Q&A with Claire Gourlay - Honeysuckle & Hilda

Over the past few months here at Miller Harris we have had the pleasure to collaborate with some extremely talented partners. One of these partners was the extraordinary Claire Gourlay from Honeysuckle & Hilda. We sat down with Claire to find out more about herself and our partnership.

Q: Hi Claire, please can you introduce yourself and Honeysuckle & Hilda?

A: I would describe myself as an environmentally aware floral designer with a spontaneous and asymmetrical style. I have a strong focus on wild, natural flowers with lots of textures, and try to ensure my work reflects the outdoors at its untamed best. Hilda, my sidekick, is a tiny brown Schnauzer who enjoys foraging in hedgerows, playing in the cutting garden and modelling next to the finished arrangements when I”m photographing them. It’s the perfect partnership, though she’s definitely in charge! We recently moved from London to a tiny village in the Chilterns and we’re loving the fresh air and open space, though we can still get back to London quite quickly for work, so it’s been a great move, and we’re loving exploring Oxford too.

Q: Have you always been a florist?

A: I didn’t grow up surrounded my flowers or nature and only recently became a florist, though I had dreamt of being one since the early 2000s, when I moved to East London just to be closer to the flower markets and practice at the weekends. It wasn’t until mid 2016 that I finally took the plunge and decided to invest all my redundancy money in travelling to some of the world’s most admired designers to study with them and helping out on other florists’ weddings to get a better feel for how it all worked. Last year I began teaching, styling and doing my own weddings and I haven’t stopped flowering since.

Q: Where did your passion for floristry and nature come from?

A: I’ve always loved flowers, but I think I really started to appreciate nature properly when Hilda came into our lives four years ago. Long walks through woods, across heaths, along canals and beside hedgerows really drew my attention to all the flowers and foliage we encountered. On one of these walks, a chance encounter with a passionate environmentalist led to a spirited campaign and a trip to Parliament to argue the case against the herbicides that are destroying our bee population and putting human health at risk. From there, discussions on nature, daily foraging and incessant flowery chat - plus the wonderful teaching of many and various florists and designers- led to the creation of Honeysuckle and Hilda.

Q: You create beautiful floral photography. Is there anything that sparked this passion for the visual arts?

A: That’s so kind, thank you. I studied History of Art as a postgraduate and my attention was captured by an exhibition of Dutch Flower Painting in Dulwich in the late 1990s. At the time no one was really talking about them and they were considered deeply unfashionable but I was enthralled. Of course, the world has come to its senses since then and now all we florists draw so much inspiration from them. I’ve also spent many hours in the Wallace Collection admiring the Rococo works of Fragonard and Boucher and then later French artists including one of my very favourites, Odilon Redon.  These days one doesn’t have to go to a gallery for inspiration as there are so many resources on social media - Pinterest and Instagram have been real game changers in that respect - although I still like to whenever I can.

Q: We have had the pleasure here at Miller Harris to collaborate with you on multiple occasions. Why do you feel Honeysuckle & Hilda and Miller Harris are such great partners?

A: I’ve obviously really enjoyed the creative side of producing images from Miller Harris - at a very basic level we both work with flowers and so the floral crossover is a great starting point. You are also a brand I’ve known and enjoyed using for many years, so to have been asked by you to collaborate on these objects has been a real honour. However, I think the thing that for me makes us ideal partners is the shared ideals in respect of how our products are sourced and created. I’ve had to give up using many brands over the years when I have discovered that they have been testing on animals - the fact that Miller Harris doesn’t and that you use natural, vegan ingredients is a really big plus point for me, both as a consumer and a collaborator.

Q: Our brands are both very strongly focused on the environment. Is this an important quality of any partners you work with?

A: Yes, there is a strong environmental ethic in what I’m trying to do. Floristry is, by its very nature, to some extent wasteful, but, even as a passionate consumer of flowers, I want to try and leave as small a footprint as possible. Just as I am trying to reflect nature in the fluid, organic shapes that I produce, I also want to respect it in the processes that I use. The fact that Miller Harris’s ideals align so strongly with mine is an important reason for me to want to work with you.

Q: Most recently you have created floral interpretations of our two latest perfumes Scherzo & Tender. What do you think of these new scents?

A: I really love both Scherzo and Tender and think they’re very different to what Miller Harris have been doing before. Whilst I also love the original ones which state clearly the key floral note/ main ingredients - your Noix de Tubeureuse was the first Miller Harris scent I ever used and I still adore it to this day - these two new perfumes seem to me have a greater complexity to them and I love that you have asked two well known perfume “authors” to interpret a passage from a book rather than setting a more traditional brief. Of course, I’m a florist not a perfumer, so I could be talking utter nonsense, but that’s how it seems to me.

Q: Which one is your favourite? Scherzo or Tender?

A: I think both of them are wonderful and haven’t been swayed by comments from friends that I don’t need to keep both now that I’ve finished photographing my images! However, at a push I’d go for Tender. It has a slightly spicier smell to it, which I really love, especially in this colder weather. But then again, on a warmer day am I more likely to go for Scherzo….? Lucky for me that I have both.

Q: Finally, how is little Hilda doing? Here at Miller Harris we absolutely adore her!

A: Hilda is very well, thank you, and is tucked up beside me at the moment, trying to avoid a walk in this stormy weather. When I first heard from Miller Harris, I was at the very early stages of my career and was surprised and flattered to have been asked, until I was told that your CEO was a big fan of my little brown dog on Instagram… and then it made sense. Seriously, though, she has had a wonderful time modelling next to your perfumes and having rose petals thrown at her in the name of fashion. Being the focus of so much attention in a professional studio when shooting for your Christmas Hats campaign was the perfect day out for her. She says thank you very much to Sarah for the treats.

To read more about Honeysuckle & Hilda and see all her amazing work visit her website here.