There are few things that go better together than flowers and chocolates. It’s the perfect partnership. So when Rockflower came to us wanting to add chocolates to their flowers, we jumped at the chance to join them. Together we’ve formed a contemporary version of a traditional classic with a touch of luxury. We sat down with Rococo founder, Chantal Coady OBE and Rockflower founder, Andrew McAlpine to talk about how this great partnership came together.
How did you meet?
Andrew: Chantal opened a shop on the King’s Road 30 years ago. She was the first chocolatier that I became conscious of as being somebody who was aware the environmental contents of the food she was producing, i.e. her chocolates, and I thought her designs and layout of her shop were spectacular and I became a fan!
Chantal: I suspect over the years we have been at many of the same parties, and I was formally introduced by dear friend and former flatmate Huw Morgan, who worked as a creative in the film industry. Now, he is MD at Dan Pearson Studio. I was intrigued to hear about Andrew’s concept.
Where did the idea of working together come about?
Andrew: Over the intervening years, as she has opened other shops, both in Belgravia and in Marylebone, I noticed the public’s growing interest in artisan chocolates and Chantal particularly was the leader in this drive to have high quality, good chocolate. This meant that I was focused on her quality of work combined with the unique designing of both the product and of the packaging that went with it. So, all in all it was a combination of both product and sales packaging. We started talking six years ago about doing something together and it’s taken that long to get here simply because that’s how long it has taken to make Rockflower a functioning unit (in terms of the technology needed for the kiosk).
Chantal: Andrew invited me and James to visit him and see his first Rockflower prototype in a railway arch in Southwark near Tate Modern. We loved the idea, and Andrew’s thought processes, he had taken years to develop this; we were able to see his invention with our own eyes – quite a surreal experience.
What is your background and how did you start your business?
Andrew: My background is fine arts. I trained as a painter and moved over into designing for opera, theatre and then, in the last few years, for film and in doing so, my drive is to do with functionality of design. Part of the frustration of living in America for work was that I could never find flowers that were fresh and inventive. They very often died quickly which drove me to thinking that I could improve upon this in people’s lives. When I returned to living in London, I thought I wanted to give a present back to this city that I have lived in for forty plus years, so my present to London is what I call the ‘democracy of beauty’ (i.e. affordable beauty); in this case, hand-tied bouquets. I can combine both my skill as a colourist and my skill as a designer to create a unique selling point. In this case, that is a kiosk which both retails and vends flowers because the availability of affordable beauty is something I am driven to want to provide to the world.
Chantal: My background is also Art & Design – I studied textile design, printmaking, typesetting and photography at St Martins and Camberwell Schools of Art. I got a job selling chocolate at Harrods when I was an student, and it re-ignited my childhood passion for chocolate, from the perspective of luxury chocolate. I realised that there was a gap in the market to create something completely different, a retail experience that was theatrical and emotionally engaging and welcoming to all chocolate lovers.
Why flowers & chocolates?
Andrew: Oh, it’s a classic. It goes right back to Audrey Hepburn, to Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s). I mean, anybody loves chocolates and flowers. It’s a present – a great, straight-forward present which won’t offend people. It’s also a lovely combination because very often in chocolate you can have flowers, for example, rose, violet, calendula, ginger… all of these sit comfortably with the flowers that we sell in Rockflower and the chocolates that Rococo make.
Chantal: Of course, it’s a romantic dream, as well as an affordable luxury!
What makes the combination of Rockflower & Rococo so strong?
Andrew: The design processes that drive both companies. We are interested in formatting product that is high quality, affordable, but that looks unique . And I’ve always admired Rococo’s strong sense of design as well as Chantal’s drive as a unique employer and a person who is not going to have less than high values so there was combination there of what my ideals are and what her ideals are, and they seem to marry together very comfortably.
Have your paths crossed in other ways other than business?
Andrew: We have a mutual friend, Dan Pearson, who is one of the top garden designers in the world. Dan’s approach to planting and the texturising of a landscape has, as a gardener myself, always driven me to a frenzy of happiness! We all meet two to three times a year at Dan’s birthdays or, for example, at his recent retrospective at The Garden Museum. The three of us share a similar pattern and process of reaching a design which is to do with excellence and innovation – I believe all three of us are innovators – and we are very comfortable together. And equally with Chantal’s husband James, who is an acupuncturist, there is a holistic sensibility there. I have always felt very comfortable in the company of Chantal and James and their lovely children. Similarly so, with Dan and Huw, his partner, we just have fun!
Chantal: As Andrew says, we love a good party! In fact, our jaded teenagers always clear their diaries when Dan & Huw have a party which is the ultimate accolade. In life, there are so many lovely synchronicities. Andrew often spends time in Ubud in Bali, which is where James and I got married (I should really say “eloped to”, as we had a traditional Hindu Animist Blessing there in 1992). We have so many shared friends and values.
Chantal, what attracts you to Rockflower as a brand?
Chocolate and flowers are an obvious combination, although they have rather different requirements in terms of selling them: flowers need lots of water, chocolate needs climate control and a dry environment, so there are also plenty of challenges trying to sell them together. Andrew has a brilliant mind and way of innovating so that these obstacles are no longer problems, I love the sense of innovation that Rockflower delivers, and the fact that you can buy from them instantly, 24 hours a day – whenever you have a whim to get beautiful flowers or chocolates, in fact!
What is your favourite flower or Rockflower bouquet?
Chantal: I have to say the tuberoses, the heady fragrance takes me straight back to Bali…
Andrew, what attracts you to Rococo as a brand?
Central to Rococo’s existence is that they have always worked globally with eco friendly and free trade growers. They have a very high ethical program, Grococo, to work with the growers of the cocoa beans so that they know the quality of the root stock of their chocolate and exactly where it is coming from. I admire that side of it. It’s a comfortable notion that we are giving back to the world as supposed to taking away from it. That, and this continuously evolving design that Chantal works on. She is the innovator of the design and works with another designer to stamp this unique product that Rococo is. I love that.
What is your favourite chocolate/Rococo product?
Andrew: Undoubtedly, I’m partial to a violet cream and that was even before Rockflower! I know that they do a box of rose and violet creams which always makes me super happy!
What are your plans for the future – both in this collaboration and separately?
Andrew: 2015 will see Rockflower move into three, if not four, other TFL stations in and around London and with that I am very thrilled to know that we are moving into these new locations with Chantal and Rococo Chocolates, which is such a fine complement because the proof of the matter is that people already like this combination in Blackfriars and I think that when we’re in other high profile areas, we’re going to find that this works even better together.
Chantal: We are always looking for exciting ways of delivering our chocolates to new audiences – this is why love Rockflower – and separately we are looking to open new stores in London and other UK cities, as well as growing our online offering. On the cocoa front, we are growing our own cocoa on the Grococo farm, which we donate to the Grenada Chocolate Co. to transform into chocolate at source. This is a fantastic social enterprise that turns the whole cocoa supply chain on its head, as we buy back the chocolate at a premium rate. We are looking at more ways of supporting the farmers and chocolate makers there, and for more organic cocoa farms. These relationships are key to Rococo’s philosophy of ethics and sustainability.
How do you feel about reaching Rockflower’s first birthday this month?
Andrew: Oh, such excitement! I can’t wait for that! And it runs into Valentine’s Day two weeks after that, so we have a ‘double bubble’ – a birthday and Valentine’s which is sort of like a very big, beautiful kiss!
You can find the Rockflower vending machine at Blackfriars station in London, the perfect place to pick up a gift for your loved one this Valentine’s Day.