Just a quick scroll through the flamboyant flowers on Rebel Rebel’s Instagram pages illustrates the dizzying heights florists Mairead Curtin and Athena Duncan have reached since launching their business almost 20 years ago.
Unashamedly decadent, their flowery extravaganzas have secured a host of A-list clients, including the BAFTAs, American Vogue and Victoria Beckham, as well as ordinary people looking for something extraordinary for a wedding or special event.
With visions of the glamorous world the florists inhabit, it’s surprising to find Rebel Rebel’s headquarters tucked away in two small industrial units in Hackney, east London, where desks, sofas, flowers, vases and other paraphernalia are crammed into the tiny spaces in a seemingly haphazard fashion.
The florists were first introduced through Athena’s sister Cassandra, who studied with Mairead in Dublin. By coincidence the design duo then went on to work at the same television company, where their friendship grew. ‘After I had children I gave up my job, but was instantly bored,’ says Mairead.
Meanwhile, Athena also left her job, leaving the pair free to embark on a new adventure. Athena says, ‘I’ve always loved flowers and so, in 2000, armed with very little knowledge, I did a week’s course at Paula Pryke’s school and Mairead attended a half-day at Jane Packer’s. We decided to set up a floristry business and Rebel Rebel was born.’
Success for Rebel Rebel grew initially from their contacts in the TV industry and they soon made a name for themselves with their extravagant installations in the most fashionable venues.
Last year, for London’s Sketch they wanted to create a fusion of feathery decorations for a Christmas event, using pampas grass, honesty and old man’s beard. ‘The problem was, we couldn’t get any honesty in the UK because the weather had been so bad, so we drove to Italy and picked up some there,’ says Mairead.
See London’s best Christmas trees.
When coming up with fresh ideas, the florists let their imaginations fly.‘ A few years ago for the BAFTAs we thought it would be fun to hang urns upside down above the tables in the ballroom. But the flowers needed water, and we couldn’t possibly let anything drop on the prestigious guests sitting below. The solution was to use floral foam secured with chicken wire – and it worked perfectly on the night, much to our relief,’ says Mairead.
Their strangest request came from Channel 4 in the autumn when they were asked to make a wreath to adorn a penis for a documentary. ‘It’s for a follow-up to Channel 4’s documentary 100 Vaginas and the producer said it was perfect,’ smiles Mairead.
Athena and Mairead’s workshops at their London shop and in Tuscany, Italy, draw in clients from all over the world. ‘This year, we added more workshops to meet demand, as well as bringing our Rebel style to weddings in Northern Italy,’ says Mairead.
The Christmas season is always a busy time for Rebel Rebel, and for the second year running they are decorating Old Spitalfields Market. Last Christmas they created huge wreaths to welcome shoppers.
Both florists are usually exhausted by the time Christmas Day arrives and use the break to relax, although Athena loves decorating the house beforehand. ‘I always buy a giant tree and keep it traditional – no trends, just long-cherished baubles, multi-coloured lights and an old marabou-feathered angel on top.