Creating floral art for the rich and famous

Meet Athena Duncan and Mairead Curtin – the creative duo behind East London florist Rebel Rebel. They’re responsible for creating beautiful bouquets and floral art for the rich and famous, and some of the most exciting flower-based projects across Britain. Gucci, Aston Martin, the BBC, and Kanye West are among their elite clients. Khoollect spoke to the down-to-earth pair about their change of career and some of their brushes with fame.

A Day in the Life of Athena & Mairead

When was Rebel Rebel born ?

Athena: We worked in television together and had been friends for years. We decided on a change of direction, and Rebel Rebel is the result of that. We started the business 15 years ago and began by doing flowers for events. We later started got our shop at Broadway Market. The name came about because we wanted to do something a bit rebellious, and we both liked David Bowie.

Meet Rebel Rebel

Have you always been into flowers?

Athena: I was always into flowers. I would go to the Columbia Road flower market every weekend and always had fresh flowers in my office.

Mairead: I’m a country girl from Ireland and have never been far from flowers.

What’s your favourite flower?

Athena: My favourite is constantly changing. In Spring I get excited about the arrival of all the frittillaries, from the delicate snakeshead to the dark frittillaria persica.

Mairead: Mine changes all the time too. At the moment it’s Icelandic poppies.

Any interesting projects you’re working on right now?

Athena: We’re currently figuring out our bouquet for Valentine’s day. It’s going to be called ‘Hot Tramp’ in honour of our patron saint David. We’re also working on an interesting pop-up for Mother’s day.

What’s the most exciting or interesting creation you’ve been asked to make?

Athena: The most exciting thing – in an hilarious, ‘that’s so famous’, sort of way – was when Kanye West asked us to make a cube of flowers to send to David Beckham for his birthday. We can talk about it because Brooklyn Beckham put it on Instagram and it got millions of likes!

One of our greatest achievements was helping a garden designer to create her garden for Gucci at Chelsea flower show in 2014. That was pretty exciting – we had hi-vis jackets on labelled with ‘Gucci’.

We also made a floral eye for the last series of Big Brother, which was blown into massive billboards all over London – that was fun.

Where do you get your inspiration for your arrangements?

Athena: Our inspiration comes initially from the flowers and foliage themselves. We like to let them do what they do naturally. But we also love fashion, film, art and architecture. Inspiration comes from life really. Last year we went to China – that was a huge inspiration.

Rebel Rebel Flowers

What are the most inappropriate flowers to give someone?

Blue chrysanthemums from a supermarket!

Best Kept Secrets

I khoollect a few …

Athena: As a business, we collect ‘constance spry’ vases. Personally, I collect hats, shoes, handbags, and clothes in general. My most treasured possessions are a really voluminous petticoat and a pair of Alexander McQueen swaggering boots, in which I pretend I’m wearing  his ‘Widows of Culloden’ collection.

Mairead: I’ve just started a teapot collection with a beautiful one I got in Prospect Park in New York.

A life lesson that you’d tell your younger self?

Athena: Have confidence in yourself – nobody knows what the hell is going on and we are all winging it. And just do it, don’t be afraid. And be nosy – ask questions. And don’t ever think someone else has it covered. And don’t drink your way through uni – do some work!

Favourite corner of the internet?

Athena: Roddy Doyle’s posts on Facebook. On Instagram, I follow National Geographic and Johnny Buttons. I also listen to BBC Radio 4 pretty much all the time.

Who’s your #khoollectcrush?

Athena: One of our favourite customers Katherine Hamnett and photographer Miles Aldridge. There’s also Alexander McQueen and David Bowie. It’s all about having the confidence to be different.

Urban Favourites

Where do you call home and what do you love most about it?

Athena: Stoke Newington – the Krays part of Stoke Newington. Never has a black cab driver arrived at my house without telling me that. There’s a jumble of people, always on the move. I love it.

Mairead: Chiswick W4. I love being by the river and having a rest from super hip Hackney.

Your favourite places for coffee?

Athena: The Wolseley because everything comes in proper silver pots with china cups and it’s beautiful.

Best spot for dinner?

Athena: Primeur in N5. Because you can’t book and have to make an effort. It’s worth it.

 

Favourite garden or park?

Athena: Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park.

If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

Athena: I need sun, so the Garfagnana area of northern Tuscany.

Mairead: Wexford, Ireland

Do you have a favourite plant or flower you like to give on special occasions? Tell us in the comments below.

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Read about Khoollect’s visit to Rebel Rebel and their tips for improving the life expectancy of your flowers.