Having grown up in her mother’s garden, surrounded by growth and wonder, Victoria Monsul Singolda always knew she wanted to create her own kind of magic. Armed with a creative eye and a knack for words, Victoria channeled her talents into writing and exploring the elements around her. Following a fast-paced career in the creative and advertising field, Victoria returned to her childhood passion, studying floral artistry and eventually opening Iris & Virgil, a Brooklyn-based floral studio where she carefully handcrafts each arrangement in line with a quirky and unique philosophy.
So what guided Victoria back to her dreams, and to bring them to life in the form of Iris & Virgil? We caught up with Victoria in her studio, to hear more about her ever-evolving journey and the challenges conquered along the way.
Finding an Origin Story in the Sky with Her Feet on the Ground
When I was little, I would write a lot of poetry. I would go and climb up on my roof, and sit and look at the stars and write a lot. I was always very curious about not what was going on here in our world, but more what was going on up there. So studying the sky, the constellations – I was always really obsessed with astronomy. Throughout the whole year cycle, finding the different Zodiac signs – I drew them out, I had journals to map it all out, and I’d write poems, and journal entries about the different constellations. Then when I started taking science classes, I was really obsessed with clouds. That movie Twister had come out, and tornadoes fascinated me – I wanted to be a storm chaser. Anything to do with the sky – learning the sky, the air, the elements, which I’ve always been obsessed with as well – like my favorite thing about going on a trip with my family, wasn’t really about the end destination, as in where we were going, it was really all about getting to the airport, getting on an airplane and going into the sky. I remember that for me, that would always be the most exciting part of any trip. The actual plane part, being in the clouds, seeing them up close. I always geeked out over the different types of cloud that are out there – stratus, cumulus, cumulonimbus, cirrus and the like. Those were the main things I really remembered from science class as a kid.
On the Long-Rooted Passion for Flowers – and Business
It’s funny, because a lot of my passion for flowers started when I was around 8-years-old – instead of having a lemonade stand, I had a flower stand. So I went to my mom’s garden and picked flowers from her garden. My favorite flower then was called cosmos, which also relates to the sky theme. I picked a bunch of cosmos and zinnias and went on the side of a New Jersey street on a hot July day, and started stopping cars and saying, “Excuse me, I think you need to buy my flowers!”
It wasn’t the only thing that I did that I sold – I went to some poor neighbor’s backyard and picked his apples, and then went to the front door to try to sell them those apples, trying to pass them off as apples from the grocery store. So I had a lot of funny ideas.
Ch-Ch-Changes: Taking a Cue from an In-House Inspiration
I went on to study art at Pratt, and got a Communication Design degree, majoring in Art Direction and then sort of fell into the real world of jobs and responsibilities, and finding a path, but I just didn’t feel confident enough to become a florist. Instead, I went into advertising, and I was a content producer, a project manager, an account manager, a brand evangelist, I had all sorts of jobs in the field. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I’d quit my job at The Wall Street Journal and I was like, I need to go back to making stuff with my hands.
Honestly, it was the lack of elements in a corporate office. It was most removed from nature – no disrespect to that experience, I learned a lot – I got a lot of business chops when I was there. I also drew a lot from being around my husband, Adam, who is an entrepreneur and amazing human- he always inspired and encouraged me to get out there and be creative, and always supported the idea of not being afraid to fail, which is something very unique, both in a partnership, or in a parenting strategy. Very few people can allow you to feel safe in a given place, like this is your headquarters, it’s called home, you can always come back no matter what, but just go out there, try things, fail a couple of times, until you find what’s right for you. He’d been saying that for so long that it finally sunk in, and I embraced it. Pretty much the second I’d made that decision and left, I started getting freelance floral jobs, and that felt like getting back to my universe – the universe immediately rewarded me, like: here’s a freelance job in a super-competitive niche, and here’s another one. That was even before going to school to truly fine-tune my craft.
The Tao of a New Career Evolution
Going back to studying at The New York Botanical Garden was a really rewarding experience – I was invited to be a keynote speaker at graduation for the entire class because I just hit the ground running, took it very seriously and did well in terms of jumping into things; starting a studio, getting clients, projects and so on. They [NYBG] were very proud to see how well I was doing, which is humbling, since that inspires others. Graduation is one of those things where it’s a really nice experience and marks the hall of the moment in time, where you’re celebrating something, but then it’s right back to work. It is very entrepreneurial, but it’s also very artistic, creative – you’re constantly developing what it is that you want to put out into the world.
To be clear, I’m not pausing on education, either – I’m still taking classes all the time, like this Ikebana class, which teaches the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It’s actually an ancient meditative philosophy-driven practice. Some people study Ikebana for over a decade, or lifetime so it’s a little hard to sum it up. In distant times Ikebana flower designs were offered to the gods, like Buddha – so the lotus flower is considered the staple flower that people would offer to Buddha, and they would arrange the flowers in different lines, stemming from a core, and this thing called the shin, which represents heaven, soe represents man which is sort of a middle level, and then there is nature, or earth at the ground level (tai).
Cashing in on Cosmic Rewards
If I go back to the universe rewarding you – whenever you’re aligned with what you’re meant to be doing, the universe sends you a lot of love. Like I really believe in that. When you’re happy and you are where you need to be, it’s almost like I feel rewarded for that.
In the studio, I like using materials that some people consider dated, or cheap, like baby’s breath – or Gypsophila – it’s that flower that most people see at street corner deli’s and wonder what do you do with it. It’s a little like how your granny’s closet can become vintage chic, a real treasure if you know what to do with it.
The Cut-Throat World of the Cut Flower Business
One thing I worried about when I got started was the competition – it’s extremely intense in this city, and it’s very fashion forward. You definitely feel it, literally – like if you go to the flower markets every day, you see all the people you studied with, and admire, some happen to be true savants. They can be very in-demand, very busy with their work – you see these people when you’re at the flower market, you bump into them. It’s very friendly and people are keeping it cute, but the competition is there.
The artists that I learned from, Brittany Asch at Birrch Floral, Ariella Chezar, Nicolette Camile and the people I studied with at Putnam & Putnam – they’re very known, very much in demand, and Vogue has rated some as top florists to have on your speed-dial. So it’s a very competitive landscape, maybe the most competitive industry I’ve been in, and I’ve bounced around quite a bit. The work is also very much physically laborious, which people may not realize. When floral artists arrive to a job, they still look like they are going to a fashion show, armed with lots of style, despite the physical aspects. Gardeners, for example, are more earthy, but some flower artists want Anna Wintour to care about them – they are looking to appeal to their audience even in terms of personal style.
I love how in New York you even have top florists to have on speed-dial. It’s amazing that you have such a huge market for this. I’m not sure that’s the case everywhere else, in other countries. Here it’s a thing. I think it says something very positive about the people here, that it’s important to them to be surrounded by beauty.
It’s so true – people take it very seriously. It’s New York City, so it’s super-cosmopolitan and very posh, but flowers are not yet regarded as an art. Like when you meet someone and tell them that you’re an artist and you work with flowers, about your niche and how the flowers are your medium, they roll their eyes and it’s almost like their response is, oh, so you’re a florist.
A Muse to Watch Over You
Q: So who do you look up to in the field?
The people that I love and look up to are those I studied with and some talented designers I was lucky to meet and hire for my own projects: Ariel Dearie, Nicolette Camile, Putnam, Birrch Floral, Jenya Flowers and Marta of Porcelain Vine Floral. There are others I simply can’t name them all!
Q: Tell me about your muses.
Frida Kahlo is my muse. She’s this extremely wild woman, very boisterous, loud – she created vulgar art, vulgar themes, she was very sexual, she had many lovers, she didn’t care, she smoked and wore pants when that was not a thing. She’s basically like a man in the way she lived – she’s like this masculine feminine force, and she created brilliant art and many forms of expression, painting being the main one. She’s always around flowers – she was my Halloween costume, in fact. She’s with me, and she’s here in the studio as an inspiration.
From Storm Chasing to Flower Power
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing flowers?
Astro-cosmic artist, probably. Or discovering plant life in other worlds. There’s a moon that NASA found outside of Saturn’s rings, and it has more water than all the oceans in the world, frozen because it’s crusted with ice. That’s the first evidence we’ve found as mankind that there is water somewhere else, which could be an indication of other micro-organisms and other life. I can’t wait to go somewhere like that.
I like the astro thing, but I think that if I really answer without any judgment, then I’d say storm-chaser. That movie with Helen Hunt – the exhilaration really got to me. I remember telling my mom when I was ten, that I’m going to go and move to Kansas and wait for a big F6 tornado to happen. Something about the risk involved moves me.
Q: Is she glad you didn’t choose that path?
I think so! She was watching me very closely when I was more into writing, so I think she always wanted me to pursue that seriously a little more. And I did – I tried to become a writer, and I’m good at writing, and I still have my blog, but I don’t know… I got a desk, I set up a little writing alcove, but when it came down to it, I felt like I didn’t really want to be doing that. I wanted to make stuff, to bring a vision to life in another way, and the page was just too flat, like it didn’t have enough dimension for me.
Finding Inspiration – and Planting Leads – Everywhere
I like to meet people constantly. So when I attend an event, or go somewhere, my goal is always to make at least one solid connection. Handing out business cards, putting effort into the follow-up – to really connect with someone, beyond just a soft connection. I prefer to have it be a deep and meaningful thing. Maybe that person won’t hire me or pay me for my work, but they can introduce me to someone else who may, and hopefully I can provide value to them as well. So it’s like a network effect. It’s important to be excited about what you do and what you’re building, and Rome wasn’t built in a day – you need to be excited about the growth, the options, the possibilities ahead. Days that are slow for me, like where I don’t have a job booked or a delivery that day, I try to focus on where can I go that day in order to be super-inspired, like a museum or gallery, or take some pictures to share to Instagram and share my day with my audience, what I’m being thoughtful about, that there is meaning behind my actions.
There’s no Beta Mode in Floral Arrangements
I think some people are moving quickly to get things done, make things work first then make them better, but I think that when you’re making something artful, when it’s your art, you need to really pause, put your heart into it and make it the most ready product you want it to be – that’s in contrast with the tech space, which can be a little bit more messy – like, let’s just launch with something to get it out there, whether it’s your Alpha or Beta product. Then later let’s iterate, it’s a slightly different approach.
In the flower space, you rarely get more than one shot with customers. You either nail it and they call you back so much that it’s almost like you’re now hired, forever – or it can be like, well, this didn’t really work out, and you never hear from them again, because there are about a thousand other people or service providers they can reach out to instead. That’s what I mean when I talk about this space being cut-throat – as in, it’s so much less forgiving.
Between Flowers and the September Issue
In the ‘90s there was something rather traditional known as “tight design”, because it was super tight – like having roses arranged tightly in a ball, very architectural in feeling, while nowadays there’s more of a “wild design” philosophy in flowers. The style originated in California, and it’s exactly what it sounds like, and that’s basically what I’m doing at the moment – it’s very free-flowing, asymmetrical, it almost looks accidental. I think there is definitely a correlation and a trade of influences between the flower industry and the more general lifestyle and fashion industries. Fashion is a big informer to everyone – like how people always tell you to check out the September issue of Vogue, because that’s the first month of the fashion year. It’s the month that marks the beginning of a fresh, brand new season and year. You can really use the September issues to see what colors are trending, what fabrics or prints are of the moment, and so on – then you can use that information to get inspired, but also to know how to move forward, and be completely informed.
On Forging Her Own Flowery Path
Being independent really changes the way you operate: Sometimes I wake up and I feel like there’s a rush to conquer the world, but then I also think on how I can’t stop other people in this business who may be ahead of me, who are younger than me or started earlier than I did – and that’s okay, because everyone is at a different point in their life. If you’re present and you’re happy with what you’re doing, that’s great – most people don’t even reach that point. Most people are in the grind for whatever reason, and you have to be a little bit easier on yourself, which is something I try to do, and to be aware of while I continue to create and evolve.