M&S Schmalberg was founded in 1916 by my Great-Great Uncles Morris and Sam Schmalberg. Today I work with my Dad Warren. I started working full-time around 10 years ago.
Did you have an interest or background in fashion?
As the son of a “Flower Man” I was always on the periphery of this industry although it was not something I saw myself doing. I studied Psychology at Stony Brook. After graduating I came to come to work at Schmalberg temporarily while I “figured my life out”. I never left. I have grown to love and cherish this business and am proud to be a part of it.
Milliners who make their own flowers go through a process of stiffening, cutting and shaping petals with heated tools then assembly. Do you use a similar processes?
I have seen the flowers created by milliners and in many cases our process is quite similar. We just do it on a larger scale. Most materials need to be starched (stiffened) before we use them. We then cut and emboss using our vintage flower tools. The different floral shapes are all assembled by hand on to floral wire.
Are the petals computer cut or are all they still cut by hand ?
All petals are still cut by hand using our vintage tools. One of the larger orders I have seen involved over 150,000 single-ply flower petals cut for Vera Wang. The petals were cut in a light-weight silk sheer organza. We were able to cut around 20-24 at a time and press 3-4 at a time. This project was a lot of work and took over a month to complete.
Is there a preferred fabric to make flowers?
We can make flowers in most materials. Silk, satin, cotton, polyester, leathers, suedes, velvet and felt all work very well. We emboss the flower petals using heat presses with either a gas stove or an electric plate. In either case the heat can damage plastic materials like vinyl and faux-leather. We have made flowers in these materials using petals that were flat and not embosses. Spandex does not take embossing as it is it’s very nature to return to it’s original shape. We have had success bonding (fusing) spandex to another material like a silk or satin and then cutting.
Leather has become popular in millinery. Do you make leather flowers?
We make lots of leather flowers! Our flowers are made with real leather only as the faux leathers tend to melt and bubble when we try to emboss then. Leather works very well.
Milliners always work with fabric bias for each petal. Is that principle essential for shaping your petals?
When we cut fabric pieces for starching we do so “on the straight,” not on the bias. Some people make stitched bias flowers. This is a different process than what we typically do.
The largest quantity order that I have seen would be the 150,000+ petals for Vera Wang. The largest single order in terms of value came from J. Crew a few years ago and was for over 13,000 flower brooches. My Dad has told me stories of the old garment center where a fashion house would send over a purchase order (i.e. PO# 100) and would then add on to the original order multiple times (PO #100a, 100b, 100c...). He said they would add-on so many times that they would go through the entire alphabet. Some of these combined orders turned out to be quite large.
Do you make more roses than any other flower?
We have a wide range of clientele ranging from milliners, fashion designers and costume makers to individuals and wedding professionals. Each project is different.. When selling online through Etsy, Amazon and our website I find Roses and Camellias to be the most popular. The Rose is the universal symbol of love and works well for a wide range of designs. The Camellia was first made popular by Coco Chanel and has become synonymous with haute couture. FYI - Ours cost less!
Which famous people have worn your flowers?
We have worked with lots of fashion designers including Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, Oscar De La Renta, Marchesa, Rodarte, Ralph Lauren, Badgley Mischka and Carolina Herrera. Many celebrities have worn our flowers including Sarah Jessica Parker, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Beyonce, Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto and Scarlett Johansson.
For milliners custom orders can prove challenging. Are custom orders a major part of your work?
We have a large inventory of stock flowers that is always evolving as we create new styles. A lot of our millinery clients who are out-of-state will visit us once or twice a year and put together an assortment of whatever they like. We can also work via e-mail and facetime to help someone put together an order. We also welcome custom projects. Any of our styles can be modified and made in any material. We can also work off a sketch, an image or simply an idea. I love working with people and helping bring their visions to life.
In the current times, any thoughts….
Coronavirus - I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the elephant in the room. M&S Schmalberg has been closed since March 12th due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The current New York State mandate is that all non-essential businesses remain closed until at least May 15th. In full transparency I have written these interview responses while sitting at home with my dog [Noodles] on my lap. I have been in constant contact with the entire M&S Schmalberg team and am pleased to report that everyone is healthy and in relatively good spirits. This is a very difficult time for all of us. I believe that we will get through this and I cannot wait to get back to making flowers!
Upon reopening things will likely be slow and we will certainly need the support of all our millinery friends.
» M & S Schmalberg
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