Nicolai Bergmann has come a long way since he rocked up in Japan almost two decades ago. We met up with the 39 year old at his flagship store in Minami-Aoyama to talk about his upcoming exhibition in June – and those famous flower boxes.
It was a slightly peculiar request, but one that Nicolai Bergmann was determined to get right. A PR lady turned up at the shop he was working at – in the days before he ran his own stores – to ask for 600 flower gifts tightly stacked within a confined space for a press event. Being unlike any order he’d ever received, the flower artist decided the best idea would be to arrange everything into small boxes. After working for two days solid, he presented the items to the customer.
“She thought they looked great,” he tells Weekender. “She then told me she’d found someone else to do the job, turned around and walked out. I couldn’t believe it. It was our biggest-ever order at the time and I’d gone over budget trying to make it look as alluring as possible. Now I was stuck with all these boxes of flowers.”
Fortunately he wasn’t “stuck” with them for too long. The boxes went on sale at the start of the century and immediately proved a big hit. Seen as a new and innovative way of displaying flowers, as well as a more convenient gift idea than bouquets, they have exploded in popularity over the past few years. Other florists have jumped on the bandwagon, too, and now the boxes can be found all over the place.
“You have the PR lady to thank for that,” Bergmann says, laughing. “Unfortunately it’s not something I could get a patent for, however I do have some protection in terms of branding. It’s certainly a product that has had a huge impact on my career, particularly in terms of my male clientele. A lot of guys are embarrassed to walk around with bouquets here, so it makes it a lot easier for them. I remember one man who must have been in his sixties coming up to tell me he was buying his wife flowers for the first time ever. Hearing comments like that is of course very satisfying.”
Since coming to Japan, Bergmann has been keen to develop his own style, which he describes as “East meets West.” His arrangements are European-like in terms of their compactness and simplicity, however the color combinations and attention to detail give them a Japanese feel.
Initially told he’d be “crazy” to open a shop in the men’s section of Isetan department store, Bergmann went ahead with the idea anyway because he believed the number of males buying flowers was increasing. Like many of his ventures, it has so far proved a success. Both he and his wife Amanda – who is the joint director of the company – seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to finding gaps in the market. One of their most creative endeavors has been the flower shop/cafe they set up in the heart of Omotesando in 2010.
“From the beginning we knew it had to be more than just a flower shop,” he says. “It’s very trendy around here yet Amanda and I felt the area didn’t have a place you could go to sit down and enjoy a reasonably priced sandwich and coffee. We always went to Subway. We decided to provide a setting where customers could have a light lunch for around ¥1,000 in a colorful environment surrounded by plants. From a personal perspective it’s given me the chance to be more inventive.”
The cafe has helped to raise Bergmann’s profile and he’s gone on to become somewhat of a TV celebrity, featuring on a number of NHK shows. One program he did for the in-flight-entertainment of ANA led to him doing an exhibition at the renowned Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka two years ago. “A man who owned a taxi firm in Kyushu saw it when he was flying to Tokyo and felt really inspired,” says Bergmann. “Instead of going to his scheduled meetings, he came to our flagship store and asked me to do a speech in Fukuoka. During my trip to the city we visited Dazaifu Tenmangu and I mentioned how good it would be to do an exhibition there.”
Shortly afterwards, he did exactly that. Around 8,000 guests turned up to see his flowers at the historic shrine despite a typhoon wiping out the last day. This June, he’s set to return to the city for three exhibitions at Shikaumi Shrine, Houmangu Kamado Shrine and Dazaifu Tenmangu. “It’s a truly extraordinary location with over 1,100 years of history,” says Bergmann of the latter. “Yet despite the traditions, the priests there have a modern outlook, wanting to move the place forward. They also have a genuine appreciation of art. I’m really excited about going back there. A lot of my arrangements are done behind a desk now so it feels like this is going back to my roots.”
The Back Story
Nicolai Bergmann was born and raised in Dragør near Copenhagen, a small town famed for its 18th century yellow houses. Bergmann, though, was more interested in flowers than old buildings and at the age of 16 enrolled in a three-year floristry course. After that, the next step on his journey was to come to Japan, a country he chose because his father – who worked in the potted plant industry – had done business here and had plenty of useful contacts.
It proved a wise choice. After working at a local flower shop for years, he opened his first shop in 2001 and launched his own company called Nicolai Bergmann Flowers & Design. He now runs eight boutiques internationally as well as a cafe, a chocolate shop selling 100 percent organic chocolates from his native Denmark, and a flower design school. Bergmann recently opened his first store in Korea, launched a chocolate boutique called Summerbird Organic that sells organic chocolates from his native Denmark, and has three new flower establishments on the cards for this year.
“We’re always looking for new ideas and ways to be innovative,” he says. “One big project we are currently working on is a three-hectare botanical park near Mt. Fuji in Hakone. It’s very ambitious and is going to be a huge challenge, but that is what this company is all about.”
Read our review of Nicolai Bergmann’s Nomu café here.
More info: www.nicolaibergmann.com/en