Robbie Fairchild's new floral-design endeavor, boo•kay nyc, is proof that you can bloom even in a dry spell.
While live performances are put on pause indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fairchild is using the downtime to explore his entrepreneurial side and his passion for flowers.
"I'm putting on my businessman hat and making things happen," the former New York City Ballet principal and Broadway star says.
Ryan Steele, Courtesy Fairchild
Fairchild spends his days crafting hand-tied bouquets from his bedroom-turned-workshop on the Upper West Side, filming virtual flower-arranging tutorials, and hand-delivering his creations to customers around New York City.
"We don't know how long the pandemic is going to go on for, and how long theater is going to be closed," Fairchild says. "So, to develop this as a means to make a living is great."
The seed for a flower business was planted last year, when Fairchild received an Instagram direct message from a fan who had seen the movie CATS, and wanted to thank him for inspiring her children to dance. As a gift, she offered to send him a sampling from the Dutch flower distributor where she worked.
"Then the next thing I knew, I had these incredible options," Fairchild says. Lush peonies and roses in dramatic hues showed up at his doorstep. "I hadn't seen flowers like this before."
So, Fairchild started making bouquets and giving them away to health-care workers outside of Mount Sinai West Hospital during New York City's 7 pm city-wide cheer for essential workers.
In July, as the pandemic continued to spread across the U.S., boo•kay was officially born. To date, Fairchild has personally hand-delivered more than 50 bouquets (ranging in price from $150 to $250 depending upon the size) in Manhattan.
Going from dancer to floral designer was a natural pivot for Fairchild. "I'm in my little studio, being creative, making something ultimately for somebody's enjoyment and fulfillment," Fairchild says. "I get a lot of joy out of that, and this is giving me that performance fix."
Like ballet, working with flowers requires technique and a certain aesthetic eye. Fairchild learned about the art of flower arranging while living in London during the West End run of An American in Paris.
"Right around the corner from my flat was the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers, and so I just rolled into class," he says. "Then I realized: Oh my god, this is therapy. I need more of this." Between rehearsals and performances, he would drop by to learn about flowers and cherished spending time with nature, and creating something beautiful from scratch.
"Whenever I get in front of flowers it's like a pas de deux with mother nature," Fairchild says. "If you try and force it, it's not going to happen. You have to breathe and respond. If a flower doesn't want to go in where you're putting it, listen to her—put her on her leg!"
Choosing where to position a stem, or deciding which colors are flattering together often means making quick decisions and being flexible to changes. "I don't know what a bouquet is going to look like when I start, and you shouldn't," he says. "You have to rely on the material to inform what it's going to be."
The process is akin to a pas de deux and your partner is the flower, Fairchild says. "You have to sense where the flower naturally wants to be and learn how to adapt your moves to it."
Being spontaneous with flowers is a welcome change of pace from his usual mentality in the studio, he says. "Ballet dancers are perfectionists, and we think we have to get it right the first time," he says.
Although Fairchild typically lets the flowers themselves inspire his bouquets, he also borrows themes from classical ballets and his own performance experiences.
For example, Fairchild recently made a bouquet based on George Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, featuring blue orchids that resemble the color of the male principal dancer's costume. The August "boo.kit," a monthly flower delivery subscription, includes deep pink and magenta roses that remind him of NYCB's A Midsummer Night's Dream set.
"It's really fun to be inspired in that way, and have a connection to my past as a performer—not that I'm done performing by any means," he says.
In fact, Fairchild's dream is that boo•kay will continue to thrive and serve as steady work so he can still travel and take performance opportunities that come his way. "Now that I'm no longer with NYCB, consistency is so important for my sanity and for my health," he says. He's in the process of building a network of performers who are out of work due to COVID-19 and want to lend a hand with boo.kay.
Someday, Fairchild hopes to see his bouquets onstage at Lincoln Center, in the arms of his fellow dancers—even the men.
"I always envied the women who would get these gorgeous bouquets," Fairchild says, remembering his time in NYCB. Male dancers traditionally aren't presented with flowers at the end of a ballet. "It's a stigma I want to get rid of: flowers are not just for women."