By: Caroline Vazzana
A girl's love for florals is something Caroline Bailly understood early on. The owner of the floral and event design studio, L’Atelier Rouge, came from a family with a professional background on the subject. Her mother was a botanist in France, so florals have always been a big part of her life. Caroline began training in hospitality by directing events and focusing on high-end dining, working for some of NYC’s most renowned restaurants. In 2010, she founded L’Atelier Rouge, bringing her passion for both events and florals together. Whether it’s a party, wedding, or business event, L’Atelier Rouge creates magical visions with their custom arrangements and decor. Read ahead and learn how this boss lady #MadeIt in the industry.
You originally started in high-end dining but have switched to production and owning your own company. What inspired you to make that switch?
When I first came to New York City almost twenty years ago, I was an intern for Daniel Boulud, and for the first time in my life, I saw huge, beautiful events being produced and one of them was Van Cleef & Arpels. One day, I said to myself, 'that’s what I want to do.' You know, I love private dining, I loved what I was doing - I was doing it really well, actually - and I didn’t know how to go about it because I didn’t have the design or the full out experience that I needed. A couple of years later, I had my first child, Violette. When she was two and a half years old, I was working for Geoffrey Zakarian when Olivier Giugni, a fantastic floral designer who I had worked with, offered me a position. At first I laughed because I know a lot about wine, I know a lot about food, and I know a lot about high-end service and events, but I didn’t know a lot about flowers. He said, “You know you should really consider it and think about it. You could run my event department.” The hours were 9am-6pm, and at this time, I was working 7am, 11pm - I had no hours! So I said, "You know what, I have nothing to lose. Lets try it!" It taught me a lot design-wise and flower-wise. So, a couple of years later, I decided to go on my own and start L’Atelier Rouge - that’s how it all started. I fell into it. I was always fascinated by flowers. My mom always loved flowers, she loved entertaining, we were always decorating the table. I was six years old and they had a big white party, and I made the menus. I was alreading coming up with these ideas of how we should decorate the tables, and all those kind of things. I always loved it.
Where are some of your go-to places to search for inspiration?
I think you get inspired by basically just opening your eyes. It could be walking in the streets of New York City and seeing someone who’s dressed fabulously. I love going to Dover Street Market - most of the stuff I would never wear but some I can. Last year, I was there and saw that beautiful Gucci wallpaper - it was amazing! All of those flowers and flower patterns - that’s how we got inspired to do our flower walls and our collage of flowers. Otherwise, it could be Paris or the mountains and looking at the white flowers and saying 'actually, teal blue and burgundy work together.' That’s how it all comes up pretty much.
What did you wear to your first interview?
It was a black Barbara Bui skirt with a gold, circular pattern on it. I had a black shirt with some opening in the back and high heel shoes.
Would you wear it again?
Well, now that I am no longer in the food service industry, I’m a little more relaxed but most of the time I wear black - it’s really my color. As for high heels, I wear them a little bit, but when I’m working, it’s not very convenient to wear them.
Do you have a favorite flower and why? Has it stayed your favorite flower or changed over the years?
I think it changes. I don’t really have a favorite flower, to be honest. I think I love them all - it truly depends on how we use them. One of my favorites that I am really loving lately is the Clematis vine. It is Japanese and really expensive because it comes from Japan. The blooms are huge and it’s so delicate because you have that vine that helps connect arrangements from one to the other. Right now, it’s dahlia season and I’m crazy about them because of their color, shape, size and all of that. So, it depends on the season, and I think it depends on what’s new and what comes up. Last week we discovered the Gloxinia. It’s a plant, and it makes beautiful blooms in their two shades: purple and white. I actually got some for the Knot Gala because no one has seen those.
Do you prefer a wedding or a gala?
There is a completely different dynamic behind those events. I would say that I love weddings because you create something that’s very romantic, very beautiful, very custom. You can really let your creative brain go. But there are a lot of emotions involved, so you always want to be very careful with your customers. There is a lot of interactions between the mom and the daughter and the mother-in-law. There’s just a lot of people involved and everyone has an opinion, so you want to make sure everyone is happy and create the right compromise. I love working with experiential companies as well because then it’s a different design. It’s something that’s more contemporary, more fashion forward, more edgy, and those designs are actually very inspiring that we can take them to the next level. So I love every type of event and luckily we do because we have customers that come to us for exactly what they want because we don’t copy any other designers.
Do you have favorite fashion designers that you feel have inspired your work?
I love Christopher Kane. He does a lot of flower patterns and great colors and things like that. I love Raf Simons, of course. I love Gucci lately because of the flower patterns. I love Rick Owens - that’s more masculine, more crazy. It always rotates. Years ago, it was all about Prada. And Chanel’s fashion shows are super inspiring.
Do you have a favorite project you worked on that you’ll never forget?
I think that one of my first favorite projects was a project was designed and conceptualized by Villa Eugenie. We had the opportunity to collaborate with them for The Tiffany Blue Ball, and we did tables that were 100ft long with coral reef made out of flowers; it was a continuous runner down the lengths of the table. So technically it was super challenging, but honestly, when I saw everything in place and I looked in the room, I started crying because I was so happy, but I was so exhausted at the same time. Wedding-wise, my favorite project was the wedding we did last June. That was huge for me because we were lucky to have a client who really let us create and design for her, and I think that’s how we can make the best designs. We did an insane wedding backdrop that was a collage of flowers. It was a chuppah with a compression of flowers inside the columns and an explosion at the top - super colorful! When we flipped the room, we moved the chuppah and replaced it with an ice bar with frozen flowers inside of it.
What does your day-to-day schedule look like?
Technically, I start at 6 or 6:30am everyday by preparing my kids' school lunches. One of us takes one of them to school while the other one goes by herself. From school, I go straight to the flower market. We have coffee, buy our flowers, chit chat and get ready for the day. By 9am, we are in the studio and then it depends - working on estimates, working on designs, leaving the studio, going to installations.
From living in France to studying in Switzerland, you’ve been all over the world. How do you believe that’s influenced your work here now living in America?
CB: I’m going to be very honest with you. I worked in France when I was 17-years-old just to make money during the summer. After that, I worked in London, and then I went to Switzerland and finally to the U.S. So, I never really worked in France, but I think the Switzerland experience taught me to be proud of what you do and to be punctual and to have a great work ethic.
What’s your favorite place to get flowers?
I buy flowers at the flower market - everything that is local. A lot of Japanese flowers. I love Japanese flowers because they’re so perfect that they’re almost surreal. But I buy the bulk of my flowers from Holland, and they ship them directly to JFK and from JFK, they are brought directly to the studio. That is for the big quantities. You get better quality because they come directly to your door.
Who have been some of your biggest mentors, and what’s some great advice they have given you?
One of my biggest mentors is definitely Daniel Boulud. I remember we were doing a New Year's Eve party, and he had all of those balloons in the private room. One of my coworkers started cutting the ribbons from the balloons way too short, and he came into the room and said, "Oh my gosh, what is she doing?" He looked at me, and I said "I'm sorry," and he said “You know, it’s all the about the details. You can be great, you can be good, but the details you will add will always make the difference.” That was the biggest piece of advice I’ve ever received.
Tell me about your work with Spring Studios?
We recently became the in-house, exclusive floral studio at spring studios. We started September 1st. Spring Studios has an agency called Spring Agency, and they do design events with video content, but they didn't have flowers, so now they have flowers. Whenever someone books with them, they’re going to use us. I reached out to them. I sent an email back in March that we are trying to get business and that I really love the space. I asked them who is the person in charge of the space, so she gave me his contact info. I emailed him - his name was french, he’s french, so that helped - and he said, "Let's meet." I had the feeling I went for a job interview. He asked me so many questions, it was crazy, and after 30 mins., he said we are going to work together. I said "It’s going to take me some time to try to figure out how this is all going to proceed, but you have my word that we are going to work together." It took 6 months, but we did it.
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career, what would you tell yourself?
I wish I would have gone to design school. I basically learned everything by myself and was taught things from other great people I was working with.
Where do you hope to see your company in the next five to ten years down the road?
I want us to be in the top five best floral and event design companies in NYC. I would really like people to come to us and keep on coming to us for creative, inventive, and new floral design concepts. It’s a challenge when you have your own business - you can't ever take anything for granted. There is a lot of competition, and a zillion other talented people out there. So let's stay in business!
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