As SS24’s fashion month kicked off in September, Whitney Bromberg Hawkings, 49, the founder and CEO of the online florist Flowerbx (pronounced, of course, Flowerbox), and wife of Peter Hawkings, the new creative director of Tom Ford, was, as usual, in the thick of it. “It is bonkers!” she wrote to me in an email the week after our interview. “We have a beautiful event with Dior in New York this week; an exciting activation with Burberry during London; a great and inspiring project with Asprey; a thing or two with Tom Ford… It’s been the busiest fashion week since Covid, by far, and we are here for it!”
Because when fashion wants flowers (and really, when does it not?), it turns to Flowerbx, the crème de la crème of the floristry business. You’re looking for the big-bigger-biggest blue hydrangeas or the most perfectly pale pink peonies? You’d like a bouquet of dahlias the exact colour of a bruised plum? Or white lilies that appear to be the earthly embodiment of the Holy Spirit? Simply must have the quintessential classics of the flower world in all their perfection? You’re going to need Flowerbx. “Quiet luxury. Beautiful. Quality, quality, quality,” says Whitney, describing the bouquets of seasonal single stems they send out daily across the UK, Europe and the United States. “And abundance. Abundance is, to me, the ultimate luxury.”
When we speak, excitement is mounting in the Hawkings household as Peter readies himself to reveal his Tom Ford vision to the world (which he went on to do in Milan in September). His wife, whose archive naturally encompasses a lot of Ford’s back catalogue, has, of course, been privy to some prototypes. “For the past four or five months, he’s been giving me jackets and shoes to try and saying, ‘wear these in 85mm, wear these in 90’. I’m like a total guinea pig.” It has, she says, reignited her love of fashion. “First of all, because he’s the love of my life and I’m hyped to see his vision, but also because it’s great, it’s everything that we all love. It’s sexy and sophisticated but a little bit effortless. It’s a great tailored jacket that you can just throw over your shoulders in town. So I’m excited. I’m like, yay, I’ve got my clothes back.”
But flowers don’t stop for fashion. Even for Flowerbx. She founded the company in 2015, winning funding from a clutch of angel investors, who included Net-a-porter founder Natalie Massenet. The brand was born out of Whitney’s frustration at not being able to find blooms of the standard of quality and luxury she wanted, when she wanted them. “At that point, a working mother, I was buying everything in my life online – beauty, clothes, fragrance, groceries, everything,” she says. “But if I was having friends over for a dinner party, I couldn’t just buy fresh flower-market flowers online.”
At the time, Whitney was a fashion industry executive, working for a certain Mr Ford herself. At 23, the Dallas-born French Literature graduate had gone straight from Columbia University in New York to Paris, to be Ford’s assistant at Gucci. (During the first few days there her hands shook so much as she was trying to take Ford’s dictation that she couldn’t read him back her own writing.) Fast forward 20 years and Whitney was still by his side – she had completed the Gucci journey with him, followed him to Yves Saint Laurent, helped him set up his own luxury brand and move into directing acclaimed feature films; her job scope and responsibilities, her experiences and insights into the luxury business, had grown with every move. “There’s no better teacher in how to build a brand,” she says. “It was just Tom and me sitting in an office on the King’s Road in Chelsea, building the brand from a white sheet of paper.”
In short, she’d learnt how to be the best from the best – and want the best in every area of life. But one thing that had continually disappointed was flowers. “I’d see the pictures of flowers we’d sent, especially when Instagram started, and think: that’s not what I sent. I said 20 white peonies in a vase. I didn’t say greenery and pale pink peonies and a vase!’ In fashion, it’s so signature and it says so much about who you are as a designer and as a person, so you have to get it right,” she says. “I couldn’t understand why no one had created a consistent-quality leading flower brand where, whether you’re in New York, LA, London or Paris, you know exactly what you’re sending and aren’t at the mercy of a florist who wants to put their little touch on it or has run out of the good stuff and thinks, this will do, as long as it’s yellow. It was so frustrating, especially if you’re sending for someone as exacting as Mr. Ford.”
Whitney had also been witness to the impeccable standards and floral signatures of some of the world’s other great tastemakers, who each season would send flowers to Ford on the day of his shows. “Karl Lagerfeld was always white orchids. Calvin Klein would send white calla lilies every time. Miuccia [Prada] would send pale pink roses and Anna [Wintour] white roses… You’d see them come in, always single stems, and there were tonnes of them. So beautiful.” Ford’s signature – if you want to know, which of course you do – is white hydrangeas, followed by white peonies, depending on what’s in season.
By now, married to Peter, whom she’d met at Tom Ford (“an office romance”), already a mum of their two children, with a third on the way, Whitney set out to start what she believed at first would be a little floristry side-hustle. That was before she realised what a huge undertaking floristry is. “I mean, I was quite naïve,” she says, with an exasperated laugh. “If I’d known how complicated and difficult it was I might have thought twice. Flowers are one of the toughest industries because the product is dying the second you get your hands on it. The challenges of cold-chain logistics and not having temperature changes in the flowers and handling them properly. And obviously, they need water, but I didn’t want any plastic in our packaging. I think had I known about all of that beforehand I probably would have been like, yeah, not for me.”
But she didn’t. So she headed to the Netherlands, the beating heart of the global flower business, to meet suppliers. “I was pregnant with my third and I think these people were looking at me like, ‘Okay, lady, sure, like you really want to start a global flower business?’ You know what I mean? I was this 40-year-old pregnant lady and flowers, historically, like so many industries, had been a very male-dominated business. But finally we found a partner who took us seriously, who we’re still with today.”
What Whitney wanted to do, what she has done, is turn the traditional flower industry model on its head. “Because the model doesn’t work,” she explains. “As far as it’s never going to be super-efficient. You have usually up to 15 per cent of waste [because flowers are fragile and stock that is not bought will perish], so you have to charge really high prices. And [because] you charge high prices, you’re not giving value. Customers are basically paying for what you’re wasting. And then also, crucially, I think we’ve all gotten flowers from a florist that last three days, and you’re like, I just spent all this money! Ours last a week, at least, if not more, because they’re cut to order. I wanted to give real value and add value to the proposition of flowers, which hadn’t been done before.”
But if you go to Flowerbx’s warehouse in Acton, North-west London, on any afternoon expecting to find it bursting with beautiful blooms, prepare to be disappointed. You’ll find zero flowers. “In the morning, they will all come in from Holland on a truck – that day’s flowers cut to order for that day’s deliveries. Then, they’ll go out to the customers who ordered them and that will be it. No waste.” Plus, in line with Flowerbx’s mission to be as sustainable as possible – no plastic, no containers of water, electric delivery vans – the flowers available are the ones in season. “I think it’s super important to respect the seasons. You get food out of season and it’s not nice and you get it in season and it’s beautiful. Flowers are the same. They’re at the best when they’re growing at the right time.”
In the eight years it’s been in business, Flowerbx has had to negotiate the shifting patterns of commerce. During Covid, its direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales bloomed to 90 per cent of the business. Now the breakdown is more 50/50 consumer to corporate accounts. “What’s nice about the corporate business is that it happened organically and it also helps our DTC business too, because people see us at The Mark Hotel [in New York, where the brand has an outside stand] and they remember it and think: I’ll buy some flowers from them as a gift for a friend or a sister-in-law.” The subscription model allows customers to get a regular dose of Flowerbx to their door, whether it’s monthly or weekly. “It’s an education piece, too, because you receive what is in season. So you’re learning about and appreciating different flowers all year long.”
Plans for expansion in America continue. “It’s all about getting some critical mass,” she says. “We have a big presence in New York and Los Angeles but there’s Dallas, there’s Miami, there’s Chicago. There are so many potential cities that are fashion-led and obsessed, and we know Flowerbx is going to work really well in those places. Then I think the Middle East is a huge opportunity and Asia… but right now we just need to focus on what is in front of us, which is the US.”
Part of Flowerbx’s success, which continues as Whitney and her 40-strong staff ready it to expand across America and set their sights on the Middle East, is that it supersedes the fleeting trends that influence the flower world as much as the fashion world. “There was a time when everyone was peeling back roses, which looks cool for an event, but in my home I want beautiful, lush, amazing, huge head, quality roses.
Then there was the wild English meadow trend, and if that’s your vibe, fine, but I don’t really want a meadow in my living room. What I want,” says Whitney, “is something like a beautiful cashmere jumper from Loro Piana, from Tom Ford. It’s quality and it’s beautiful. And it’s never going to go out of fashion.”
Taken from 10+ Issue 6 – VISIONARY, WOMEN, REVOLUTION – out now. Order your copy here.
WHITNEY BROMBERG HAWKINGS: IN BLOOM
Photographer ANNA STOKLAND
Text KATE FINNIGAN
Talent WHITNEY BROMBERG HAWKINGS
Hair HIROSHI MATSUSHITA using Oribe Hair Care
Make-up FAYE BLUFF using Tom Ford Beauty
Fashion assistants GEORGIA EDWARDS and SONYA MAZURYK
Location FLOWERBX, LONDON