Shahn Stewart opened her floristry studio Alchemy Orange on Lygon Street, Melbourne just days before the second lockdown in 2020. Opening a new business in the midst of a pandemic is a tall order for anyone, let alone a new florist opening her first ever store.
‘I started Alchemy Orange just as we were entering the second round of lockdowns with the (naive?) hope of us getting on top of the Covid-19 outbreak hastily,’ she explains. ‘When things continued to head south and most weddings and events were postponed or cancelled altogether, I was left with no other option than to change the business model I’d spent the previous months planning, and move towards a more retail-based approach.’
This involved creating bouquets and a webstore so Shahn could sell her creations online to the local locked-down community hungry for a nature spritz at home, and even organising contact-free delivery to fully pandemic-proof her offering. And with all this in place, amidst restrictions and closures, Alchemy Orange thrived. This is a testament to the originality of Shahn’s work, and the distinct style of her arrangements.
Huge, dramatic floral arrangements made up of five or six different species are her signature, bringing together materials like twisted purple allium, tall stalks of yellow kangaroo paw and a giant pandanus leaf to play with height, scale and texture. In her studio, bunches of dried native grasses and fluffy wheat hang from the walls, while an installation of enormous dried banksia heads and bunches of green gumnuts against rafts of dried paper-bark spill out from the corner of the ceiling. Though there is a pop of pink orchid here and the occasional blue-headed hydrangea over there, robust native materials found in laneways or along riverbanks make up the core of Shahn’s creations.
‘I feel so strongly about shining a light on the often-overlooked,’ she says. ‘Challenging the pre-conceived notions of what is isn’t considered “beautiful” in our botanical world. It’s about looking past the obvious and appreciating a form for its texture or colouring.’
Shahn is a Yorta Yorta woman who grew up in Perth, and returned to Melbourne (Naarm) four years ago. Regardless of her location, her Indigenous heritage constantly informs her practice, and she finds foraging for urban flora an everyday way to engage with Country. These average, ‘mundane’ materials form the basis of her designs.
‘Foraging is a huge part of my practice,’ she explains. ‘Between the business and the admin of the week, I will always allow the time to immerse myself in nature, exploring a new river or park to seek out the unusual and irregular, allowing myself the time to reconnect to Country. I find it such a humbling and grounding experience, plus it means I can source uncommon materials that you won’t necessarily find in flower markets.’
The Alchemy Orange store is a retail space and floral studio where Shahn spends her time filling bouquet pre-orders and designing new installations. It is also home to Channel Ether, a new digital art gallery managed by Shahn’s friend, Fiona Harasty. ‘The aim of Alchemy Orange is to not only be my floral baby, but a space to host small events and exhibitions for other artists and the local community,’ Shahn says. An exciting creative wonderland if ever we have seen one!
Alchemy Orange is located at 151A Lygon Street, East Brunswick. It is open from 10-4 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (once we’re out of lockdown!) Follow the space here on Instagram for updates about events, special orders and gallery news.