In The Magazine

Life In Full Bloom

Tuesday, February 2, 2016
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Most people know Frederique van der Wal for her captivating beauty, which made her a supermodel in the late 1980s and ’90s. But while the world was admiring her on the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine and Victoria’s Secret catalogues, and Azzedine Alaïa was designing with her as his muse, van der Wal had her own source for beauty. “I was born in Holland, and I like to say the seed was planted then,” she says. She’s talking about flowers—a consistent anchor of happiness in her adventuresome and sometimes frenetic supermodel life, and, as of 2008, her trade. When we meet in her New York City industrial-chic office, her cheekbones are as high and chiseled as ever. But, when she begins talking about her passion for flowers and what they mean to her as a Dutch woman, it is hard to believe she ever had a different career.


“Wherever you go in Holland, every house, every front walk is beautifully done with flowers. It’s so part of your upbringing there,” says van der Wal. When she came to America, she immediately felt the absence of flowers on the corners of streets and lining walkways. “When you leave a home country or a hometown, there are certain things that you notice only when you leave,” she says. “I think when you leave, you understand even more how much that thing is part of your being,” so coming from Holland, she explains, “I will always have licorice in the house. I will always have flowers in the house.”


Van der Wal was born in The Hague in 1967, and never anticipated a career that would take her across the ocean. She studied economics and thought she might run a hotel, but, as the story often goes, at age 18 she was “discovered” and moved to New York City to model. She quickly landed a contract with American Vogue and did her first cover for French Vogue, and her career took off.


She loved modeling for all of the excitement and opportunities it provided: namely, traveling the world and collaborating with top creative professionals. But she had always had what she describes as “an entrepreneurial spirit mixed in with creativity,” and, well, as fate would have it her career was skyrocketing at the same time that supermodels were becoming superstars with super marketability.


We all know the names, the faces and the empires that they sit atop: Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell . . . Van der Wal was right in there, and lent her name to a number of licensing deals. The most memorable for her was creating a fragrance that she wanted to emulate taking the first inhalation of a bouquet of clean, white flowers.


As a world-recognized supermodel and brand name, van der Wal is revered with pride and joy in her native Holland. In 2005, they celebrated and honored their golden girl with the most appropriate honor: they dedicated a flower to her. “I was like, ‘Oh my God! I’m going to be in the Dutch Hall of Fame!’ ” They asked her to come to Holland and have a choice in the exact flower they  would devote to her. “I was brought into the greenhouse and met several parents I liked!” she says, through laughter. “It really goes like that—they take the stems and they have ‘sex’ with each other, and you try this one and that one and they combine differently.” Together, they created a white and pink lily that was named Frederique’s Choice. There was an energetic ceremony and celebration in Amsterdam’s Keukenhof gardens, where the Dutch fashion foundation chose young designers, and van der Wal hired models from Elite who strutted in a garden runway show lined with Frederique’s Choice lilies.


The experience of creating Frederique’s Choice was so fascinating for van der Wal that she was inspired to develop, produce and host a television program called The Invisible Journey. It aired on the Discovery Channel and traced the origins of flower centerpieces used at a New York City baby shower from the growing fields in Kenya, through the auctions in the Netherlands and to the wholesalers in New York and onto the tables at the event.


The experience and feedback were both positive, and van der Wal had an aha moment. Eponymous to her flower, Frederique’s Choice, the flower delivery and subscription service was born in 2008 in Holland. “It’s a bit of a turned-around story because normally you say, ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” But Holland is the flower country—and, by the way, the Dutch are quite critical. So, in this case, it’s “If you can make it in Holland, you can make it anywhere,’ ” says van der Wal. They are thriving in the Netherlands and Germany, so she began offering services to American consumers along the East Coast last year. Van der Wal has a direct hand in selecting the flowers and designing the bouquets. All flowers go direct from growers to the Frederique’s Choice workshops, and then to consumers. They cut out the step of a florist shop, keeping the prices relatively low and the quality of each arrangement within their control.


In New York, van der Wal has also collaborated with Anthropologie and Urban Space to bring pop-up shops so people can see, feel and experience the brands. She also recorded a new 10-episode TV series titled HomeGrown Makeover with Frederique and Carter, which began airing in January on A&E’s FYI network and aims to teach people how to integrate flowers and plants into daily life and decor. “In America, people are starting to think more holistically; they’re embracing green juices and yoga, asking ‘How can we make our lives happier and healthier?’ Flowers are proven to be a part of that,” says van der Wal, who certainly puts that principal into practice: Fifteen years ago, she and screenwriter Nicholas Klein bought a 1790s Dutch farmhouse on 19 acres of land in Rhinebeck, New York, when she was pregnant with their daughter, Scyler. That still serves as her weekend retreat, and she gravitates toward the High Line (she notes that Piet Oudolf, the High Line’s garden designer, is Dutch too) when she needs to take in nature during the week.


As an entrepreneur van der Wal is practical: she believes in working out kinks and then growing. Once Frederique’s Choice has been operating smoothly in the Maine-to-Virginia region it is in now, she plans to expand, eventually across the United States. “I’ve been the name and face of so many brands, and here you have a such a beautiful product: flowers, and yet there is no brand as we know it—a vision, idea, style. In flowers, we know florists, but we don’t have a way of saying that wherever you are in the world the flowers themselves have a recognized style and quality to them, an overall feel,” says van der Wal of her mission. “I think I found my calling.” Φ


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