The winners of the 2013 Chelsea in Bloom floral competition, which I judged along with the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lesley Watson and Stephen Woodhams was the rag & bone store display, conceived by rag & bone founder David Neville’s mother Gilly, and designed by florist Sarah Brooke.
This year’s Chelsea in Bloom theme was 100 Years of Chelsea to match the centenary of the Chelsea Flower Show, so the stores had to each pick a decade to represent. rag & bone chose 2010-Onwards:
They explained: 2010 was a very special year for rag & bone in which it really came of age. The spirit of the rag & bone brand had already been embraced by the USA and led to the opening of many successful stores. July 2012 was a highlight in the brand’s history because David Neville and Marcus Wainwright returned home to London to open their European flagship store at Sloane Square.
The floral display was meant to encapsulate the brand – freshness, authenticity, attention to detail, high quality material, whilst recyclable shrubs and herbs were included to reflect a casual, natural elegance, and each and every piece in the display had a special meaning. We were so impressed with this, that I asked rag & bone to send through the key to all the flowers that they used:
Recession: This decade has had to embrace a recession and with rag & bone priding itself on producing pieces of enduring quality, displaying plants that can be reused and given away is important to us. In a recession you have to rely on patience and humility (Alliums), hope and good fortune (Apple Blossom), fidelity (Ivy), and the promise of new adventures (Lavender).
Recycling: When we acquire new premises we strive to utilize existing interior features and choose eco-friendly antique fixtures, so recycling was destined to be a component of the display. Fittingly, the rag & bone man was in effect a pioneer in recycling, swapping his wares on the street. The vintage cart on display in store represented this ideal.
Queen’s Jubilee: We incorporated two Myrtle trees in honour of our Majesty. These beautiful trees are a pride in her garden and also included in every royal bouquet. The Duchess of Cambridge’s bouquet was Lily of the Valley which symbolises purity, humility and happiness. Lilac symbolises her Majesty’s pride in her country, Lavender, devotion and love, Sage, the respect we have for her wisdom and, finally, Blue Violas for steadfast faithfulness.
Olympics 2012: Lilac (Pride), Wisteria (welcome), Ivy (friendship and fidelity), Phlox (harmony and good partnership). These plants reflect how proud we were of our Olympians and our city’s triumph at hosting the global event.
Decline of the bees: A genuine concern over the bee population’s decline inspired us to include many Hidcote Lavender plants, a veritable bee food factory.
As you enter rag & bone, the arch of Jasmine and Wisteria will welcome (Wisteria) you in to a place of elegance and grace (Jasmine). On your departure, you may notice the Marjoram, which we wish will bring you the happiness and joy that it represents.
SO, why did it win?
We were really impressed with the holistic nature of the display, the planting (as opposed to just floristry), the attention to detail from the stencilling on the window boxes, to the rag and bone cart inside, and it was the only display of all the entries that paid attention to the language of flowers (as far as we know!).
We loved that it was multi-sensory, which works for people with disabilities as well as the able-bodied: there were herbs and sweet smelling flowers everywhere. (I was seized with a mad desire to want to roll in the cart like a cat, which was packed ful of herb plants.) The entire display was beautifully integrated into the store, and it reflected the brand perfectly both aesthetically and philosophically. rag & bone had really paid attention to the theme of the competition, and we liked that the decade they chose was firmly connected to the brand, as opposed to just being a fun pick. The window displays were as beautiful from the inside, as they were from the outside and they really did feel like an installation, as opposed to visual merchandising.
We also really liked that everyone from the store was really engaged, knowledgable and enthusiastic. No other entry had thought about recycling and environmental impact to such a degree: all the flowers and plans were to be given away to shoppers on the final day.
Passersby were continuously engaging as well and, as the point of the competition is to increase footfall, it achieved every single objective.
It really was exquisitely thought through, perfectly realised and, above all, was ravishingly pretty. It was a hands down unanimous decision from all three of us. (I think Stephen & I had made up our minds within minutes of entering the store.)
We gave second and third prizes jointly, because the overall standard was so high. We hope that next year the competition will change to the RHS standard of awarding Bronze, Silver & Golds, with one overall Best in Show, so that the judges could recognise the entire shortlist, which was about ten strong this year.
The second prize went to Browns Fashion, conceived by By Appointment Only Design, and Brunello Cucinelli, next door to each other on Sloane Street.
This swan for Browns was spectacular.
Third prize went jointly to Space NK Apothecary,
and to Massimo Dutti (by florist Simon Lycett).
We awarded the Innovation Prize to Smythson, for this frankly brilliant Gladstone bag.
You can see a selection of the previous entries on my post here.