LOCAL FLORIST WALKS THE TALK
Eunice Teo tells TEH ATHIRA YUSOF about her journey in perfecting her skills, which earned her a job in a Hollywood blockbuster
THOSE who watched the film Crazy Rich Asians will most likely remember the wedding scene of lovebirds Collin Khoo and Araminta Lee.
The pivotal scene stood out not only because of the cast’s impeccable acting, but also due to the design of the set, which showcased a decadent array of flowers and greenery.
The bride walks down an aisle, flanked by orchids, peonies and other plants with a man-made stream flowing through the aisle.
It will probably become one of the most memorable wedding scenes in film history, but what many people may not know is that the film’s floral arrangements were the work of Malaysian florist Eunice Teo.
Teo, 51, worked under the film’s set decorator, Andrew Baseman, and Hollywood set designer Nelson Coates, who have praised her professionalism and wonderful work.
Explaining how she got roped into the movie, Teo said: “I received a call from an unknown number and the man told me that he bought a few stalks of flowers from me many years ago.
“I could not recognise him, but he told me to go for an interview with a potential client.
“I went for the interview, and there were some pictures of floral arrangements on a wall, which they asked if I could do. Of course, I said yes,” said the mother of two, who is the first Malaysian and Southeast Asian to hold a certificate from the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD).
It was only in the second interview that she found out the gig was for a Hollywood film. It was the first time she would be a floral designer for a film set.
“My job was to set up all floral arrangements, except for the tall grass and padi stalks in the wedding scene,” she said at her home office in Amtrol Flower Designing in Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya.
Teo, who is of Peranakan heritage, said her roots were reflected in her work.
She also went the extra mile to make sure the set designs on Crazy Rich Asians were up to standard.
She decided to make the tanhua flowers herself for the blooming scene.
She handled a huge amount of flowers for the film. Up to 3,000 peonies alone, consisting of both artificial and fresh ones, were used throughout filming.
Being on-call around the clock on a film set for three months was tough, especially when she had to deal with a family emergency at the time.
“I was taking a nap while the shooting was going on in the early hours at Carcosa Seri Negara when I received a call from my sister.
“My mother was unwell. I was really worried and thought of nothing but to see my mother, so I had to go to her.”
Teo was raised in Muar and comes from a close-knit family. The second of four siblings, she said she was trained as a pianist as a child at the request of her father, Teo Jui Peng, 80.
She eventually became a piano teacher at 14, but realised that her true calling was to be a floral designer.
Teo has been arranging flowers at her church in Muar since she was four. Seeing her growing interest in floral arrangement, Teo’s parents sent her to stay with an aunt in Singapore during the school holidays, where she learnt floral arrangement.
After completing her studies at 18, she followed her teacher to Kuala Lumpur to help out with designing wedding bridal bouquets. That was when she met her first employer.
In 1994, when she was 26, Teo started her company, Amtrol Flower Designing, upon returning from studying floral arrangement in Japan.
She started the company with a RM40 capital, which she borrowed from her boyfriend, Calvin Tin. He later left his job in information technology to work in the company.
Teo used her favourite flower, the gloriosa lily, whose petals bow when in bloom as the company’s official logo.
“The flower symbolises humility,” she said, adding that it was important for aspiring florists to obtain international certification as Malaysia had yet to recognise floristry as a profession.
“If you want to train to be a florist, there is no means to obtain certification in Malaysia. You have to seek accreditation overseas.
“I have met many aspiring florists. I tell them to be consistent and to persevere in the face of challenges. I also believe that God has His own ways to help one to succeed.”
She urged young and aspiring florists to “walk the talk”, as there were many distractions that could deter one from becoming a great florist.
“If possible, avoid social media as it could alter one’s creative thoughts,” she said, while explaining that whenever she faced a creative stumbling block, she would read German florist Gregor Lersh’s Principles of Floral Design for inspiration.
Teo said she would continue educating people about floral design, and was planning to bring her students to sit the AFID certification examination next year.
Teo said she was blessed to be part of and to be able to have a special moment with actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh.
“On the last day of filming, God granted my prayer to meet Michelle Yeoh. I wanted to thank her for giving the production crew and me a chance to work with them. The crew told me that with this film, they were able to have proper paying jobs.
“When I said this to Michelle, we became teary-eyed and she hugged me.”
Floral designer Eunice Teo speaking about her floral arrangements for the film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ at an event recently.
Crazy Rich Asians, Teo creating a floral arrangement.