Purple Magazine
— Purple #31 The Paris issue

debeaulieu/pierre banchereau

pierre banchereau

interview and photography by OLIVIER ZAHM

debeaulieu, a distinctive
little flower shop in the 9th
arrondissement with a vision

OLIVIER ZAHM — Debeaulieu is a nice name for a flower shop.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — I didn’t come up with it. It’s my maternal grandparents’ name. They were very important to me as a child. And because I am a bit reserved by nature, I didn’t want to use my own name. I wanted something more discreet.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Tell me about your maternal grandparents.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — I grew up in Anjou, in the Loire Valley, in a provincial, cultured bourgeois world. I was curious about everything. We would come to Paris on the weekends to see major exhibitions, and we visited the castles in the Loire. My grandmother liked to invite people over, and there were always flowers in the house. She cooked, served good wine, and invited interesting people to dinner. It was all very generous and simple at the same time. They lived in a former 17th-century presbytery with a large garden full of flowers, including 250 rosebushes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The French region of Anjou is famous for its flowers.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — It’s an incredible horticultural land. The soil, the light, the climate, all are very favorable… There’s wine, flowers growing on the ground, and mushrooms in the cellars below. Lots of flowers in my shop come from this region.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You must have surprised everyone by deciding to become a florist since it’s seen as an essentially “old-school” profession.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — It came as a surprise because I had five years of higher education in the social sciences. I had a job that allowed me to make a good living, an office in Paris’s “Golden Triangle,” black suits, and a little garden in Paris. Whenever I put my hands in the earth, something happened. I had a sort of late quarter-life crisis. I wanted to do something that was tied to my childhood, my history. I like pretty flower shops, and when I’d see flowers in a designer store, for instance, it spoke to me. But I found that whatever the brand, whatever the designer, they were always the same flowers and followed the same codes. I had a revelation when I saw Raf Simons’s last runway show for Jil Sander, with flowers in the decor, white columns with bouquets under Plexiglas. I thought, “That’s what I want to do.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — There are very few designers who give pride of place to flowers.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes, and often they do so without taking any risks. There’s no fragrance, no life. In Dries Van Noten’s shops, they smell the strongest and are the most alive. They are integral to the designer’s sensibility.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And is the floral world very set in its ways, too?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — When I made the decision to work in this field, I started out by observing different florists in Paris. You can quickly tell who is simply selling flowers and who is an artisanal florist. I consider myself to belong to the second category, that of the artisans. I claim this position. It’s actually a form of manual labor. You start with a raw material and transform it. You buy an assortment of loose, disorderly flowers with all their leaves and sometimes malformed stems, etc. It’s our job to rework them, to adapt them for our compositions. What often interests me is using the defects in the flowers, even highlighting them. As with people, that’s what gives them charm and personality.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do all Parisian florists start out with the same flowers?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — The starting point is the same, or almost the same, for all of us. Then, it’s a question of taste, of choice between varieties you may or may not want, of formal, material, or color associations. As in painting, when you paint a bouquet. When I go to the flower market during the week, I am there with all the other buyers, and we all have the same merchandise in front of us. That’s why I also bring in flowers from abroad, by plane, even though I usually use seasonal flowers from France and Italy. It’s not great from an ecological standpoint, but for me it has to do with making use of all the possibilities, of knowing how to combine them.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You like flowers that are unique, old-fashioned, or even out of fashion, like carnations, gladiolas, and chrysanthemums.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes, I am prone to nostalgia and also to discretion, things that are slightly out of fashion and are waiting to be rediscovered. We have plenty of chrysanthemums in the shop right now. Chrysanthemums have an association with death — they are placed in cemeteries to celebrate the dead. Why? Simply because it’s a long-lasting flower that holds up well in cemeteries. But there are many varieties of chrysanthemums. I discovered several new ones when I went to Japan. They are incredibly delicate and elegant flowers, with very subtle colors. Last winter, I was able to bring a few varieties to France.

OLIVIER ZAHM — From Japan?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes. It was rather complicated in terms of customs, hygiene, transport, etc. Eventually, you end up with flowers that are expensive, even though they are actually very common in Japan.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What other “old-fashioned” or “out-of-fashion” flowers come to mind?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — I’m thinking of flowers from my childhood. I’m thinking of carnations, which I love. I have them all year round in my shop. They have an absolutely crazy fragrance, a great variety of colors, with a beautiful materiality, an oily petal. I am also thinking of gladiolas. There are many different varieties of colors, including a very beautiful red-orange, like tomato-red. For me, all of this goes against more conventional flowers, like the large batteries of Dutch-grown roses or tulips that are all of the same caliber. They don’t smell like anything; they don’t evolve. Whether the flower is two days or a week old, it looks the same.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — They are so processed. They are created through genetic selection to maintain that form, so they don’t bloom.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you like tinted flowers, too?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes, it’s a fashionable trend today and something I enjoy, as well. There are different techniques: either the flower imbibes at the root because you water it with chemical or natural dyes — or else, as soon as it is cut, you place the dye in the water in the vase, and it absorbs the color. This is fashionable today. I find it interesting and like to use these artificial palettes. I like the idea of something unpredictable — you never quite know how it will turn out. From one stem to the next, the flower will absorb it differently, and you’ll see the veins in the petals become tinted and visible. Sometimes, I even take flowers that already have a specific color and use a paintbrush to splatter paint that matches the color of the decor. The petals absorb the color with a kind of tie-dye effect, which is very beautiful.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you against convention?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — I am anti-convention. [Laughs] When I chose to go into this profession, I specifically wanted to work outside the conventions — white bouquets, pastel bouquets, rigid bouquets, round bouquets… I wanted to work outside the aesthetic of all those gray, polished concrete shops and their zinc flowerpots. I am very influenced by floral iconography in painting, in modernist painting specifically, but also in 17th-century Dutch painters like Jan Davidszoon de Heem.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is the professional world of flowers very codified?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes, there are rules of floral composition. There are flowers that you are not supposed to put together, colors that shouldn’t be combined, etc. I tell my staff, “Forget the rules!” Obviously, I had to learn all the basics, and it was very important to know them, but then you have to deconstruct them, challenge them, find your own form of expression.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And in this, are you guided by your sensitivity?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes, exactly. For me, a flower shop is about more than flowers. I feel very connected to the decorative arts in general, to art and fashion. That’s also why, for example, I wanted to work with vases, interior designers, and fashion designers. With my grandparents, I used to go bargain-hunting. We always went to auctions and made the rounds at the antique shops on Sundays. There are teenagers who play soccer or video games; I used to wake up at five in the morning to bargain-hunt in the countryside. So, I started collecting quite a few vases, which I still sell in my shop today.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The vase is essential.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — It is very important because you might have a pretty vase and a pretty bouquet that don’t go together at all, or don’t match the space they’re intended for.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you explain your rapid success? In just five years, you’ve built a large business.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — And it happened right away. Even with the hip, curious clients in the ninth arrondissement, it worked well. People used to stop in front of our window displays, especially because of the vases in the window, and come into the shop out of curiosity. I would even see people come in with a vase in hand, saying: “I have this vase, which used to belong to my grandmother. I’ve never known what to do with it because it has a strange shape. Could you help me figure out what to put in it?” I started having meetings with customers in their homes, to see their interiors, to talk to them about what they like, how they live… Little by little, we developed this form of consultancy. Soon, we started doing it for businesses, as well, especially in fashion because it’s true that fashion and luxury boutiques are the largest buyers of flowers. What I like with people in fashion is that they know about flowers and enjoy them. They look for things that are unique.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I think Natacha Ramsay-Levi first told me about you when she was working at Louis Vuitton.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes, Vuitton hired me almost immediately. The shop opened on November 7, 2013, and on December 24, I received a call from Louis Vuitton saying they wanted to keep me on file as one of their florists! At first, I thought it was a joke. A nice present for my first Christmas. It was just me working, with my boyfriend wrapping the bouquets and my mother at the cash register. It was still very artisanal. I hold those memories dear.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And people are discovering that flowers are not only decorative elements for their homes, but also true pleasure.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — A real personal pleasure.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It lasts only a week, but you can take advantage of it.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Exactly. That’s also why we don’t prepare bouquets in advance in my shop. All our flowers are sold by the stem, individually, so that the customers can make their own bouquets. We help them determine what they like, what they don’t like. We consider what their homes look like and what kind of person the bouquet is for. Some people come in and find everything very beautiful, then they say: “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know anything about flowers.” We make suggestions for combinations of colors, flowers, and textures. That’s what I really enjoy about this work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is texture in a flower?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Flowers have petals that are more or less oily and thick, foliage and stems that can be more or less soft or prickly. For example, we like to combine prickly stems with things that look like velvet, that are softer, that have more acidic colors. I try to make a nice mix out of all of it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you determined to open your shop on this street? What do you like about the ninth arrondissement?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — I have dreamed about opening a shop here since the beginning, and on this exact street. I think it’s still a very Parisian neighborhood, very heterogeneous — it has that chic Nouvelle-Athènes [New Athens, a neighborhood in the ninth arrondissement] side, with beautiful buildings and more private streets; the working class and naughty side of Pigalle (even though the strip clubs are disappearing one by one); and the musical instrument shops. And then there’s the Rue Henry-Monnier, where the shop is — it’s a little out of the way, more private, which I think corresponds quite well to my personality. When I moved here, there wasn’t much around. I wanted a small shop with an old-school Parisian facade that I could brighten up. At first, I couldn’t find anything. Everything was ugly, too expensive, too small. In short, I couldn’t find anything that made me happy. So, I started widening the perimeter and almost moved to the Marais. Two days before signing, my lawyer said: “Stop right there. Things are going to go very badly with this seller,” and it was back to square one. After a few months, I contacted realtors in the ninth arrondissement again, and one of them said, “It’s funny you called today because I just listed a shop yesterday on the Rue Henry-Monnier, and I think it’s exactly what you’re looking for.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you thinking about expanding?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — The shop isn’t very big, so we opened a studio in an adjacent street because we’re especially focused on events and decor now. We need space. Our studio is 860 square feet, with offices as well, which allows us to envision more large-scale projects.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you still buy the flowers yourself in the morning?

PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Three times a week, at five in the morning, we go to the flower market in Rungis to meet the local producers and buy their merchandise. I focus on Italy and the Var, a French department. I discovered this region through the Villa Noailles, where the director Jean-Pierre Blanc first introduced me to the local flower producers. For a long time, this was the number-one horticultural region in Europe. Since the 1970s, however, the Netherlands has taken over the largest chunk of the market, with their more industrial, mechanized production and by expanding the range of their varieties. These trips to the South of France allowed me to better understand the system and the challenges facing producers. I met the people who grow the flowers I was buying at the Rungis market without ever knowing who was behind them, and they told me about the difficulties they face in production and with climatic concerns and the market. Today, everything is moving toward the globalization of products, and these people are gradually disappearing. We need to fight for them.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s like the new chefs who trace the provenance of their products — you, too, go and meet the producers.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — I’ve also been trying out organic products. We have a customer base that asks us questions about the provenance of our products, so we experiment with certain producers.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a lot of flowers in your house?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — No, I’m on a diet at my house. [Laughs] I probably have no more than three vases. When I bring flowers home, it’s always simple, a bouquet with a single flower. Or it’s because I want to test out a variety I’ve never purchased before, or because I’ve found something very beautiful, but generally, it’s just a bundle of tulips.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you interested in the symbolic value of flowers?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — No, it’s not something I really pay attention to. But I like to be a little cheeky from time to time — around Valentine’s Day, for instance, or Mother’s Day.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you find roses too conventional?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — No, no, I love garden roses, English roses, fragrant roses. I love all of that, but only during rose season! However, there are never any red roses at Debeaulieu, even around Valentine’s Day. [Laughs] I find that red roses have no fragrance. The red rose is banal; it’s banished. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re really a punk in your field.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Yes, I go against the rules and don’t want to be defined as just a florist.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What would you recommend to a couple then, if not red roses?
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — A beautiful little bouquet of violets or thistle. In love, you have to know how to surprise.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I agree. It’s not always easy.
PIERRE BANCHEREAU — Love is never easy.

END

A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS CREATED FOR THIS ISSUE BY PIERRE BANCHEREAU FOR DEBEAULIEU

[Table of contents]

Purple #31 The Paris issue

Table of contents

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