Conversation held on May 2, 2020
Have you been quarantined alone, or do you have company?
I’m alone. I went through a break up just before quarantine, which was funky timing. We broke up, and then literally a day later, COVID became very real, and it was like, “You guys both have it. You’re going to need to stay inside.” This is actually the first day where I’m living outside of that.
What was that like?
Knock on wood, but it was actually no big deal. Physically, there were body chills and aches, and that weird loss of smell, which was a bummer. But really, that was it for me—although obviously, that’s not the universal experience.
In a way, I felt very lucky, because we were able to care for each other, even though we were both grieving the loss of our relationship and trying to figure out how to be. It was really cool to have that care. I feel now like I’m really living alone, and that’s great—I’m kind of a solo flyer—but when you’re sick and you’re uncertain about what the sickness is, and what’s going on in the world, it’s nice to have someone to go through that with.
So the two of you are still close?
Yes, definitely. I mean, it was really not fun, but it’s just one of those moving parts that’s not moving in the right way anymore, so you’ve got to figure out a graceful way of separating. It’s funky right now, but I think we’re going to be really good. I also feel like all of these changes corresponded with a lot of change happening in the world: right as everyone was going into quarantine, I had this heart rupture, and then, just as we were settling into this new situation, I had to move and reroute to this new space, with new noises and smells. Thankfully, I really, really love house decorating, which has made things easier. I was feeling sad, but I was also kind of stoked, because despite the breakup and not having a foreseeable income, it’s actually been really cool to have some personal time. I never have days off, and now I’ve been able to nest and move things five inches back and forth for three hours at a time.
Right! I do the same thing, especially when I’m supposed to be working. I put a thing here, and then I put a thing there. I look at it from all of the angles, and then I end up putting it back over here. (laughs)
Exactly! Fortunately, that’s my regular job, which is really a blessing.
Have you ever read Arranging Things by Leonard Koren? It’s all about strategies of arrangement, negotiating relationships between objects.
No, I haven’t.
You might enjoy it. Actually, he’s someone you might enjoy overall. He’s known for his writings on wabi-sabi, but he also has a book called The Flower Shop that’s essentially a written documentary of a flower shop in Vienna, where he’s talking about the art of being a good florist, the balance of aesthetic sensibilities and technical skill.
What? Oh, my goodness, that sounds amazing. I’m so excited to look into this! I’m actually looking at my bookshelf right now, and I see something that reminds me of what you’re describing: In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.
Yes! That book is also amazing. A similar line of thought, for sure. So you mentioned that quarantine’s had some impact on your business as well. Obviously, your work depends to a large extent on in-person events, which aren’t really happening at the moment. How have you adjusted?
Well, there have definitely been moments where I’ve been freaking out about it. Until there are gatherings of people again, I really don’t have an income, because 90% of my business was via events, like galas and dinners and weddings. So in the meantime, I’m trying to be creative about it. I’ve been hunkering down and telling myself, “Okay, listen, self. This isn’t going to go back to whatever semblance of normal we had before. It’s going to be new, and now you need to figure out a new structure and a new business model to adapt to that.” I’ve done a few things here and there, like deliveries and classes and friends’ birthdays, but those really don’t bring in any money. So I just decided to kind of go nuts and push those things more, to the point where it’s financially sustainable.
I actually just sent out an email for the business, which I’ve never done before. I’m pretty much a philistine when it comes to technology, but I have this really sweet assistant who was able to put it all together, compile an email list, and send it out. I kind of felt like an asshole doing it, to be honest, but I was like, “Oh, well. Businesses do it every day. That’s life.” So my assistant sent it out at maybe 6pm last night, and I went to have dinner with my ex, because we’ve been co-parenting my dog. By the time I got home and was getting into the bath, I opened my email and discovered we’d gotten this miraculous response: there were seven or eight orders, and all of these other replies with really, really kind notes of encouragement. I was sitting in the bath, looking at all of this, and just started crying. I’m not very good at asking for help. I’m not even a very good team worker. I just like to do the things by myself, or maybe with some friends, and I don’t really ever want to bug anybody about it. So to take that step and get such a warm response was a really beautiful, sort of alchemical experience. Obviously, for a business to send out an email is no big deal, but it felt like a big deal to me. I don’t know what I’m doing right now, and I don’t know how it’s all going to work, so to have people be so encouraging meant a lot.
That’s so important, especially right now. No one has any answers. We’re navigating completely blind, so it’s great to have a community, with friends who can say, “I’m here. I want to help you. I want to be there for you.”
Exactly—but it also makes you realize that it’s always been that way. We’ve always been in this position of never truly knowing what’s going to happen next, what our situation’s going to be like and who we can truly count on. That’s one of the really interesting things about this moment: it’s so dark and so bright, all at once. It’s like, yes, this sucks, but things always have sucked, and we’ve been able to find good things within that. Right now, it’s just louder, so we have to be more creative and more insistent and more caring in order to find them again.
Are you able to work from home? Or do you have a separate studio that you usually work from?
Yes, I have a studio on Hester and Orchard, although I haven’t been there much recently. My studiomates were like, “We’re not going,” so I said, “Okay, works for me.” But I think we’ll slowly figure it out, maybe by doing a rotation where we’re using the space separately. But like I said, I don’t have much need for it at the moment—I don’t really have any jobs right now, except for these deliveries that popped up last night, and for those, I’m just going to do bike deliveries using bodega flowers and night-foraged flowers.
You’re foraging in the city?
Yes. I don’t know if I should call it foraging, because really, it’s just finding things here and there, taking branches from spring trees that are blossoming on the streets. There’s plenty of branches, though—it’s not like I’m destroying the trees, or going through people’s gardens stealing flowers. I’ve also reached out to a bunch of growers, local gardeners upstate and in Jersey; they’re very much wanting to sell their stuff, so I think I’m going to buy a car so I can make those trips. I just really don’t want to give up the studio, because it’s my favorite place in the world.
I’ve always wanted a studio in the city. Working in Brooklyn’s been more convenient for me so far, but someday I’d like to make that happen.
It made more sense for me, because all my work was in the city. I couldn’t rationalize going up to the flower market every morning, then going back to Brooklyn to work, and then going back to the city with the finished product. That wouldn’t have been worth it at the time—but for now, nothing’s happening for me in the city, so I might as well be making things here at home.
Is that something you could see becoming a more regular thing, even post-pandemic?
Yes, although I don’t really want it to. I’m not a big “work and play” mixer—I really like to draw a line. But for now, it works. My new apartment’s in a little building, with a cute little backyard and garden, so I can just hang back there and work and then get on my bike.
One of the things that sets Fleurotica apart is how you’ve complemented your floral offerings with branded merch, which I love—the long-sleeve tees and hoodies, of course, but even just the logo itself is great. The presentation is always really beautiful and sensual and fun. I’d be curious to know how the branding evolved, but also to what extent you can rely on these items now for some additional revenue?
Thank you! My friend Sarah Rabin made the logo. She’s an amazing little firecracker of a human who works at Dimes but is also an illustrator and graphic designer. I asked her to do something like the 1940s flower paper that you see in all the bodegas, where it says “Flowers” in red on white. I’d originally wanted to make a similar kind of paper for my flowers that would say “Fleurotica,” so she used the font to create this graphic, and I just liked it so much that I made it my logo. People immediately responded to it. I don’t know why—maybe sex sells, and they think “Fleurotica” sounds hot. But anyway, people really liked it, so I started making shirts with a screen-printer friend, and things went from there. It’s not really something I could rely on exclusively for my income—the clothing pieces are all hand-made and one-off, so the process is too slow to make enough of them for it to turn any real profit—but it does help.
Floral arrangement is your livelihood, but it’s also an art form, a craft grounded in intuition and imagination. Have you missed having that creative outlet during this time?
Oh yes, definitely. I don’t really have one right now, and I’m noticing that I feel different, emotionally. Before Fleurotica, I’d always worked in restaurants; this is actually the first year since I was 15 that I haven’t. I ran Dimes, and then Diner before that. That was something I thought I was going to do vocationally until I died; I always thought I’d open a restaurant—and who knows, I still might—but working with flowers changed everything for me. I was kind of sad for most of my life, so when I found flowers, it was almost evangelical, because I realized I just hadn’t felt like I was allowed to be creative before. My family was always like, “You’ve got to work. You have to survive and provide, and only then do you get to do the fun stuff.” In that sense, the flowers definitely served as a kind of therapy, because I’d found a way to be creative while still making a few bucks. I’m still learning how to do things solely for the sake of fun and creativity, without an element of work to it—just taking a day off, relaxing, making a collage or something. But for now, decorating my new place has been a nice middle ground, in a way, because I’m thinking a lot about relationships and art and space, and that feels creative, too. It feels like making a giant arrangement.
I love that. So how long have you been in New York?
I moved here almost exactly six years ago.
Did you start working at Diner straight away?
Yes. I actually wrote to them while I was on the road, moving here from Portland. I had visited New York on a job and ate there, and it felt like nowhere I’d ever been before. Portland has a particular kind of food scene—very farm-to-table—and Diner had a similar vibe. That whole thing is oft-parodied now, but at the time, it still felt really fresh and new. People were being very specific in their choices surrounding food, figuring out how to cook in conscious-yet-creative ways, but it wasn’t so much about manipulating the ingredients than about celebrating them. I was really excited about that, and I was really excited about wine, too, so I felt very lucky to have landed at Diner. It was very much in line with my own kind of personal journey.
I eventually left because it started to feel a little bro-y. It’s all a bunch of dudes at the top—which is great, I love dudes—but in the restaurant world, it can get kind of intense in that way. Like, chef-y. (laughs) The focus started being more about “empires” and celebrity rather than just food and wine, which is what I wanted to concentrate on. I was more interested in something really simple: just people sitting down and eating a lot and drinking a lot and talking and thinking. So that’s when I went to work at Dimes, and that was the most perfect fit. I stayed there for three years and was totally in love with it. It’s very art-oriented there—everyone that works there is an artist—and I learned so much from Sabrina [De Sousa] and Alissa [Wagner] about running a business. It was just heaven.
What finally led you to leave?
Well, I only left because I got this funky opportunity to open a little shop. Without telling me, my friends—two sisters that are friends of mine—put me up for this pop-up space in the West Village, sponsored by this big real estate company who was having a sort of open call for submissions from young entrepreneurs who needed a physical space for their business. My friends made up that I was a florist and submitted me for a flower shop there. Somehow, I got it, so I was offered this space rent-free—the company wanted a small percentage of sales each month, but you’d get this budget to remodel the space. It was insane, but I did it: I quit my job, made an LLC, bought an old table, hired some really sweet girls that still work with me, and the rest is history.
Do you think there’s something about the simplicity or directness that initially drew you to food and wine that translates to your work with flowers?
Yes. I think about this all the time. It’s just the same. For one thing, it’s all stuff that comes out of the earth, but then we work with it, which means manipulating and sometimes adding to it. I hate to admit it, because it makes me feel so guilty and embarrassed, but in FlowerLand, they’re adding a lot of chemicals and doing a lot of intervention in terms of how they’re treating the plant—and unfortunately, that sometimes translates to how they’re treating the people who work in processing arenas, and how they’re shipping them, and the types of resources they’re using.
I’m not proud of what’s going on in this world at all, but I’m guilty, because I tend to prefer using certain kinds of flowers in my arrangements. I like really bushy, juicy, over the top, generous flowers, and a lot of those are coming from far away. I like tropical orchids. I like roses that come from Oregon and California. These flowers just don’t grow locally. I have to get those delivered, and although I can be sure they were raised organically, the ones that I can afford are still coming from places like Africa and Columbia and Chile. They’re a lot cheaper, but also a lot brighter and more resilient, probably due to chemical treatments.
So you end up contending with the same questions you’d have with food: labor practices, quality and locality of ingredients, and so on.
Right. Obviously, there’s a lot of discussion about how food is being grown and harvested and distributed. That’s been happening for a long time, whereas I think the discussions around flowers are way behind. No one’s making documentaries or television shows or writing books about it, so most people really don’t have any sense of what’s going on. At some point, I’d love for it to be similar to what’s happening with food. I want to work with natural elements and be creative with them, while also being respectful in the way they’re being consumed. I’d like to work with them rather than manipulating them too much.
I’ve always wondered about that element in your work: the balance between guiding your materials and being guided by them. It sounds like you’re interested in establishing a reciprocal relationship with the elements in your arrangements.
Definitely. I’m pretty impatient and intuitive in my flower work: I never make a plan, never draft anything. I just kind of make stuff and get messy about it—which is fun, because I’m not that way in the rest of my life. I’m almost OCD most of the time, but with flowers, I can be all over the place, and I think that’s why it often feels more like listening than dictating. Making the work feels like a response to something. It just feels natural. I want things to be organic—composed, but not too composed—and I’ve learned that listening is the way you get there. It’s about stepping back and saying, “Well, what do the flowers want to do?” I just follow their lead, really.
Totally. I caught your IG livestream a few days ago with Tafv Sampson, and you talked a bit about Nageirebana, which makes a lot of sense to me in looking at your work: that loose, spontaneous approach to arranging, where you reflect certain traditional principles but still allow things to unfold intuitively. You also brought up Munari’s A Flower with Love, which is one of my all-time favorites.
I’m looking at it right now! I’ve literally got it right in front of me.
One of the things I really appreciate about that book is how open and inventive Munari is in selecting his materials. He makes a point of using simple household items as vessels and incorporating found objects as elements in the arrangement: a string bean, a dandelion, a random stick.
I love that about him. I feel like there are a couple of people that helped me open up and think about arrangements that way. Even before I started doing flowers full-time, I did some assistant’s work for my friend Marissa [Competello], who does Metaflora. We met at Dimes; she was doing our flowers at the time, and she and I formed a friendship.
Her work is really beautiful.
Marissa’s incredible. Obviously, her stuff is very different from mine—her arrangements are very controlled—but I think we both share these core principles of composition, juxtaposition, thinking about flowers in a more sculptural capacity. Anyway, she was the one who told me to take my first ikebana class, from this really lovely teacher called Junko [Miura].
How was that?
Oh my god, I loved it. Everyone I meet, I’m like, “Just go take Junko’s class, because it’s life-changing.”
I wonder if she’s doing virtual classes during quarantine?
I bet she is. I loved her approach because it’s not too rigid. If I went to study in Japan, I’m sure it’d be way more in-depth and rule-y. Junko’s Japanese, but I think she makes some concessions for her American students. In traditional ikebana, you’re supposed to be very precise: set your clippers down silently, use a protractor to make sure there’s a certain number of degrees between certain branches. That might sound good to some people, but it makes me want to run the other direction. I definitely respect it, but I couldn’t do it that way. Junko’s approach was a better fit for me.
Taking that class totally opened my mind. I hadn’t known much about ikebana before that, but I got really into it and bought a bunch of books. That was really my formal training: I just spent hours and hours reading, looking, studying. At the same time, Sabrina has this incredible mindset around art, and she was exposing me to a lot of artists I hadn’t known, including Bruno Munari, who I immediately fell in love with. As all of this was happening, I started noticing how artists in our community were doing interesting things sculpturally, going beyond traditional treatments of the material and looking at things in more abstract ways. So through these different sources, over the last few years, I ended up giving myself an accidental art education, which made me realize that flowers didn’t always have to feel like flowers.
Do you feel like you’ve developed a signature style of arranging?
I think there’s a certain personality or sensibility that comes across in my work. It’s an interesting question, though, because something I’ve been struggling with lately is that once you get quote-unquote “good” at something, people like it—but then they want you to do the same trick over and over. I’m running into this problem where people always want something they’ve already seen, whether it’s something I’ve done before or something someone else did that they want me to fit into. It’s actually been really hard.
It’s definitely a strange tension for creative people, having an audience. It’s this special form of communion, in a way, but it’s also very delicate. Audiences have expectations, and they can project onto you: “Okay, this is what I think you are, this is what I want from you.”
I grew up in the punk scene, and the exchange between artist and audience was always a vital part of the work. The idea was that the results didn’t really belong to the artist, it didn’t belong to the materials, and didn’t belong to the audience—it was actually a strange combination of all those things. It was about how they came together and sort of transcended the sum of their parts.
It’s so, so real. I completely relate to that. It’s actually quite a great admission—it’s not about you, because everything reflects back towards something else. The materials are there, and the only way to make what you’re doing feel real is to look at it from a different perspective. That’s what makes things vital. The trick’s really just to be open. Open for business and living.
Photographs by Hannah Metz