School Principal, Sophie Powell
Every fortnight we invite you to take a peek behind the scenes at McQueens Flowers and meet the people who form the fabric of who we are, and what we create. Today we have the pleasure of introducing you to our London-based McQueens Flower School Principal Sophie Powell.
How did you get into floristry?
I always knew I wanted a job that involved making things! Before floristry, I had quite a varied career, including prop maker, TV runner and managing shoe shops. It was always an ambition to work with flowers - they were very much part of my life growing up, my Grandmother was a competition florist. As I had already finished my studies and was living and working in London - I needed to find a way into the industry that was compatible with working full-time. I owe that first step to my brother who bought me a day class at McQueens Flower School. I had dreamed of going there and was so overwhelmed by the generous gift - I went to the class and I knew it was for me.
I continued to work in my day job as an area manager for a shoe shop but knew I had to be a florist. I must have written to every flower shop in London for work experience - and one wrote back! On my two days off from work I would go to this florist for work experience - and learned as much as I possibly could from hand-ties to vase arrangements - and eventually I was hired there full time. I was ready to make the next step and spread my wings - for me, McQueens Flowers was the pinnacle, the dream and fortunately for me, through a friend of a friend I found out there was a job opening at McQueens. At the time I didn’t even have a computer, so I ran down Oxford Street after work to my brother’s office to type up my CV. The next day I had an interview and the rest is history...
Sophie began her McQueens Journey as a Shop Florist
Today she is School Principal of the International McQueens Flower School
What was your first role at McQueens Flowers?
I started working at McQueens around 7 years ago in springtime (about this time of year actually) I started off as a Junior Florist in the shop making hand-ties. I was so intimidated - I was working with people I admired hugely! I took on any work that came my way; sweeping the floors, making small arrangements for hotel rooms and eventually bigger retail bouquets. One day I was asked to make a vase for a house contract - Kally (the founder of McQueens) spotted it and gave me a small group of my own clients such as restaurants and bars. But still, I just couldn’t get enough and would help out in the events teams and with the larger hotel displays. Eventually, I had 11 of my own contracts which was incredible - and a bit of a challenge, particularly around Christmas when each establishment wants to make their venue stand out.
You’re now Principal of McQueens Flower School - tell us more about your role?
After several years working my way through different departments, I felt like it was time once again to spread my wings within floristry and move onto a new opportunity. However after a couple of months - I really missed McQueens! I got back in touch with Kally and asked if there were any vacancies within McQueens Flower School - having experienced working in schools before, I knew this was an avenue I wanted to pursue. This was four years ago and I’m now the Principle, which is an ambition come true!
Sophie next to one of the large-scale designs taught as part of the Career Course
What does a typical day in the school look like?
Your feet don’t touch the ground - which I love! You arrive to find your flower delivery early in the morning - the team and I start preparing the stems and build a beautiful flower stand to greet the students with. We then make sure all equipment required for the day is set out, by 10am it’s time to welcome the students in. We start each lesson with a presentation and demonstration of what they’ll be learning to create that day - there’s always such a buzz of excitement from the class to find out what’s on the agenda. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that everyone shares the same enthusiasm and excitement for flowers that we do. Then the fun really starts - creating beautiful floral designs. Before you know it, it’s 4pm and hometime - we often stay after class, taking pictures with the students or answering questions they may have from the day. Especially on the Career Course, we become a family, with students making friends and heading out for dinner after class. It’s very special to be a part of, and of course, we stay in touch afterwards.
What do you love most about your role?
I love finding out how floristry has changed our students' lives - success stories for me are when they keep creating at home and do it for the love of flowers. Many have gone on to open their own shops and join incredible events businesses around the world. I’m still in touch with a lot of students - it’s incredibly rewarding to see how the school has been instrumental in their flower journeys.
The Orange Grove Installation by McQueens Flower School at Hackney Coffee Club
Tell us about some stand-out designs you’ve created at the school?
I love the first day of the Career Course - which is a hand-tie class. Everyone is so excited to be here and some people are understandably nervous. The journey some students have been on to get here whether that be traveling from across the world or down the street is often due to making a life-changing decision - or perhaps they have been gifted this special opportunity - so on that first day, there really is a palpable combination of excitement and a little trepidation. But after making that first hand-tie, they’re relaxed, they’ve enjoyed it and they’ve taken that first step on their new journey which is a privilege to witness.
If I were to think about a big design moment - there are so many that make me very proud as a teacher. The Orange Grove at Hackney Coffee Company was very memorable. On the final week of the Vocational Course (now Career Course), the students create installations following a brief, very much replicating a real-life client scenario. We have since worked with Hackney Coffee Co many times, but the Orange Grove was the first installation - technically quite arduous but the students did an incredible job. Later on, we returned to the restaurant and the students witnessed customers taking lots of pictures which was wonderful for them to experience the impact of their beautiful work
What’s next for McQueens International Flower School?
It’s a big year for the school! We are thrilled that after what feels like quite a long time that we are preparing to open the doors to our brand-new flower school in Mayfair in May. We have two beautiful classrooms which have been tailored to create beautiful and practical spaces for our students to learn and create in. What makes the setting particularly unique is that the students will witness the workings of the McQueens brand, as the location is also shared with our flagship store - and we’ll be neighbours with many clients including Claridge’s and The Connaught Hotel.