The grass is definitely not greener on Avenue B than it is in Tudor City, but that is where Michael George has planted its new shop.
Eight months after the death of floral designer Michael George, his wife Lisa has found a downtown address for the company that bears his name. With location no longer being the be-all, end-all, George knew that such clients as Alexander Wang, Barneys New York, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo, Vera Wang and Yves Saint Laurent are only an e-mail or speed dial away. Most will never step foot in the relatively sparse space where the five-person team weave in and out of each other’s way with ease. During a recent visit, amidst the faint sent of pitch-perfect roses, staffers joked about their new neighborhood’s contrasting sounds — after-school laughter, the Good Humor ice cream truck’s music, foul-mouthed passers-by and battling spouses. In search of a 10-year lease, George said the rat-a-tat block between East 12th and 13th Streets was a unanimous vote after 15 years in Tudor City. “We asked ourselves, ‘Where do we want to be?’ And we found this neighborhood,” she said. “We wanted to be in a place with great coffee.”
B-Cup, Ninth Street Espresso and Raul’s Candy Store (a neighborhood bodega since 1976) can provide the much-needed caffeine blasts for George and her employees who wheel out 30 floral deliveries each day and 60 during fashion week. (More than 1,000 roses were carted off to various editors compliments of Michael Kors, Calvin Klein Inc. and others.) A gargantuan gift of 250 long-stem “Pink Floyd” roses for a new mother from an undisclosed designer rested on the shop’s counter last month. At-home holiday tree-trimming is another tough-to-top service.
Known for monolithic sculptural displays, Michael George amassed an enviable portfolio in the freewheeling Eighties with clients like the Rainbow Room, Lutèce, Mr. Chow and Ian Schrager’s hotels. Lisa George recalled working on Steve Wynn’s grand opening of the $1.8 billion Bellagio in 1998. “We came as a four-person staff with scissors in hands. It was a weeklong production working with the 75-person inhouse floral crew and using four refrigerated trucks. It was an only-in-Vegas event. There were floor-to-ceiling Caravaggio pictures projected onto the walls and Cirque du Soleil performers escorted guests to their seats. The floral budget was a quarter-million and we wound up saving them money. They gave us a very large fee just to bring our knives and show up.”
In the wake of the 2008 economic fallout, floral design has gone more pure, simple and organic, true to such prestigious accounts as Eleven Madison Park. George pointed to The High Line’s Piet Oudolf gardens as a source of inspiration. Office manager Tom Fagan knows A-list celebrities’ out-of-town aliases and bouquet styles inside out, as well as designers’ DNA. No-fail white is the first and only choice for Kors and Calvin Klein Inc., as well as the person. (It is also the color of choice for actor John Lithgow who is known to send opening-night bouquets. His costar Glenn Close in Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” is presumably next in line to get one, when their show opens Nov. 20.) Vera Wang, another fan of all-white arrangements, has added purple and fuchsia to the mix to reflect her most recent runway show, Fagan said. “Designers are pretty consistent. It’s a brand and a label.” Lisa George added.
Working as a Betsey Johnson publicist in the early Nineties, George, who had studied landscape design, was eager to pursue that path. She started interning for the floral designer, thanks to an introduction from their mutual friend Christian Francis Roth. “The minute I met him it was effortless communication. I just got him. He was an old hippie, the perfect rough-around-the-edges sweet [kind of] kid that I grew up with in New York City,” she said of her late husband. “But then he had this elegant fashion side, which I got, too.”
Now she only has to glance at her arms to be reminded of him — her thistle and wildflowers tattoos used ink made from his ashes. His photo and a vase with his ashes are displayed in the back room where the staff practice such “Michaelisms” as “Don’t fight with the flowers. Every flower has a place, every flower has a space.”
Lead designer Gaudencio Contreras, who was Michael George’s protégé, is more than content arranging flowers for the cut-throat world of fashion. He said, “You’re never angry working in a flower shop. Every day you walk in and smile.”