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Meet Sherine Iskander: Our Floral Manager
Sherine Iskander is the Floral Manager in our Irvine store. If you ask about her favorite flower, she’ll tell you that she only has eyes for lilacs when they’re in bloom, but the rest of the year, it’s gardenia. She’ll also tell you that she got into floral design when she was 15 years old. “At that age, I had a voice like Donna Summer, and I was going to be a big star,” she says, “but my parents wanted me to have a solid plan B.”
An artist at heart, she knew it had to be something creative, and with the help of her high-school guidance counselor, she discovered floral design and started an after-school vocational program. “That teacher was really tough on me,” Sherine says. “She’d toss my bouquet across the room, and I only got a good grade if it survived.” But the guidance counselor told her the teacher wouldn’t bother to pick on her if she didn’t see something good in her work, so she hung in there — and learned that she had not only a gift for floral design, but a Plan A passion.
After vocational school, Sherine worked for free wherever she could, first with small floral shops, and then for event designers. “I wanted to learn all the tricks of the trade,” she says, “the things that you can’t get in a classroom.” And, when she had learned as much as she could through internships and, eventually on the job, she enrolled as an American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) candidate and earned the much-coveted title of Certified Floral Designer — a process involving two years of coursework, a hands-on design evaluation, and a written exam. She then went on to earn her California State Floral Association certification.
In 1999, she brought all that expertise to Gelson’s. She had been working as a director at a mom-and-pop design house, where she purchased, designed, sold, and merchandised silk botanical arrangements. “Silk is wonderful, it does whatever you tell it to,” Sherine says, “but I missed the challenge of fresh flowers, and the smell. Whenever I’d walk into a flower shop, I’d think, ‘Ah, now I can breathe.’” So when she had the opportunity to join Gelson’s — one of her clients — she took it.
As Floral Manager, Sherine wears a lot of hats. On any given day she receives many cases of fresh flowers and plants, makes sure all the blooms have water and clean containers, and rotates out anything that looks droopy. And of course, she’s a floral designer, working with our customers to create arrangements for Valentine’s Day, weddings, showers, big birthdays, and everything in between.
Here’s her best advice for folks who want to order flowers: Come in at least two weeks before your event, so that she can order any special flowers you may want for your arrangement. But if you don’t have two weeks, no problem — Sherine’s happy to take rush orders, and if there’s a bloom she can’t get in time, her mind is a veritable encyclopedia of flowers, and she can help you pick out the perfect alternative.
“After 40 years, there’s almost nothing I haven’t done before,” Sherine says. And yet, she believes that a good florist is never done learning. She reads industry magazines and attends AIFD conferences to stay up on trends and get fresh ideas — and customers are always bringing her their favorite Pinterest boards. Right now, she’s partial to layering different monochromatic blooms to create a simple bouquet that’s full of texture. And she loves the look of field flowers, like sprigs of silver dollar eucalyptus, lavender, and Scottish thistles in a bouquet of big, open garden roses and dahlias. “They have so much movement,” she says, “and they can look like a wildflower or totally elegant.”
Is there one favorite event or floral arrangement that stands out to her over the years? During the Obama administration, she spent a week at the White House with five other AIFD Certified Floral Designers, creating arrangements for everything from lunches and award ceremonies to the White House dining room and Michelle Obama’s boudoir. What kind of flowers did the first lady like? “She wanted everything to be very simple,” says Sherine. “So the bouquets were roses and cymbidium orchids, all in creamy whites.”
Going to the White House was a big, poignant moment for Sherine, but it’s the smaller, day-to-day interactions with people that seem to define floral design for her. “Flowers can make people feel loved and cared for, they can make a difference in someone’s day,” she says. “So when someone tells me that my flowers made them feel better when they were sick, made their daughter’s wedding unbelievable, or gave them comfort at their mom’s funeral, that’s the very best part of my day.”
Oh, and if you’re wondering if she still sings — she does. “My voice has changed a bit,” she says. “These days, I sound like Etta James.”