How I Gather

Bringing people together around a table is our greatest passion in life and we believe food is one of the most powerful tools for connection. But what makes a gathering meaningful? In our series, How I Gather we go behind the scenes of our favorite chefs, foodies, and tastemakers to answer that question.  See All

She’s fully in touch with her sensuality, laughs easily and loves beautiful things, and has a magnetism that can only be possessed by the few who aren’t trying… Am I describing the muse who inspired Elle’s Boutique, or the owner herself, Elle Florescu? You decide. Sometimes, there’s a founder who so embodies the brand they’ve created that it’s hard to know where one stops, and the other begins.

Florescu opened the doors of Elle’s Boutique, the Austin-based shop celebrating “a modern representation of pleasure and intimacy” at the beginning of the pandemic, and turns out, a year when everyone stays home isn’t a bad time to launch a brand that speaks to more intimate pursuits. Of designing the space, she first imagined how she wanted people to feel when they walked through its doors.

“I wanted the space to feel like a Milanese living room from the 1970s—though it’s a retail concept, I wanted it to feel like a relaxed gathering where people felt inspired, curious and playful. There is always a nice bottle of chilled rose, a titillating atmosphere, and the promise of evocative conversation.”

To celebrate a season of festivity, Elle invited a few friends to the shop for a holiday cocktail party with simple yet decadent bites, spiked eggnog, and seasonal revelry. Scroll on for the chic party details (including that olive oil cake recipe) and her secret to a great gathering. Hint: it involves adventure.

How do you approach hosting a gathering?

For me, it’s all about variety—I enjoy bringing different minds together. I’m sincerely not much of a planner, but the beauty of our location is that we reside next to some favorite local restaurants. I can grab delicious cheeses and charcuterie from Swedish Hill or a dozen oysters from Clark’s across the street. In terms of drinks, we like to batch a cocktail for special occasions; otherwise, it’s straightforward cocktails and rosé.

Tell us about the Elle’s Boutique bungalow—it’s such an incredible space.

The bungalow was built in the 1930s, and it looked entirely different when we first acquired it. Given its limited footprint, we needed to dress it with a sense of grandness, so we lifted the ceilings, took down most of the walls, and installed skylights and arches.

The form is defined by the different emotional experiences I hoped to elicit in each interior space. In the main room, I wanted clients to feel curious, playful, and comfortable, which is why we designed it to feel as much like a living room as possible.

Much of the inspiration came from Milan-based architect and designer Vincenzo De Cotiis – the bold colors, the rich textures, the custom furniture. We used a deep blue blackish plaster for the main retail space, a terra cotta plaster in the kitchen, both by Sloan Houser. The furniture was predominantly custom or vintage sourced. In the main space, the pendant light is a Poulsen sourced from Sputnik in Dallas. Two suede LC3 chairs are by Le Corbusier for Cassina that I found on 1stdibs. The four burgundy Cassina cab chairs had been passed down to me by my mother.

The dressing room was designed to be a space of security, sexiness, and luxury. I wanted people to relax in this space, not feel rushed. The lighting, the custom-designed mohair couch, the luscious shearling rug all contributed to this sense of sensual performance. There are no overhead lights, the mirror is backlit to create a flattering glow and all the lights are on a dimmer. My favorite element of the entire space is the paint utilized in the dressing room. The light reflects off a high-gloss lacquer red paint from Fine Paints of Europe to create a luminous glow. A vintage bar cart that’s always stocked keeps people relaxed and entertained. All the senses are intended to be engaged here.

What does a great gathering look like for you?

Adventure in the form of conversation or activity. I like a gathering to either be rooted in something very specific, or completely nonchalant. Either way, a gathering should be considered. If anchored in an activity, it could involve an outdoor paella picnic, a great meal after a planned group bike ride, or gambling over dice.

Even an impromptu gathering can still be thoughtful; to me, easygoing and deliberate should coexist. It’s all in the details—a wonderful cheese, the considered dishware, the music, the scents.

Walk us through a typical day for you.

I typically wake up around 8:00 and roll around in bed, snuggling with our two dogs. I love this time in the morning; I feel calm and peaceful. My fiancé Larry puts on a record and we have coffee together on our patio, in our two chairs. This ends relatively abruptly when I realize I am running late for something—a workout, a meeting, etc. I certainly don’t have a workday uniform; the same applies to anyone who works at the boutique. Freedom of expression is hugely important to me. Sometimes it’s baggy trousers and a t-shirt, sometimes it’s a form-fitting leather dress. My mood informs my attire, and it can range anywhere from androgynous casual, to salacious, to mismatched socks.

Nearly every day is different, and it’s what I love most about what I do. Usually, I try to accomplish both a bit of creative work and a bit of begrudging work. The mornings begin with a design or development meeting of some sort—I am currently involved in a bar project with MML that is slated to open in March and a hotel concept in Aspen. Afterward, I head to the store to touch base with my team. We’ll review inventory needs, marketing initiatives, upcoming photoshoots, event bookings, and depending on the year, have a zoom market appointment with a vendor. In the afternoons, I try to set aside a chunk of time to get into Quickbooks, financial plan, and catch up on email. I enjoy being in the store late afternoons & early evenings to see clients and chat with friends who swing by.

Evenings are spent cooking at home and relaxing with Larry. Or, if he’s in the middle of a restaurant opening, I’m likely at the restaurant with friends for the tenth night in a row. I tend to vacillate between extremes–there is rarely an in-between.

What do you drink and eat in the morning?

Coffee or lemonade, but mostly lemonade. I swear I am the only adult ordering lemonade at Swedish Hill in the morning. I’m not really a breakfast person, but if I am hungry, I rummage around in the panty for some nuts or beef jerky. I know, I have bizarre breakfast habits…

Get the recipe for Dairy-Free Nogtini here.

What are 3 products you love for the table?

I love the subtle elegance of Tracie Hervy ceramics and Carriere Freres candles. Heather Rosenman from LA also creates these exceptionally beautiful vases. She’s an incredibly talented artist inspired by ancient Cycladic figures. I am drawn corporeal nature of her pieces; I find them magnetic.

What’s your must-have cooking tool?

A cutting board and a sharp knife. They can be at once functional and beautiful.

Your favorite cookbook?

The River Café London, the Thirty Years of Recipes edition. The recipes themselves are inspired and simple, and the cookbook is a love letter to the restaurant that Ruth Rogers and her now-deceased partner, Rose Gray, built together. It’s a chronicle of their memories, victories, and joys. Every time I read Ruth’s letter in the foreword, I can feel her passion for her beloved partner and friend, and the amazing journey they embarked upon together. It’s really a story of friendship and adventure.

What will we always find in your refrigerator?

Arugula, Parmesan, Olives

What scares you about entertaining and why?

I’ve always been at ease entertaining. I am the product of a big, frenetic, messy family. Both my parents are big entertainers – my mom hailing from a wild ass Texas family and my dad, from a large, boisterous European family. Being raised in the chaos of this dynamic, I grew accustomed to entertaining spontaneously. I grew up making charcuterie boards with them or even bartending their parties. It has always felt natural.

Your signature drink or dishes for gatherings?

Tomato-Poached Fish with Chile Oil and Herbs

What’s one tip for someone who wants to host a gathering on a budget?

Keep things simple & elegant. The ambiance is much more valuable than things. Lighting is paramount. Candles, good music, a good bottle of wine.

Favorite conversation starter?

“If you didn’t know me, what would you assume I do for a living?” A friend recently told me he’d assume I work the floor at Zumiez.

The perfect dinner party playlist includes:

D’Angelo

Go-to centerpiece solution:

A burlap runner with a wild assortment of cut flowers. I love a natural, tonal centerpiece – one that incorporates the nearby elements.

What is your no-stress party rule to live by?

The more at ease the host, the more at ease the guests.

Get the recipe for Elle’s favorite olive oil cake here.

Dream dinner guests?

  • Sally Mann
  • Robyn Davidson
  • Jane Jacobs

A perfect meal should…

…always start on the later side.

It’s not a party without…

…some characters.

Every host should know how to…

…make someone feel comfortable.

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Photography

Michelle Nash Instagram