing it would be to have Jeff in Nigeria. I thought to myself that Jeff would be the perfect fit for Nigeria because he is the type of person that is full of love and life and passion and it was very important to me that whoever I brought to Nigeria would embrace the culture. I did not want to bring someone who would have a high handed approach .I knew Jeff would be down to earth.
What’s been your biggest surprise as regards the luxury market here in Nigeria?
The unflinching support I had with my partners was amazing. Funmi, Ata, Yewande, Moji, Sarah, Oghogho… they just said what can we do, we want to be there. For me it’s important when I’m picking my partners that I work with people who see beyond my vision because it opens so many more doors. Unfortunately I also got to experience the not-so-sweet side of things as I found there people really almost rooting for me to fail and it was really sad.
If you were to change one perception or preconceived notion of potential Nigerian clients as regards luxury weddings what would that it be?
In Nigeria there tends to be a lot of outside factors that is too many hands in the wedding planning process. So I would say if you are going to hire someone to plan a really luxurious wedding trust that the person you hired has your best interest at heart to do a good job and that they are truly professional at what they do!
Can we look forward to you bringing more Master craftsmen of International repute back here to Nigeria soon?
I hope so. I cannot say too much right now but watch this space!
ATA ASHIRU – C.E.O INKHEARTS STUDIO
Ata Ashiru is the Creative Director of Inkhearts Studio, a full service design studio that caters to the discerning client looking to own custom stationery. They cater to the social/wedding industry as well as corporate clients who want more than cookie cutter designs. Their custom stationery creations are designed personally and uniquely for the client and sets the tone for their one of a kind events.
Inspired by unique designs, fashion and a discovered love for specialty paper, Inkhearts was formally launched in January 2009. As cliche as it may sound, it really just started with creating unique designs for family and friends who wanted much more than the pre-manufactured invitations found at paperie stores.
Armed with a Bachelors in International Business and a Masters’ degree in Business Administration, coupled with several years of working with an industry leader in risk management services and one of the Big 4 professional services firm, Ata is bringing her business skills to Inkhearts; creating the perfect marriage of creativity, good business acumen and professionalism.
She is happily married and a proud mother of 3.
How did you start Inkhearts?
I started out creating stationary and paper goods for friends and family, and people became interested in my designs and began to make requests. Then a few years ago for my thirtieth birthday, I created my invitations and people started calling to ask where I got them from and I told them how I designed and executed the whole thing myself. From that point, it took on a life of its own. I started designing and charging for it because I’ve always been creative.
From inception till now, have you had any form of formal training in calligraphy or graphic design?
No formal training at all. I just pretty much knew what I wanted to do, had a focus, got myself on Google and learnt how to use all the necessary applications to design.
In creating invitations and stationary for the Jeff Leatham experience, were you working with a particular theme or were you given free rein?
I was given free rein but I also had to keep in mind that I was doing something for Jeff. I wanted to do something that he would appreciate. He worked with a lot of black acrylic vases in the Masterclass, the dinner menus were made of acrylic which were all inspired by Jeff. I also wanted to create something that was wow and that set the tone for the whole experience.
Where do you see your business going in the next 5 years?
We have a full design studio in Ikoyi, where people can come and look at invitations and be inspired by my designs. In the next five years, I plan on incorporating, something like a “ready to order” line because we already have custom designs but something of good quality which would not as expensive as custom because that creates volume in sales at the end of the day.
YEWANDE RWANG-DUNG – C.E.O SARAO EVENTS
Yewande’s SARAO is an events solutions company with an accumulated knowledge and passion for events. They place great emphasis on service and have a carefully selected team of knowledgeable, trustworthy, motivated people committed to good service. Their knowledgeable events specialists are there from the initiation stage right through to the end, to ensure that your desired event is strategically streamlined, technically executed and spectacularly breathtaking. Even within tight budgets and deadlines, they are known to always deliver, and deliver exceptionally.
What is the distinction between event planning and event designing?
Event designing is the look and feel of your venue and your event whereas event planning is starting from the beginning, deciding which caterer to use, which vendor to use and putting the whole event together. I don’t put the whole event together. I just make the place look beautiful.
How was your expertise applied for the Jeff Leatham experience?
What we did basically was design the whole place. I’m very blessed to have an amazing team. From the get-go, we were just in sync with the vision for the décor. Essentially it was just a group of us coming together, producing something really spectacular.
People usually say that when there’s more than 2 women working in a space it could be somewhat chaotic, with so much estrogen charge in the air. Can you honestly say that has been the case with all of you women pulling your energy together to make this event a success?
I am not going to lie. It hasn’t been a walk in the park. I think what really helped was that we all had the same focus, we were determined to make it a success and we just all pulled in and made it work. And I think that’s the key thing .you are going to clash, have disagreements here and there ,but what’s the focus, stay on the ball , focus on what you are trying to do and just deliver! What needs to be done must be done.
On a final note, do you have any advice for young event designers starting out in the business? What would you say is the most important piece of advice you can give them.
For me when I started out, my focus wasn’t making money, my focus was building a brand and I would take on jobs often times spending the entire allocation, my profits included just to create something really good and it worked for me. It helped me build my reputation and my brand so I would say if you love designing, just design forget about money and eventually it would start paying off.
OGHOGHO ASEMOTA – C.E.O., ARALIA BY NATURE
Aralia By Nature is a floral studio based in Lagos, Nigeria, founded by Oghogho on the principle of celebrating the beauty of nature. Her process is based on emotion, focusing on telling the story of the beauty, mystery and rejuvenating qualities of nature.
Since its birth in 2009, Aralia By Nature has become the maven of the Nigerian floral industry; the highly creative floral designer, Oghogho, has amassed an evocative portfolio of floral décor, tablescaping and landscaping projects. Her style could be described as rustic, fashion forward and professional.
How did you come about such a unique name as Aralia By Nature?
Aralia is the name of a plant. It’s a plant that has large leaves and I just loved the form of the plant. So I added “by nature” to it and that’s how I came about the name.
As a florist yourself, what was it like working alongside Jeff on this project?
Working alongside Jeff on this project was an eye opening, humbling, empowering and amazing experience. I could go on. I found working alongside him almost like a dream. Once I got over that, I watched and learnt so much from his technique. Apart from just working with flowers, Jeff, as a person, also made me realize one thing that I have always stood for: he made me know for sure that I am on the right path which is humility.
Jeff is like the number one florist in the world right now and he just embraced me and my team. What I realized is that no matter how successful you are, you just have to have your feet on the ground. He is an established man, no doubt, and he has no airs about him at all. For me, that’s one of the most important things I’m going to take away from meeting him.
Can you give us a little insight as to the kind of support ABN brought to the table?
The support that ABN brought to the table at this event was, basically, supplying every single flower that Jeff used for his Masterclass and assisting with putting small, medium and large floral arrangements wherever they were needed like for interviews, coffee tables and the main dinner to honour Jeff. We brought in all the flowers for the event and we actually did the arrangement of all the tables at the venue that night.
If you could add anything to the roaring success of this experience, what would it be?
What I would like to add to the roaring success of this event is very simple: we need to support each other more in the industry, especially women. Most times, we are our own worst enemies. I also feel that we should stop being so scared of supporting other successful people.
The market is big; it’s huge and massive. It’s big enough for everybody. One person’s success doesn’t mean that the next person is less successful. If we all come together, we would be able to build beautiful and amazing to-die-for events. More collaboration is really necessary. We should be able to work together and not be afraid of each other. That’s why when people walk through my door talking to me about all things florist, I’m happy to teach and give them advice. Jeff has also made me realize that apart from being a florist, I would love to teach people more about floral arrangements.
CREATIVE DIRECTION: LATASHA NGWUBE
PHOTOGRAPHY: JIDE ALAKIJA
Cover Outfits (for all except Jeff) – CAMILLA courtesy of Designers Club Lagos
LOCATION – Angelika’s Home Store
STYLING: Latasha Ngwube/Chiso Ebi
MAKE-UP: Modupe Onanuga for Makeup by Mogizzie Makeup by Ekene
Jewellery- Kareema Mak
CREATIVE ASSISTANT/INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTION – ANNE OKWUZI