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Marlene Opdecam Top Shops: A Budding Star

Hilary Miles’ work shines on the silver screen

Written by Marlene Opdecam
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As a child, Hilary Miles dreamed of being in flowers, not films. Ultimately, her career would blossom into both.

“Florist to the Stars” Hilary Miles is the creative force behind Hilary Miles Flowers in Vancouver. Furry friend Lola is always welcome in Miles’ dog-friendly shop. Photo credit: Adore Pictures Studio
“I fell in love with flower shops when I was eight and visiting my uncle’s flower shop in Seattle in summers,” laughs the West Vancouver native and owner of Hilary Miles Flowers Limited. “I ‘worked’ making little arrangements out of broken-off flowers and had full reign over the workroom full of ribbons, paints, glues and all things floral and crafty.”

An early bloomer, Miles landed a job in the floral industry at age 13 with West Van Florist. Except for a brief hiatus to try her hand at modelling, she has been involved in the industry ever since. Her early career path took several twists and turns, including some freelancing, work for several flower shops in Vancouver and Calgary and even a stint in the Middle East managing a flower shop in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. While there, she was head of European Floral Design at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation. The onset of the Gulf War prompted her return to Canada in 1990.
  At a Glance
Company name:
Hilary Miles Flowers
Hilary Miles
Years in business:

While managing a floral shop in North Vancouver after her return, Miles found herself “frustrated by their wire service mentality of copying designs from catalogues.” Given that freelancing had not proved cost effective, she decided the only way to do the kind of work she wanted to do was to go out on her own – Hilary Miles Flowers was born.

“I opened in 1992 because, at the time, there were no shops in Vancouver doing the kind of design I wanted to do. I opened on a shoestring budget of $20,000, which was a loan from my mom,” Miles says. She admits trying to live on a modest income made her early years challenging. “Most of my money was filtered right back into the business for the first 10 years.”

Today, some 20 years later, Miles feels she has achieved what she set out to do. She has become one of the most sought after florists in Canada, and her store is a destination shop for clients.

“I’m lucky I have been able to work in this industry for so many years and still love what I’m doing,” says Miles. And, what she loves doing best, aside from weddings and events, is her work with the film industry.

Pink peonies and strung hyacinth décor brought a splash of elegance and colour to this table.
Miles bound this long stemmed calla lily bouquet with ivory satin featuring sempervivum detail. Photos credit: Reine Weddings

Vancouver, Miles says, has been a burgeoning scene for the film industry since the early 1990s. Seeing a creative challenge and commercial opportunity in the art of floral design in set decoration, she capitalized on it. Miles is well known and respected not only locally but in New York and Los Angeles as well. Her film and television credits, going back to 1996, include such notable features as Eclipse and New Moon  in the Twilight Saga, and television series like Men in Trees, Smallville and Stargate Atlantis, to name only a few.

As a result of her work in the industry, local media has dubbed Miles “Florist to the Stars.”

“I work with a lot of set decorators, props departments, production offices, and casting and talent agencies,” she explains. “The creativity of working in different time periods and geographical areas appeals to me and keeps me on my toes.” 

Originally Miles’ shop was located on Granville Street and 6th Avenue but she moved to her current location on West 1st Avenue in 1995. Customers, she says, find the clean, modern concept of both her designs and the store appealing. “I invested years ago in good lighting, which makes the flowers really pop…The most often heard comment is that the space isn’t cluttered and it is easy to navigate and see the flowers. All my display fixtures are glass and/or white and key areas are spot lit to show off the flowers.”

Her shop is also dog friendly.

Miles frequently “switches things up” in the store to keep clients excited about coming back. Recently she replaced a grove of birch trees in the front of the shop with a furniture grouping including a white leather Barcelona chair and long, low, white table.

Modern, clean, sophisticated and pretty is the way Miles describes her design style. “I love monochromatic and monobotanical design,” she says. “I love white but I also favour hot citrus colours like orange, fuchsia, red, watermelon and chartreuse, either in solid groups of colour or combined.”

Preferring a more luxurious “all-flower” look, she never uses many greens. And she has never cared for the heavily manipulated look of stapled leaves or structured arrangements. Probably because she had to live through it in the 1980s, she says with a laugh.

Miles purchases her product from a multitude of sources including the local United Flower Growers Co-operative (UFGC) flower auction in Burnaby, B.C., and a number of local greenhouses and select organic gardens. She also supplements local selection with imports from Holland, New Zealand, Thailand, Australia and California.

Her personally chosen giftware comes from Canada, the United States., France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Miles also buys mass-produced, made-in-China vases in order to be competitive price-wise. She also loves to represent local Vancouver artists.

Staff at the store consists of two full-time designers, one part-time assistant and an accountant who doubles as Miles’ buyer and event delivery/set-up guru. During busy times, Miles brings in extra help as needed.

Designed for the Vancouver Club during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Photo credit: Tristan Kasey

This floating mum monogram was the talk of the party. Photo credit: Hilary Miles

“Your staff is your most important asset. As your business grows and you find yourself outside the store at meetings or setting up events, they become the face of your business to regular customers. A high rate of turnover is not a good sign for your clients.”

Her clientele, in addition to the film crowd, is varied. “I have a great group of middle to higher end private and corporate clients ranging from young designers, artists and architects to older established business people.” She also gets neighbourhood residents popping in to buy bunches of tulips or roses.

When it comes to getting the word out about her business, Miles prefers to do so through promotional events such as Home for the Holidays tours and other community events. Many new clients also come to her through word of mouth, and Miles says a strong web presence is a must for any kind of visually based small business.

“Brides and event planners these days do a lot of their initial idea gathering on the web,” she says. “Without a website you’ll get left behind.”

Miles also uses Facebook to post stories and photos about what is new in her shop but admits she is not yet “hip” to Twitter, though her staff say she should be.

With two decades of hard work and dedication to her craft behind her, Miles would like to scale back a bit in the future. “I’d like to achieve more of a balance in my life; maybe travelling a bit more…I’d like to learn more about photography and do a book, maybe design a line of vases,” she says.

As things stand, Miles makes an annual pilgrimage to New York City, which she describes as the design Mecca of North America. While there she gets inspiration from art galleries, fashion, architecture and the New York Botanical Gardens. “The flower district, all the amazing florists there, the inspirational places and people are endless,” she says.

As for advice for other florists, Miles has this to offer. “The first thing is to really know the business inside out. Work for someone else and learn all aspects of the business before you open a shop of your own. It’s a tough game working with seasonal, perishable goods and knowledge is key.

“Develop positive relationships with suppliers and growers and also with other florists locally, nationally and internationally. Check out other designers’ work, keep up with the trends and keep yourself inspired.”

And, perhaps most important of all, she advises not to blow a ton of money on space initially. “Good lighting and simple fixtures plus a good fridge and work counters are all you need. As time goes on you can invest more as you see how the business goes. I’ve seen people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on fixtures and inventory only to close within a few years.”
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