School Administrator, Eleni Kouyialis, London
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 School Sales Executive, Eleni Kouyialis.
Tell us how you came to work at McQueens Flowers Eleni?
After leaving Cyprus due to life-changing circumstances, I returned home to London where much of my family lived and where I had spent my childhood. Kally, the founder of McQueens and my sister, offered me a position in the Sales and Admin team and to help out with the Accounts. Initially, it started out as a temporary job till I had settled back into London life, but I soon found I really enjoyed working there, so when I was offered a permanent position, I accepted! My team was so lovely, we all got along so well, and that made the decision to continue working for McQueens so much easier. I have learned so much working there as I was doing work that I hadn’t really done before, it has opened up so many doors and that is all due to my sister and the amazing company she founded and built up.
And what makes working at McQueens Flowers so enjoyable?
Working at McQueens is more than just a job. Sure, you come in and you do your job, and you work hard, but you also have a lot of fun. There is all this colour and creativity happening in the workroom which draws you out and then the people are so important. I have seen people come and go over the years and everyone has had something to offer, to give to the workspace, which has been wonderful to witness.
What did you do before working with the company?
Before working at McQueens, I was a graphic designer in Cyprus, working for a company that did public relations and publications, for 25 years. My work included branding, directing photography, designing the livery and in-flight magazine for the national carrier, working on all promotional material for numerous 5-star hotels, advertising and much more. Later I then worked for an international company that provided digital branding solutions and web design. I did all the graphics for them and that knowledge has been useful for work with McQueens as well. But my family background is very creative, all my siblings do something in the creative industry and have the eye for it. My Mum always said we took after my Dad as he was very creative and used to draw beautifully, he built model boats and helicopters and was a master at calligraphy. But mummy is just as creative, she designed and made all our pretty little dresses when we were little and she created a paradise in the garden. She would always grab flowers from the garden and arrange them in a vase and it would look just perfect. So working at McQueens, in amongst the flowers and all the creativity was a natural fit for me.
What roles have you held in your time at McQueens Flowers?
I’m a Jack-of-all-trades, I help out wherever I am needed!! I have worked in sales and accounts and I helped organise all the vases, colour coding them, and ordering in. I also organised the cataloguing of the Christmas props after it was packed down, counting and listing everything from big sleighs down to the last little bell. Naturally, I have also stepped into helping with the branding, being a graphic designer, and have done work on designing posters and stationery, etc. And now I’m working with the school - and I absolutely love it. There is always such a positive atmosphere that comes with the excitement from students who are booking their courses.
Have you been able to attend any of the classes yourself?
I have actually! When McQueens was still at its former location in Old Street, I did the first week of the Vocational course and it was so much fun. I remember thinking “Wow! I did this!” When I had made my first hand-tie, it was an eye-opener. A few years later I did the second week in the Vocational course. Doing the courses taught me the important basics so that I would feel confident enough to help out within the company when they needed extra hands, especially for Christmas.
What do you think makes the McQueens Flower School special?
I think something that sets it apart, is that the tutors do what they teach! It runs alongside a functioning business. Students get to be amongst the florists, in the heart of it all, seeing and learning first-hand how the industry works which is invaluable. And of course, the level of education is so high, and the curriculum is so thorough. Sophie, the Principal, has designed such an amazing Career Course that runs over 5 weeks. Anyone can do it, experienced or not! Students have the opportunity to try something new and have fun doing it.
Last but not least, I think the great range of courses, from the classic one-day courses to the Ikebana course, makes the school very special as there is something for everyone to learn. And now with the school based on North Audley Street, in the heart of Mayfair, how magical is it to walk through London, carrying beautiful flowers that you crafted, after a great day of learning?
What are some memorable/unique experiences you’ve experienced at the company?
Goodness there are so many lovely memories! Besides all the fun moments shared with the team I was lucky enough to go to the Oscar’s in LA and the Tribeca Awards in New York. I had never been to the USA so it was such a treat and an unforgettable experience!!
I also helped with a wedding in Tuscany, the location was absolutely stunning. Going to the school helped me have the confidence to do that really. It was hard work but so amazing working alongside Kally who pulls out the most amazing floristry at these events with such confidence. I remember creating a huge design on a mantelpiece for a wedding and it was massive!
Do you have a favourite flower?
I love ranunculus! In nature, everything is organic and soft looking, but ranunculi look as if someone chopped the tops off with a samurai sword! So architectural but still organic. That is a flower I came to love through working at McQueens. Sentimentally though, I love lilacs. They remind me of my childhood in our family home in London. where We had one in the garden and every year when it bloomed the smell was just incredible! I have so many cherished memories attached to that scent. And lastly bougainvillea, it reminds me of Cyprus and warmth and all that I love there.
What has been one of your favourite installations or projects taken on by the company?
I always love the Christmas installations. My daughter and I would go around to all the hotels after they were done and see them all. I remember there was a ‘White Christmas’ in the Berkeley one year which was amazing. But I think one that always sticks in my mind, and is my favourite Christmas installation, was the 2012 Claridge’s Christmas Tree designed by Kally. Seeing that will always have such a special place in my heart. Another favourite project was a wedding for a Vanity Fair collaborator at Babington House in Somerset and it was incredible! I remember walking back into the room after it was decorated and it was just glittering with candles and there were flowers everywhere, like a fairy tale! Forget Cinderella, this was more than that! It was just so romantic, a wedding of dreams.
The 2012 Claridge’s Christmas Tree by McQueens Flowers
One of Eleni's favourite flowers, Lilac
Who has inspired you both personally and professionally?
I would have to say Vincent Van Gogh and William Morris, especially Morris. I love his design work, particularly his floral designs, and I take a lot of inspiration from him. I love patterns and repetition in work, so his style always resonated with me. Personally though, inspiration comes from so many places, especially my family, like my siblings and my children, and all the amazing and creative work they do.
What are you looking forward to in the future of McQueens Flowers?
There is a lot of wonderful growth happening in the company at the moment and I am excited to watch those boundaries grow and to be a part of it. I am really proud that McQueens is committing to good sustainable practices. My daughter is a Sustainability Professional and it makes me proud to know, for her and the future of generations to come, that I work with a company that has taken this commitment on. Sustainability is something very close to my heart and I always tried my best in the office with recycling and performing sustainable practices, but now we have the accreditation and these practices have moved beyond just what we could do in the office to what the company, as a whole, aims for and achieves every day.