Four years ago Nik Southern quit her job in recruitment, enrolled in a floristry course and now runs one of London’s hippest floral shops Grace & Thorn. We caught up with Nik to discuss her unlikely career path and indisputable passion for her craft.
There’s something undeniably cool about Nik Southern - her brisk London accent coupled with her energised demeanour over the phone makes her someone you’d want to be friends with. Originally from Islington north London, Nik’s obsession with plants didn’t start until her family moved to Enfield when she was 14, their new home came with a garden, “I was the only one in my family that got so excited about seeing a bit of lawn.”
Despite Nik’s green-fingered talents she chose a career in the buzzing London recruitment scene. But at 33 she quit her job to find her real passion, seeking advice from a life coach who turned everything around for her, “I said, I don’t have any other skills apart from recruitment and he gave me a simple psychometric test and I did it and it came up with gardening which I loved. It also said floristry as well and I thought, oh I’ll try that.”
Nik often found her creative style was at odds with the establishment - her rebellious nature challenged the traditional approach of dome shaped flower arrangements which she says “looked like “pregnant belles”.
Nik enrolled in the Jamie Ashton floristry school where she studied the basics and practicalities of floral arrangements. However, the course came with its own challenges, and Nik often found her creative style was at odds with the establishment - her rebellious nature challenged the traditional approach of dome shaped flower arrangements, which “looked like pregnant belles”. It didn’t feel natural for her to create bouquets in a conventional way especially when there is so much more you can do. So, she did it her own way.
In 2011 a short while after studying floristry Nik founded Grace & Thorn from a studio on Kingsland Road in Dalston. Her style wasn’t what you’d typically see from a traditional florist - her blooms went against the grain; they were edgy, random and yet so simple. With a very wild and naturalistic aesthetic, creating asymmetric shapes with a playful use of colour, Nik’s passion for flower arrangements is similar to how a fashion designer would approach their current collection or an artist create their latest masterpiece. “Flowers are so beautiful,” said Southern. “I want to celebrate every single flower for what it is.”
Nik does seem to have found her forte. She opened her first store in September 2014 in east London’s Hackney Road, then just over a year later in November 2015 opened her second store in central London’s Soho. Her clients now include Christopher Kane, Markus Lupfer, Giles, DSM & J.W Anderson.
What sets Grace & Thorn apart is its use of foliage, texture and colour. Nik is a new breed of florist, interested in defying all the rules with her unique variety of blooms. It’s obvious she knows her stuff, and loves what she does. When you ask Nik what inspires her she says she never looks at the work of other florists nor books on the subject, but gets her inspiration from the golden age of the Dutch masters whose still life 17th century paintings of flower bouquets were loaded with colour and texture.
Her stores are a mash-up of brutalist architecture juxtaposed with a beautifully chaotic mix of flora, she says when you walk into her store she wants to “let the flowers and plants speak for themselves” And they do. Her stores embody her personality and creativeness and turn the tables on traditional florist interiors. “In our Hackney shop, people are always surprised when they come in. There’s always loud music and people running around. It’s quite a good environment to be in. When I was younger I used to feel so overwhelmed walking into a florist so I want people to feel like it’s a nice place to be. They don’t just come in and buy; they come in and talk about everything.”
With an infectious laugh and a vivacious personality to boot, it’s important to her that there’s a playful element in everything she creates. “Don’t be a sheep be a shepherd” she says - something her staff know all too well – everyone who works with Nik is told to express their own creativity “no bouquet can ever leave the shop looking the same.”
“With the workshops, we will lay the flowers out for them but I always say to them, don’t copy mine. You’ll produce your skeleton of foliage and then you put in your big blooms then work on the layering but everyone’s [arrangement] looks so different.
I love it. Everyone loves it.
"I definitely have a passion with my art and that is what’s different about us. We’re not just putting white roses together. You’ve got your peonies and your roses which are great but never overlook the witty bits you can put in-between.”
Nik uses her talents to run workshops for people of all ages and is keen to demystify plants and take learning right back to basics.
“With the workshops, we will lay the flowers out for them but I always say to them, don’t copy mine. You’ll produce your skeleton of foliage and then you put in your big blooms then work on the layering but everyone’s [arrangement] looks so different. I love it. Everyone loves it.
Ambitious, passionate and innovative. Southern has pursued her goals and as a result has taken the fashion
and floristry world by storm.
This is her passion. It’s the first thing she thinks about in the morning and her last thought at night and she does it fearlessly. “People ask me if I was scared. I was scared when I had my first job but now I’m not. Whatever I’ve done in life I do the best I can.”