Last year I was contacted by the Ukrainian company ITIS asking whether I would come train their staff at their locations in Odessa and Kiev. Flower culture is just in it’s nascent stages, though on a small scale, people have been growing and selling their flowers at markets and on street corners all along. Lily of the valley and peonies were in season while I was there. Old women (babushkas) stood with buckets and baskets overflowing. For $3 you could get a giant bundle of lily of the valley.
ITIS was founded by the generous and visionary Arthur Balzhyk as a high end interior/home store. Later, with the help of Christian Tortu he expanded to include a flower shop and cafe featuring a huge selection of Mochi creams, and the tastiest green tea latte I’ve ever had. It is the first high end flower shop in the Ukraine.
Being a former Soviet country you noticed immediately how beauty had had no place for a long time. The difference between the airport in Holland (filled with art installations, humane seating, nice light) and the totally utilitarian cinder block neon lit Odessa airport. On some level I observed this yearning for beauty translated to a material interpretation- staggeringly high heels, fancy clothes- but with the designers it was a palpable longing to learn, to create, to make beauty, that struck me. They were all capable and hungry for information and understanding on a level that I hadn’t previously experienced and it was deeply moving and totally thrilling to work with them. But a week felt much too short! I wanted to bring all of them back with me. As luck would have it, one of them did come and worked with me (and Nicolette Owen, Saipua and Max Gill) for two months. Needless to say, we all adore and miss him!