The Job PDX
The Job PDX
39. Chelsea Fuss

Chelsea Fuss is a Portland-based florist, stylist, and lifestyle blogger.

The Interview

Hi, Chelsea.
Thanks for talking to me today. Are you? … Let’s just start at the beginning. Are you from Portland?
I am from … I grew up in Olympia Washington and New Hampshire.
And New Hampshire? Nice. How much time did you spent in New Hampshire?
I was there for … From like 4 to 9.
Do you remember the Fall, the autumn colors? I miss that around there a lot.
Yes, I loved New Hampshire. It’s a really beautiful memory. I have kind of a idealistic childhood there.
Yeah, it gets them from Ohio, and it’s not that close, but close enough. We used to get Fall there.
Yeah, there is nothing like the Falls, back East and the Mid-West.
There’s two things I miss from the Mid-West or back East is the leaves and the thunderstorms. I think we get some here. But we don’t get…
We just get drizzle.
How long have you been in Portland?
I’ve been in Portland for 14 years.
Okay, at what point did you decide to … You had flower shop right? You’re a florist?
I did, yes.
At what point did you decide to do that? How did that start?
I had wanted to have a flower shop since college. I actually kind of like sketch it all out during my art history classes. I was actually working on the plans for my flower shop. I started the business in college, and started working during the summers, doing floral design for weddings. Then I graduated in art history, I went and work for few other people, and went, and got training in London.

It was probably around 2003, that I started my own shop.

How was that experience for you, having what one would now call brick and mortar shop. Did you enjoy that?
I did in a sense that, it’s really creative and I loved to make the floral display. It was very small, it was like a floral studio but I acted as like a full service flower shop. It’s super creative, I don’t enjoy the business end of it as much, and it’s a lot of overhead. Even if you’re operating a really small brick and mortar it’s still a lot of overhead. I don’t enjoy that aspect as much I guess.
Yeah, just in terms of like, like keeping … Like paying the bills to keep the lights on, or like throwing away a lot of flowers?

Exactly like we’re dealing with a perishable product. I loved my customer and I loved making flower arrangements. I’ve always been passion about flowers. I’ve been working with them since I was 12 years old. It was just sort of something very natural, and I always knew I’d had a shop.

I’m also a little bit of commitment-phobic and I like to do a lot of different things. After about five years doing that, I knew I was ready for something different.
This probably overlap of the time that you started your blog is that right?
A little bit, I actually … After I close my flower shop, I went to work at a desk job back into retail buying. Which is something I had done after college, after college I worked for this really amazing startup in Portland called Poppy Box Gardens. I received training there in floral design, and also I got experienced with like corporate retail, and buying and that type of thing. Working in … After I close my flower shop, I got this job working at a local catalog here in Portland doing inventory management which is kind of a numbers end of buying.

It all sort of evolved, and that was interesting I did that for a couple of years, until I was really itching to do something very creative.

Okay, you’re blog frolic has been going for probably I guess eight years now?
Yeah, since 2006.
How is it changed in 8 years?
Blogging has changed a lot. It’s become a lake of business. I started my blog for fun, I just need to creative outlet. That’s purely what it was, was a creative outlet. That was kind of the beginning of the design blogs. There weren’t a lot, then it just sort of organically developed into more of a business, and then I got interested in a prop styling, and I sort of got into that through blogging.

I guess you could look at my blog, as kind of a business, but it’s also like sort of a marketing tool for any other work that I’m doing.

Do you take the photos yourself for the blog, or they usually, you find them?
I take a lot of the photo myself, and then I work with … Since I’m a prop stylist, I work with a lot of different photographers. I enjoy collaborating with different photographers on post. I work a lot with Lisa Warninger
… Cool. This might sound like a na├»ve question but I can’t get a straight answer. What is a prop stylist? What is that?
It’s sort of a relative of the set stylist, I guess. Except you are dealing with small props, I work a lot with table top props creating like table settings. I just finished like a William Sonoma shoot and we were styling products. We styled like kind of a brunch story, and then glassware and tableware. It’s my job to kind of get that setup in front of the camera, and get any backdrops that we need.

Source, any table linens, flowers and then I’m sourcing all of the props. Any props you see on set, that’s the responsibility of the props stylist. They’re taking direction from the art director. The art director is always my boss, and basically I’m executing their vision.

Williams-Sonoma brunch story. All photography by John Kernick 

Has your … I mean did your background and art history help with that?
Yeah, for sure. I mean this is just always been something that I’ve done. I mean as a kid, I was always making little vinette and like photographing them. I grew up reading like women’s magazine and very like studying art, and photography I’ve always been a very visual person. I’ve been interested in prop styling since college. It’s something I actually toyed with back then as well, thought about doing.
Do you feel like it’s, at some point you like to be the person in charge of those shoots like the …
The art director?
I guess that’s why I like blogging so much, it’s a blank creative slate. I can do whatever I want, it’s not dictated. I can’t say not always, but most of the time, it’s not going to be dictated by corporation, by advertisers, by an art director. Yeah definitely, I mean I work on a lot of different jobs. I work with local designers, I do test shoots with friends and people I admire. A lot of the time, my bread and butter is definitely like the commercial shoots.

Those are definitely less creative, and more dictated by money and corporations and a lot of different people’s opinion. With my blog it’s just me and I can do really whatever I please with it, and that’s what so appealing about it. That’s why I kind of got into blogging in the first place. I mean I guess not thoughtfully in this way. One of the things I love so much about it, and I feel that this is changed so much that it’s grassroots media.

It’s just people taking the media into their own hands and putting their work out there, and putting thoughts out there, and putting art out there, that isn’t dictated by money, and big corporations. That has kind of changed. Blogs are supported by advertisers.

Even that, to me that doesn’t … It’s not something that would dilute your vision or anything. I think the challenge for that I would guess for someone who’s been blogging long is it now you have so many tools that are outside of your control that are necessary, probably to just keep your name out there. I notice you do a lot of Social Media a lot of Pinterest. How is that affected your blog?

I mean do you ever feel like less people are looking at your blog than maybe your Pins, or your Twitter?

Definitely, yeah because I kind of in a sense took a couple of years off from blogging. I mean I’ve been blogging, but I took kind of a break from it the last couple of years, where I wasn’t putting my full energy into it. Because I was working on commercial prop styling jobs. Yeah, it’s definitely what I had to really work to get the traffic backup to where I wanted it. Which is like I didn’t really do in the beginning because I was just starting it for fun.

It’s definitely become more of like a business. There is so much more Social Media now. Since I started my blog, then Twitter has come along Pinterest, Facebook is a lot bigger of a deal, and Instagram. Definitely those are all outlets, and I enjoy the Social Media. I tried to have boundaries about how much time I spend on it. I definitely … People have short attention spans, they’re going to see it on Instagram or Pinterest before they visit your site.

You kind of use those sort of tools to get people to your site, is the goal?
Yes, definitely, yes.
How did people usually find you to hire you, is it … Do you have a portfolio, or they find you through the blog or references?
I’d say 90% of the time it’s trough the blog. 100% of the time, it’s from the Internet. Just something on the Internet I can’t always track where they found me. A lot of our art directors, they use Pinterest they might see my work on there. I have a couple of portfolio sites out there to … I don’t really have my own site, at this point I don’t own a business card. It is really funny how people continue to find me, because I don’t actually market my work except through my blog.
How do you find advertisers for the blog, did they just read it and the fans?
They come to me normally, and some of them are readers, and a lot of them are small businesses and I love working with them. In the beginning it was just small business, as I already posted about, and products that … because in the beginning I was posting more just like products I loved, and it was more just people I already posted about. It made sense to make them part of the site.
You mentioned, trying to limit the amount of time you spent on Social Media, absolutely told myself about that. What is that limit? How much time do you spend the day on Social Media? Because it seems like you have to be doing that a lot.
Yes. You do have to be consistent. I have a lot of friends and people that have said I want to start a blog and I’m happy to help them get started. Then it’s like I don’t really like being on Twitter. I don’t like putting parts of myself out there. You actually have to kind of enjoy that. As far as how many hours a day I spend, it just depends on a day, there are some days where I’m out on set. I’m not there at all.

Yeah, I say probably a couple of hours a day. Yeah.

Okay. Is that counting the cat photos and stuff or is that separate time?
I think I might be the one person in the world that doesn’t respond to cat photos.
Okay. Interesting.

I’m not sure what that says about me. Yes, it is easy to get distracted. You really have to come up with rules for yourself. Because you could play around on the Internet all day and count it as work. You wouldn’t actually be getting anything done or progressing or evolving your business.

When do you work with a … You’re doing work with like Lisa for instance. What is that process like? Like the two of you, because I noticed that, I looked at a site full of very attractive lovely photos that you guys had done together. Like how is that process, is that … I mean there’s clearly, I’m guessing there’s no art director role.
Sometimes for sure. Yeah.
We’ve been working together since 2009. It’s all just very seamless. We usually meet together with the client to find out what they’re looking for. There’s at least one meeting. Then I work closely with the art director. The cool thing about working with Lisa. We really let each other just like she lets me be the prop stylist. I let her be the photographer. That’s one of the reasons why it really works.

Then there’s certain kind of issues or things that we really trust each other one. We definitely will overlap a little bit. If I’m kind of feeling stuck on a set. It’s like it’s not working on camera. We tried a lot of different things. I’ll definitely reach out to Lisa and she’ll give me her opinion and the same with the photos like a lot of times, I’ll be involved in the editing process. Which is kind of an excruciating process trying to choose photos.

Definitely we overlap a little bit but for most of it, we just let each other do our job.

How did you guys start working together?
I was let’s see back in 2008, I had left my job and I was blogging but I was also freelancing a lot for different florist and also in prop styling. I was freelancing for a florist called Ink & Peat over on North Williams.
At Pam’s Shop. Yeah. Lisa took photos for her. She came into the shop and Pam introduced us. Pam introduced us a lot of people. She’s a great networker. We worked on like a stationary job together. Then I had the idea to start street style blog. We just kind of started that for fun to see where it would go. I thought it’d be interesting for Portland to have a street style blog because I noticed a lot of interesting things happening here with fashion in sort of a different way, a Portland way.

I wanted that to be seen in the street style seen. I recruited Lisa to help me with that. From there, we started working on jobs together and people really response to our work together. We enjoy working together. It’s so important to have a photographer that you enjoy working with because that relationship really has to work on set. Because working on set can be intense. You definitely want to be working with people you like.

Your favorite flowers?
It depends on the season. Spring is my favorite. I kind of have an obsession with violets.
Yeah, when I had my flower shop. I ordered these violets. Actually they’re really popular back in the early 1900s and also like in the … Mid till late 1800s. Violets actually were a big kind of crop for the floral industry. They would sell like the little tiny violet bouquets. If you’ve ever seen my fair lady. She like sells violets. That thing … That kind of thing was really popular but it died out probably in the … Maybe like the ’50s or ’60s because people put more value on flowers that lasted longer. Violets only last for about three days.

I just think they’re the most charming flower and they smell really good. When I had my flower shop, I actually was like one of the only florist, probably the only florist I know of like at least in the Portland area if not like the Northwest that was selling violets for Valentine’s day and I ordered them from one of the last farms, there’s only a few violet farms left in the world. This farm … Actually they no longer, they no longer sell cut violets. I’m really nerding out on violets right now.

Violets on the left and peonies on the right. Photos by Lisa Warninger 

No, that’s great.
They shipped me violets and these women came into the shop and some of them were in tears. They haven’t seen these little violet bouquets since their childhood.
I just think they are so charming and I can’t walk by like right now they’re blooming in Portland, I can’t walk by a patch of violets without touching them and maybe stealing a few and sticking my nose in there.
What are those … I’m totally spacing the name of those yellow flowers that are out everywhere now.
Yeah. Daffodils. Can we just got this … we moved into a new house a few months back. I think my wife have said really said a bad word about it until the other day, she was like eww yellow. It’s like there’s … All of our street are these daffodils.
She doesn’t like this?
I think she just thought it was too much. I was like … You know, they’re daffodils, cool.
Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah, maybe if they were violets, I’d let her know.
I pretty much like every flower, I think there’s some may like more than others. I think it just depends on what context they’re presented in.
Okay. Do you currently do classes on flowers?
I do. I have an online class that runs every month.
It’s set up through the website.
It’s a really fun class. Actually Lisa filmed the class. It’s a four week course and each week you learn how to make a different type of arrangement. Then you also learn the basic of working with cut flowers. It’s fun. I have students from all over the world. Right now I have a student in Singapore. I’ve had students from Australia and China. They provide their own flowers. They’ll make the arrangement, take a picture of it. Upload it to our online classroom and then I leave feedback for all of the students. The students can see each other’s work as well.
That’s really cool.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s really fun.
Wow. Okay. I noticed you asking about getting a Swedish Visa, is that true?
You were eavesdropping on my Twitter.
Okay. I … Yeah, I am trying to. That’s kind of my dream. I love … I just love Sweden and I spent a little bit time there. A couple of summers ago I went for a few weeks and then back in 2009, I lived in a Stockholm Archipelago, out on this island for about three and a half months. Yeah. I’m just … I’m really interested in travel. I guess I like having a job that I can kind of bring with me.

Right now I’m kind of looking at. I’m also really interested in getting back to gardening and learning about organic farming and permaculture. I’m hoping this summer to go and fall to go work on some farms. One of them might be in Sweden.

Photos from Sweden from on Chelsea’s blog, Frolic. Left Photo, Right Photo 

Okay. When you say a job that you can sort of take with you, were you talking about the blogging?
Blogging and my flower class.
Yeah. Okay.
Yeah. Obviously prop styling can’t really go with me necessarily.
Right. Okay.
I’ll probably be taking some time off from that this summer.
Where was your last trip to?
Last fall I went to Buenos Aires for five weeks.
Okay. How was that?

Snapshots from Buenos Aires from posts on Frolic. Left and Right Photos, Center Photo 

It was really fun. My parents were actually living there. I just slept on their couch and brought my work with me. My work always comes with me. I go and I just work at local coffee shops. I wonder around and I like to visit the local gardens and shops and meet people. The fun thing about blogging is you probably have a friends wherever you’re going in the world that you can meet up with.
That’s true. Yeah. Interesting.
It’s really fun.
Did you find someone who read your blog there?
I met up with a few different people. Yes.
Okay. Wow.
A lovely French girl who was living in Buenos Aires who have read my blog and she emailed me and we just really hit it off. Another blog reader slash friend of a friend that I met up and some shop owners. Yeah, it was really fun.
I have to blog more. That is a perk I didn’t even think of. Does that … Is there anything that you would say right now in Portland, I noticed you had written up, is that correct, something on Megan’s new place up there?
Yeah. Field work.
Is there any stuff I mean that’s obviously exciting because she’s awesome but is there any other stuff in Portland that’s like really exciting to you right now?
Yeah. I was really excited about Megan’s shop that one just really hit in there with me. I’m kind of a cheerleader for the local florists. Let’s see, I love Alder and Company you mean in terms of just businesses or anything.
Just anything. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean there’s so many things happening in Portland right now. The city is booming.
I thought it was really cool how Schoolhouse electric, I’m just throwing stuff out here. Has a florist in the shop.
It’s wonderful and now she has another outlet.
A grocery in Northwest Portland also I believe.
Yeah. Yeah. I love Schoolhouse, I love what they’re doing. Lisa and I shot their catalog last year.
Right which is a lovely catalog.
Thank you. Thank you. That was really fun. I really enjoyed collaborating with Brian and his team. I got to help out a little bit with the art direction as well. He’s really open to collaboration. That was really fun.
We actually spoke with him a few weeks back so he’ll be on this season too.
Oh nice, okay good.
Yeah. I’m hoping to get a … Did you … How is that shoot like? Is it … Did you do that like in their warehouse or?
We did it all over. We shot some at Brian’s house.
All over the Schoolhouse building, down on the showroom, up at the top floor, it was like 95 degrees, it was summer. It was definitely an intense shoot. It was about two weeks long with about like a month of preparations.
Wow, I can see how that would get intense. Especially in the heat.
Yes. no air-conditioning out there. Yeah. Yeah.
Cool. Well. Chelsea thank you so much for talking to me today.
Yeah. Thank you for having me.