Presage Magazine: It’s great to sit down with you both and hear a bit about your story and how The Fleurish House came to be. How did you two meet and what were you doing before The Fleurish House was born?
Francesca Maria: We met at a birthday party in Miami, where we both grew up. My cousin was dating his best friend 11 years ago. We were babies then; I had just started doing hair professionally and Michael hadn’t even bought his first camera yet—he was working as a production assistant at the time. We didn’t yet understand the scope of where we were going to go with these new passions. Michael became a photo/production assistant for 6 years and during that time, I got further into hair and makeup assisting. When we started dating, we were on big magazine sets and campaigns as assistants, learning and being around big names like Nautica, Victoria Secret, Vogue and Allure. We were sponges; learning from the people we were assisting and surrounding ourselves with the kinds of clients we’d like to have ourselves one day. When we got engaged we had the opportunity to move to NYC with a company that moved us out to open a photo studio. Matthieu and David (from Atmosfera, where Presage hosts monthly events) were the first photographers we hired. Then I started leading hair and makeup and I got signed with an agency as a hair and makeup artist. Now I work with brands like Aeropostale, NY & Co, Saks 5th Avenue.
Michael Alexander: For me the transition into NYC was different. I was assisting with similar jobs for quite a bit and dealing with imposter syndrome, so it took me longer to step out of the shadows. Creating The Fleurish House was an important step for me to break out of that and Francesca was a huge support for me. She’s helped me embrace doing more of what I love, be ok with leaving assisting and stepping into something I can take ownership of. We’ve been married for 3 years and when we moved here in 2019 to open the studio, we didn’t get a chance to start on our own stuff. Then the pandemic happened. We had just moved to NYC and we were figuring things out and the pandemic compounded that feeling of “now what?” Francesca’s support has helped me realize my capabilities and get out there and push past those doubts.
Presage Magazine: We love to see partners pushing each other to embrace more of themselves and grow professionally. What was it about the idea of The Fleurish House that led you to go all in?
FM: We really loved the idea of putting a brand to the concept of togetherness. Especially the idea of marketing us as a team, so we can make money together. I wanted something more for us than just working in the fashion industry and climbing that ladder individually; I wanted us to create something self-sufficient, that was our own. We enjoy working together and the idea that we could create something that would allow us to bring our future children on-set when we start a family, or step away from when we chose to retire and it would still make money, is really exciting. It’s a family business at the end of the day because we’re creating it ourselves. We make the rules. If you’re working on someone else’s set, you can’t really have that level of autonomy. We did it because we want to grow with the brands we’re partnering with. We’re not just the creatives, we’re their strategic partner and we’re helping their brands stand out in the digital marketplace through impactful visuals. The Fleurish House gives us an opportunity to do that over and over again with different brands. We’re lucky because we launched our careers in Miami where we had a large network. We were working on astronomical production sets with names Candice Swanepoel, Oribe Canales and Carnival Cruise Lines from the very beginning. So that’s the kind of experience, professionalism and thoughtfulness we’re able to give to the clients we work with.
MA: Our experience in the industry prior to The Fleurish House really differentiates us from other production companies out there, there aren’t that many people that have what we have. We aren’t just two people that are dreaming; we know what a high level production consists of and what we need to do and that excites us. Outside of Francesca and I, it’s really about community and surrounding ourselves with like-minded artists. There’s a sense of gatekeeping that’s part of the industry– a hazing almost. So many photo assistants I’ve worked with give up on their careers because of the crushing anxiety that they’ll never be enough. We’ve both experienced that negative side of the industry countless times, that “maybe this isn’t for me?” feeling and It’s scary, pouring so much time and energy in a career and feeling that way. So we decided to approach things differently, to be the change and give people a sense of safety. Maybe my photo style isn’t for a particular brand but I have a community of fellow artists that I can refer them to and that’s one of the ultimate goals for us. There’s enough work out there for all of us to be able to eat, so I think of The Fleurish House as a house and a home for artists.
PM: What does Fleurish mean to you? How did this name come about?
FM: We went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden during the cherry blossom season in 2021 and I’ve always loved flowers; anything floral print reminds me of my grandmother. She’s the big inspiration of my life. One evening shortly after, I was sitting on the couch and the word “Fleurish” hit me like a ton of bricks. I started buying domain names and then when we realized what day it was, April 21 2021; Earth Day! I love ambition. It gets me excited to talk about work, my goals and growth. I’m a Capricorn and I’m all about that money, girl.
MA: Capricorn to the max (lol).
FM: Exactly a year later, we went through coaching programs and really applied ourselves, opened an LLC formally and hard launched on our social media accounts. We did an Instagram Live, popped champagne and had a launch email to get our name out there. We really created this hype around this new brand we were launching and that as the day we signed our first client, a power couple of attorneys wanted editorial style photos for their practice. They signed on with us because of the Instagram launch we did!
PM: What a strong start. It’s inspiring that so much of this happened in the cocoon of the pandemic. Necessity being the mother of invention, you both took this stagnancy and re-evaluation we were all feeling during that time and turned it into a flourishing business!
MA: That’s what we were doing even before The Fleurish House. In April 2020, when we were staying with family in Miami, we did an editorial with mannequins in gowns. It was ironic because the streets of Miami Beach were empty; the pandemic was in full swing and we couldn’t book models. We titled it “When Miami Stood Still.” Social distancing was in effect but we wanted to continue shooting. We went to our client’s showroom with masks on, she was tossing us dresses from the edge of the room. We borrowed a friend’s car, figured out what we needed to do to make it work and we got a lot of press for it.
FM: Covid forced us to figure things out. Back then we were shooting a lot of product photography and had control over how clean and sanitized things were. A lot of our beginning shoots were actually in our living room and that work started putting momentum in our direction. Eventually our work (that was shot in our living room) was used for campaigns in the subway here in NYC. It was great to get an early taste of the work we do now back then.
PM: I loved that editorial. It speaks so much to the energy you both bring to your work! Let’s talk a bit about that. How do your energies and skill sets work together to make The Fleurish House successful?
MA: Typically a hair and makeup artist paired with a photographer does make sense. In any photoshoot, regardless of the level, there are certain hats that need to be worn. You’re always going to need hair and makeup, a stylist, a location, and so forth. The producer is the person that brings these talents together. What I feel happens most of the time is all these things are getting done, but people don’t realize that it’s even happening. When Francesca and I thought about what The Fleurish House is and what differentiates it from other production companies out there, it’s our background and experience. But that background and experience has to be seen. Francesca is the more outgoing, visible person and, for me, it helps tremendously. Having her energy out there, putting us on the map, has been crucial to the growth we’ve had so far.
FM: First and foremost, The Fleurish House can’t exist without Michael. His photography is the focal point around The Fleurish House, it’s a brand, photography and production company, but I only want to produce Michael’s photos. I love producing because I love the problem solving aspect of it– putting together the pieces of the puzzle. But if Michael isn’t the photographer I wouldn’t produce. I would just continue being a hair and makeup artist on my own. Producing for Michael is like a breath of fresh air. His work is amazing. I think he’s a great photographer and I proudly stand by it and believe in it. He says I have the personality that attracts people but he actually resonates with a lot of people, they gravitate towards him. He makes people feel comfortable and people are drawn to that. Whatever I can’t handle on my own, he handles. We balance each other and we’re not alone. We depend on each other and it creates this balance.
PM: I can see that Michael leans into his authenticity and vulnerability, even in bringing up imposter syndrome earlier in this interview. That’s powerful. It’s a universal experience whether people choose to acknowledge it or not and I love that you’re each there to remind the other of who you are and the strengths you possess.
MA: There were so many months where I quit emotionally and Francesca never let me give up on myself. She’d call me out and it was tough love but I needed it at that moment.
FM: And it isn’t all clouds, rainbows and unicorns. It’s hard to really draw a hard line between roles when you have a business with your significant other. Turning off your business hat when you’re always working with the person you’re at home with makes for a difficult work life balance. I may be upset with my business partner, but my husband didn’t do anything wrong and vice versa, so it almost feels like you’re living a double life. It’s super rewarding but it does come with a lot of hard work and requires you to communicate with each other and work things out in therapy. It’s been a huge lesson not only for our business and for our relationship.
PM: What goals do you have now for The Fleurish House as it enters its second year?
MA: I’d like us to work with more enterprise level clients. I think that our work is worthy of being represented on a larger scale and I know we’re capable of it. The level of work we’re producing is great and we’re optimistic because we’ve started working with some skincare and beauty clients, so we’d like to continue growing more in that higher level of photo and advertising work.
FM: We launched last year and, in building The Fleurish House, we started working with a more entrepreneurial clientele. Our idea was to start with smaller businesses and grow with them as they got bigger. But all businesses don’t grow at the same pace and now we feel that the more enterprise clients would benefit most from the production level we’re able to offer. What we bring to the table, with the photography, hair, makeup, production, videography, wardrobe styling, prop styling, and creative direction, is a set of services that would best fit a team that has a marketing budget Ultimately, that’s the work that excites us. And we want more of that consistently. I’m agency represented in my HMU career, so I’m technically running two businesses. I’d love for The Fleurish House to get big enough to hire a team. Not having to do it all on our own would be amazing. With that said, I’m really proud of the growth we’ve had so far just in this one year. We’ve had a lot of clients with big budgets and even got a cover for the January issue of Women’s Fitness magazine.
PM: We’ll be rooting for you from the sidelines and we look forward to The Fleurish House booming for years to come.