When I spot Neveen Syed at ‘Inspirations’ – the Sogetsu Ikebna Flower Exhibition she has organised at Packages Mall in Lahore, she is engrossed in tweaking a leaf here and a stalk there. Oblivious of her surroundings, she is immersed in what appear to be inconsequential amendments to some of the evocative arrangements created by her students.
But then, hers has always been a labour of love. Syed has spent decades in a profession that for most would be no more than a hobby; the difference is, she knows the value of perfection.
Lahore’s ace florist and event planner, Syed has been on the scene since the time when the ‘scene’ did not even exist. Those were the days of the early nineties and she was catering to a market that was much smaller, yet, perhaps more discerning.
Syed defines herself as “a floral artist because you are creating new designs, which is something I like to do. I started as a florist and I trained at the Constance Spry School of Floristry, a very traditional English flower arrangement school. In those days, I lived in London and I used to drive to Windsor every day. It was an intensive, four-month course.”
Along with this, she was training in Ikebana. In London, she found a Japanese Sogetsu Master and attended classes once a week.
“Sogetsu is one of many schools of Ikebana. Initially, it was very challenging. The primary stages are very rigid, but as you develop in Ikebana, you grow.”
From the onset, Syed was focused. “I planned to come back to Lahore and open a flower shop; I was very sure I wanted to do that.”
As luck would have it, the Pearl-Continental Hotels had recently opened a small shop called Valentine’s; Syed approached the General Manager with her portfolio and “he opened it, closed it and said the shop was mine.”
Shortly after this, she created the décor for her brother’s wedding stage (a first stage for her) and this led to an offer to do the displays for the opening ceremony of the Jinnah International Airport in Lahore. This florist had arrived...
In 1994, she changed Valentine’s name to Narcissus, while the events side of the business was named Narcissus Events.
According to Syed, although she started by doing the floral arrangements for wedding stages, she soon found herself having to do all the other stuff related with the planning, which is when she decided she may as well go into event management.
Over the years, Narcissus has worked for several high-profile events including Princess Diana’s visit to Lahore in 1996 and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit in 1999. In addition to such occasions, Narcissus has regular corporate clients and a host of individual ones.
Then there is Sogetsu. Syed says that when she qualified, her Master told her a day would come when she would want to teach. And she did, three years ago. “Teaching has brought me peace of mind and I am a qualified Sogetsu teacher.”
Narcissus has worked for several high-profile events including Princess Diana’s visit to Lahore in 1996 and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit in 1999. In addition to such occasions, Narcissus has regular corporate clients and a host of individual ones.
Her current batch includes 23 students and the certificates they receive at the end of the training come from Japan. Syed has also taught Sogetsu on PTV. “Ikebana is an art of patience. You have to be able to understand why a stem is placed at a certain angle; when you start, you work with angles. It is like doing flower yoga!”
Syed has also dabbled in landscaping, floral sculpture and teaching other forms of floral art apart from Sogetsu. She is a founder member of the Floral Arts Society in Lahore, which was set up over 20 years ago. Today it has branches in Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar and has brought recognition to Pakistan on an international competition level. “Our contingent is usually 40-strong and we return home with 20 to 25 prizes.”
Syed’s love for flowers stems from her childhood. Her mother trained in Ikebana in Washington D.C. and her father, Dr Shaukat Ali Syed (one of Pakistan’s foremost cardiologists in his time) was well-known for the bonsais he grew all his life. Her budding love of horticulture first found expression in the competitions she participated in at the Home Economics College in Karachi.
“Once you start to win, you have the urge to do better. And you have to be passionate; I love horticulture and my knowledge of plants is self-taught. I love to garden and I am now looking after my late father’s bonsais.”
Over the course of her successful 25-year career, Syed has seen trends come and go.
“A great deal changed with the internet. Earlier, the client base was smaller. Today, the market is much larger and there is also a mixed sensibility and a demand for all sorts of styles. Artificial flowers are also used at events because they control the cost. I feel we used to do a lot more creative work earlier on.”
Fareeha Rafique is a freelance writer.