Frederique van der Wal

Photo: Willem Walderveen

FREDERIQUE VAN DER WAL

One of the most iconic top models of the 80s and the 90s, Frederique van der Wal became a floral designer in 2008 when she founded ‘Frederique’s Choice’. At the head of an international company, Mrs. Van Der Wal runs the first branded floral business in the world with a huge focus on sustainability. 

By Victoria Adelaide | OCT 23. 2017

Victoria Adelaide: Mrs. Van Der Wal, what gave you the idea to start a flower business and how did you set it up?

Frederique van der Wal: Holland is the epicenter of flowers, so growing up, they were always very much part of my life. My mum always had flowers, and wherever you look, you see them. They became an inspiration in my life, especially when I left Holland for the US. My career in fashion took off and as a recognition for my career, they did me the honor of naming a flower after me, a lily, and I had the opportunity to choose the variety I wanted. At the time, I already knew a lot about flowers, but when I went to the greenhouse, I found out that it takes 10 years to create a lily and 10 to 15 years to create a new tulip. At the time, I was talking to the Discovery Channel, and I pitched the idea of a documentary about the journey flowers take. When I did the documentary, I realized that there were no brands for flowers. So, the thought of using my fashion background, all the branding expertise I had, and my Dutch roots and love for flowers and nature made me take the step of creating ‘Frederique’s Choice’. There is of course a commercial element in what I’m trying to do, but at the same time, for me, it’s very much about connecting people with nature. 

VA: You obviously have a business mindset; what is your vision of being an entrepreneur?

FVDW: I think entrepreneurship is really about a passion. You have an idea, something that moves you, but when you dare to step in the unknown (and entrepreneurship is all about that), you feel alive and energized, even with all the ups and downs that will happen when you dare to take a different route. Things change, and it’s all about believing in what you’re doing and the authenticity of your project. Entrepreneurship is really daring to take a step out of the box and sometimes believing in something that we didn’t think we’d dare to step into. Sometimes people only highlight the good things, so you think they were an overnight success, and we all know that no one really is an overnight success.

VA: You deliver all over Europe and also in the US.

FVDW: Yes, in 2009 we launched in Europe, in Holland, and then in the US in 2015. We had a trusted area in New York, then we expanded. We had a wonderful opportunity with the A&E network to do a television program called ‘Homegrown Makeover’, where we show people how to redecorate an apartment in a little space, but emphasizing that they should always use something alive and green. So it aired in 2016; it was shown at the beginning of the year then again throughout May. We also shot a commercial with A&E, a funny interesting combination for Mother’s Day, and we had to go nationwide. That was intense, very intense. Again, this is where sometimes starting a bit slower and growing is a good thing. We couldn’t control the quality, so well the message got a bit lost. I made a deal with a farm directly in California so I now have fantastic flowers again. It’s always about adjusting.

VA: What do you think your brand brings to consumers that similar businesses don’t?

FVDW: Well. this is an authentic story. It’s a story that came from a person who is alive, who loves flowers, who loves nature. In any business, it has to come from your heart, that’s one of the things that make you stand out. I also think we’ve been daring to take certain steps, first of all launching the business, even if we were probably a little bit early. The industry is quite dynamic but still very traditional; we took a different approach and found a way of saying that we can do this online and still offer an experience. Here in Holland, you can get flowers everywhere really. Five years ago, it was not common practice to order flowers online, but now people buy online, so we were definitely a bit ahead of our times, but we were innovative. Also with regards to sustainability, from day one we created a vase that was bamboo pressed and biodegradable. We use biodegradable packaging, bags that can be reused, so our message was clear from the very beginning: we have a responsibility, we can use that and do something. That’s what we just did with the ‘Footprint bouquet’; we lined with a company benefits of HR where they calculate each group which is involved. It’s really putting a step should be stake in the ground by saying ‘We can make changes if we understand how it works’. We still make mistakes, and we could do certain things better, but it’s really about taking a step. In what we do, what you see is what you get. We don’t try to sell you something that is different. I design the bouquets and those are the ones that you get.

VA: So, you design all your bouquets?

FVDW: Designing, I wish I could do it every day! Playing with flowers and having them around is fantastic! When you do that, it’s so healing and it’s so grounding, it makes you feel so good.

VA: Who is your clientele, and did you notice a change over the years?

FVDW: Yes. We also do B2C and B2B; we have more and more companies as clients now, so that’s a wonderful change, because from a business point of view, it’s good to have business clients and you reach more people at once. Regarding consumers, older people are getting savvier with computers and going online. If you talked to people 10 years ago, they were not making any purchase online, because they didn’t trust it, and now people do it at 62 or 70. So we also have an older clientele. We have a recurring clientele of people. In America, it’s very much a mix; it’s definitely a more nature-educated group, I think that’s because sadly they are more connected to nature, and obviously it has to do with price. It’s a little bit more expensive in America, it’s just about the whole process. In Holland, you can get the most beautiful bouquet for 20€; I couldn’t do that in America. So, you see a difference when it comes to that.

VA: In the 90s models were icons. How do you explain that over the years the profession lost some of its prestige?

FVDW: Attention! People’s attention span is minimal. We are fed with so much information, that we forget everything. A great example is Netflix shows or TV shows; people watch them nonstop and if you ask somebody, ‘What did you watch last week?’, they wouldn’t know. I think this has to do partially with attention, but also with the fact that everything has become so accessible. In the olden days things weren’t so accessible. I think there were fewer models out there; now there are many, so it’s hard to choose. It’s a little bit empty, the girls that you often see (and I don’t mean all of them, some of them definitely have something to say), but there are many that are known for their Instagram followers or for taking off their underwear. Lily Allen sings that song about being famous where you have to take off your underwear or you need to have sex; she makes fun of it but sadly it is true. In the past, a career was built over time and there was a notion of longevity in it, and now there isn’t. Also in those days, you were officially inaccessible and now everything has to be accessible. I think it kept a little bit of a mystery.

Photo Gallery Credits – Photo 1: Kevin Hatt / Photos 2 & 6: Courtesy of Frederique’s Choice / Photo 3: Eric Van Der Brulle / Photos 4 & 5: Willem Walderveen 

VA: Are you still close to some of the top models of that period?

FVDW: Oh yes. Actually, I ran into Christy Turlington; we are very much alike, she has also ‘survived’ this industry, because it is a very difficult industry. It has a lot to do with looks and not much with who you are. I’ve seen girls quite broken by it and often insecure. You see that also with actors and actresses sometimes. I am in touch, indirectly, with Cindy Crawford once in a while, Naomi, Jasmine (now called Rebecca), many of the women at Iconic Focus. All these women are still, and I hate the word ‘still’, wonderful!

VA: Yes, and we see more and more mature models now.

FVDW: Yes indeed. Age doesn’t matter, we want to hear a story, we want to be inspired, and there’s so much to read on somebody’s face. I think we should embrace that a lot more. I can see that in fashion now, which is great. Iris Apfel’s campaign or Carmen Dell’Orefice, it’s wonderful, these are women with a story.

VA: Flowers are beauty. You have had a rich and pleasant life. Producing beauty through flowers, is it a way for you to ‘give back’?

FVDW: In a way, it is to give back, but I’m also coming to a point in my life where I want to do that even more and flowers are just one part of it. I’ve lived a very interesting life and sometimes I feel that I’m just starting, I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. I’m now getting much more ready for that, there were moments in my life where I felt I had to prove something to my family or to myself but now I feel that it’s wonderful to be able to give and it’s not about me achieving so much as it is more about sharing and giving.

VA: ‘Life in Full Bloom’, is it how you feel?

FVDW: ‘Life in Full Bloom’ is the tag line I’ve created. We are very much like flowers, there are times when you are in a more nurturing phase of life or even more difficult times but that’s how you become stronger just like a bulb in the ground taking the nutrients needed. When you bloom again as if you were a flower, you stand strong and shine and you are beautiful. So ‘Life in Full Bloom’ means that to me; it’s the ups and downs of life, and embracing the journey.

VA: You have a gorgeous daughter. If she ever wanted to follow in your footsteps as a model, would you support her?
 

FVDW: Yes, I definitely support her with anything she likes to do and if it involves fashion too. The industry has changed a lot; she did a few little things but hasn’t really gone very far yet, she is still growing. But she is very good at school; she is very much into acting and also interested in environmental issues .

**Mrs. Frederique van der Wal is represented by Iconic Focus Models
... it’s very much about connecting people to nature.'``
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