Elise Polito arrives at my apartment wearing pastel coloured jeans blazoned (rather appropriately) with large flower prints, and a smile like sunshine. “Oh, the camellias around here are just stunning at the moment!” she declares. Her enthusiasm is contagious, she carries it throughout her whole body – all five feet nine inches of it. Even though she’s been up since five in the morning to catch her flight from Sydney to Melbourne.
Before shooting, we sit down with a cup of almond tea, Elise’s favourite, and she ruminates on how it all began. For her, moving into floristry was as much a decision to travel down a different career path as it was about a lifestyle change. “I was the General Manager of a graphic design company, I had just returned from a work trip in Indonesia, sick, exhausted, and close to burn[ing] out. I scanned everyone I knew, looking for a role model, someone who had managed to figure out the work/life balance thing,” she explains to me earnestly, relaxing into my sofa and taking another sip of tea. You can tell even now, four years since her decision to move into floristry, she knows it was the right call.
Since early childhood, Polito has always found creative outlets, from drawing and gardening in her younger years, to sewing most of her own clothes throughout high school. Recently, between flower gigs, Elise has also dabbled in a bit of pottery, creating some really sweet vases from porcelain. From what I observed, she can be a bit of an instrumentalist like that (or perhaps just pragmatic), harnessing what is around her, no matter how disparate it seems from botanicals, and channelling it towards her work.
“I find inspiration in nature, mostly. Art and design inform my practice. I’m always seeking colour inspiration away from flowers. I’m very inspired by my peers. It always amazes me how you can have the same brief, the same ingredients and create something so different. It’s very much like art in that way, you seek out the hand that made it.”
After high school Elise was accepted into the National Art School in Sydney and studied Fine Art with honours, majoring in Printmaking. Beyond her studies, Elise has almost always made a crust using her creativity. She worked as General Manager for The Distillery, in Sydney, and was involved in graphic design, printmaking, and even running a gallery abroad, in Kemang Jakarta. She also moonlighted as a barista at the hip Sydney coffee and clothes store Deus Ex Machina.
She’s one of those annoying people who is good at everything she tries – but is also so lovely, and unassuming, you cannot possibly hold it against her. Elise smiles that warm smile of hers as she recalls her first day working with flowers. It was with her mentor and friend, Jardine (from esteemed Jardine Botanic), “Jardine definitely gave me the confidence to make the leap. I still remember the first time I worked with her, it felt so natural, she looked up at me and said, ‘Did you know you’d be good at this‘?”
She’s also taken the skills from her previous gigs along for the ride, “It didn’t feel like it at the time but everything I’ve done [before] has really informed what I’m doing now. Art and design principles translate perfectly; I’m using a different medium now but it doesn’t seem too dissimilar. I learnt lots about running a business during my time as a General Manager at the Distillery, my boss was an amazing businessman and I was exposed to a broad range of clients from high-end fashion, restaurants, startups to couples getting married.”
Almost four years later, Elise’s budding career in floristry has really started to bloom. She has already worked for some big names such as Flowers Vasette, Katie Marx, and aforementioned Jardine Botanic, to name a few. Since moving back to Sydney late last year, Elise has cut down the number of hours she works for other florists and is branching out on her own. She has some regular clients in Marrickville and is starting to get a few inquiries from PR agencies with whom she hopes to work closely in the near future.
“I’m concentrating on events and photo shoots, creating some amazing work. I really hope to be producing some more art, specifically botanical based work. I really love collaborating with others, especially for photo shoots. It’s a great way to get really creative and definitely something I want to do more of.” For now, though, weddings are her bread and butter.
Elise has created some stunning arrangements for weddings and the day always goes off without a hitch. That is, except for her own wedding. “I stupidly booked my wedding on the Easter long weekend and out of town. The markets aren’t open. Claire [from Flourish Flower Merchants] made special orders and drove around to the growers’ farms to pick everything up and bring it to Berry! Good woman!” Elise laughs affectionately. This story prompts her to think about the many women in her life, like Claire from Flourish, who have supported her throughout the various stages of her floristry career.
She describes these women who have inspired and mentored her as “tough and kind”. Like a lot of creative realms, Elise affirms the industry is not easy. “There’s floristry and then there’s floristry, the truly skilful florists really do stand out!”
When it comes to standing out, herself, Elise has no qualms. This is owing, in part, to possessing a keen eye – almost like an intuition – for what’s around her. She can quite easily make something very beautiful out of very little, putting a fresh spin on ‘making the most of what you’ve got’. She also has incredible adaptability, an ideal quality in floristry, especially for fussy or indecisive clients, as well as working with unpredictable elements: the flowers themselves.
When asked what her favourite blooms are to work with, Elise replies that anything seasonal and local is best and she couldn’t be more true to her word: After our cup of tea, Polito trots off to the kitchen, fetches a large plastic bag and heads out the door. Fifteen minutes later she returns, her bag brimming with velvety camellias in every shade of pink! “The neighbours didn’t mind,” she beams.
I never really considered the abundance of camellias around my neighbourhood until Elise brought them to my attention, through her innate ability to see opportunities for beauty wherever she goes. Now, as I pass them, I gaze at their vibrant pink and red blossoms with cognisance and admiration.